Being in lockdown has been tough for the best of us, but for KSI, it’s been a time to thrive.
The 26-year-old YouTuber turned rapper has been continuing to pump out videos that get millions of views on a daily basis, and is preparing to launch his debut album, Dissimulation, this Friday.
When asked what it’s like to launch an album during a global pandemic, he says, if anything, it’s given him an advantage.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t really notice anything,” he says, speaking from his home in London. “If anything, it’s like hugely in my favor. This is my home man, this is my domain. I’m able to be very productive when I’m here, through my YouTube and my music, I’m able to work.”
Making YouTube videos is suited to the stay-at-home life, he says, so being holed up inside is where he would normally be anyway.
He also has a studio at his home in London, where he has been able to work on finishing the album. Also, after famously defeating fellow YouTuber Logan Paul in a massive YouTube PPV boxing event in 2019, he’s managed to keep up his training too.
Most importantly, being forced to stay at home has also allowed him more time to interact through his socials with the people that matter most to him — his fans.
“Yeah, I think it’s just way better for me,” he says. “It saves me having to spend money on travel and just waste time doing all this traveling, going to New York, or going to Australia or doing this and that. I’m able to just focus on my album and then do whatever I need to do after.”
Is it gutting that, due to the coronavirus crisis, he won’t be able to perform his new material at the various festivals he had initially lined up over the summer? A tour he had planned is also currently on hold.
“Of course,” he says. “Because I was very excited. I was very amped to do it. We had like five, six festivals lined up. I had a tour lined up, everything lined up, ready, and coronavirus just said, f**k yourself. There’s not really much I can do about that. Yeah, hopefully, next year we will be going back to normal and I’ll be able to go ham.”
KSI, whose real name is Olajide Olatunji and who is known to his friends as JJ, says he’s most upset about not being able to perform his favorite song from the album, Domain.
“Domain is my f**king jam, bro,” he says. What’s special about that song in particular?
“Oh, the energy man. I know when I perform that on stage, I’m going to shut down the whole place. It’s a hybrid of a song. I don’t know any song like it. It’s got rock. It’s got grime. It’s got rap, hip hop. Well, it’s a madness. And I know I killed that song. Lyrically, the bars, everything, the flow, it’s just different.”
KSI: The public vs. private persona
The title of the album, Dissimulation, is all about hiding one’s true thoughts or feelings, something which KSI says he’s done in the past.
“I wanted to hide a lot of my feelings publicly because it made me feel vulnerable,” he says. “I felt like it was quite appealing for me to be able to express my feelings privately through the music. I feel like I’ve done that.
“So you get to find out how I felt, or how I feel, about certain situations in my life. You get to feel the emotion.”
One of the things he thinks people will be most surprised by is his singing.
“Obviously there’s songs [on the album] that I know will do well,” he says. “Like Houdini, I knew that would do well and it did. The same with… I imagined the Jeremih song would do well. The songs that I sing, I think they will do really well because I guess it’s another side that people don’t really see.”
Houdini is one of 12 tracks on the album, which also features a string of other artists including Offset, Lil Pump, Trippie Redd, Rick Ross, and Aiyana Lee.
Creating an album like this is a million miles from where the young Olajide Olatunji — who first started rapping so he could remember science facts at school — imagined he could be a decade ago.
“If someone told me I was going to be where I’m at today 10 years ago, I would have been like, you’re lying, or you’re on drugs, or you’re just not right in the head, it doesn’t make sense. Look at me, there’s no way.”
KSI has a following of more than 40 million subscribers across his various social media channels — built mainly from his YouTube persona. But have they stuck with him and supported him through his transition into music?
“I’ve had an audience there from the beginning and they’ve kind of grown up with me,” he says. “At first, with the whole music thing, they were definitely not too keen on it, but over time the better I’ve got, they’ve kind of warmed towards it.
“Now it’s got to a point where people are excited about this album. People are ready to listen and are ready to judge because it’s my first album. A lot of people are going to judge me from this and say, oh, okay, is he the real deal or was he just a fluke? This is a big moment in my career and my life, so obviously the fans have been … the die-hard fans have been with me through thick and thin.”
“Not everyone’s going to be excited about my music,” he adds. “But trust me, once they hear this album they’re going to be fans, for sure.”
How has YouTube changed?
The landscape has changed a lot since KSI first registered an account on YouTube back in 2009. But he’s stood the test of time and is still pulling in many millions of views across his two channels, KSI and JJ Olatunji.
His career so far has also been a very lucrative one, with him estimated to earn around $15 million (£12 million) a year.
Because YouTube is his biggest platform, it also means his audience is truly global. What advice would he have for teenagers today who are looking to make it big online, and does he think it’s harder to succeed on YouTube than when he started?
“Yeah, obviously, because it’s more saturated, there’s more people doing it,” he says. “There’s bigger competition these days. But it doesn’t mean that I would say don’t do it. Of course, do it, man.
“There’s plenty of places for you to make a name for yourself — Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok.
“But ultimately it just comes down to what you want to do, you know, you just have to not care about numbers or anything like that, just have fun, enjoy it, and the numbers will come.
“Figure out what you want to do. Look at a load of good things, a load of bad things. Find your own lane, find your own unique selling point, and then keep going. Then after you’ve used up your unique selling point, find a new unique selling point. Keep moving like that. Be unpredictable.
“Entertain your audience, yeah, have fun, man. Yeah, have fun is the most important thing. Just have fun. If you’re not having fun, bro, then there’s no point.
“Do what you enjoy, that’s the key to life is happiness. Success is happiness, bro, for me. I have a lot of money and it don’t mean shit if I’m not happy.
“Make sure you’re doing what you enjoy doing and make sure you’re happy and you’re doing things with the people that you want to be around…do things with the best people around you and the people you want to be around and you’ll be good.”
When he first got into music, KSI initially signed a record deal with Island Records, but it didn’t work out as they had differing opinions about what direction he should head in.
He then went independent before signing a new distribution deal with BMG Rights Management. Is he more comfortable with the situation now?
“Yeah. Very comfortable, man. Working with BMG is way better than my previous label. Yeah, they just allow me to do what I want to do, man. Allow me to be me. They just help along the way.
“They don’t try to pigeon hole. They don’t try to make me make certain types of songs, or they don’t try to pigeon hole me into a type of way. They just let me be me, which is still the way I wanted it to be.”
Who is the better fighter — Logan Paul or Jake?
Outside of the videos and music, the more unlikely arena where KSI has made a name for himself is in the boxing ring.
It first started out of a public spat between himself and British YouTuber Joe Weller, which led to an amateur fight in February 2018, which KSI won in the third round via technical knockout.
He then took on fellow big-name social media star Logan Paul in another amateur match in August 2018. That fight was ruled a majority draw and led to a rematch between the pair — their first professional bout — a year later, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
KSI won after a split decision.
However, the animosity between them hasn’t ended. There is now talk of a new fight in the works between KSI and Logan’s brother and fellow social media star Jake, who won his first professional boxing debut against YouTuber AnEsonGib in January this year.
KSI said earlier this week he hoped the match between them can take place at London’s epic O2 Arena, although if that will happen — and when — is still unknown.
Despite that, KSI has been hard at work training while being stuck at home during the lockdown.
“I do a lot of shadow-boxing,” he says. “I go on runs, I have to make sure my cardio is on point. I’m working on…I bought this thing online, which is again, going to help me with my speed, with my punches and everything, it’s like a suit, a heavy suit that you can wear. It applies a bit of resistance to your body, so it allows me to punch faster, et cetera. I’m keeping focused and training.”
So what is his verdict on who he thinks is the better fighter, Logan Paul or Jake? “Logan is a better fighter. Jake’s just f**king s**t.”
And what does he think his chances are of landing No. 1 with his album this weekend. He’s up against The 1975, so the competition is stiff.
“You know what, I’m going to push it as hard as I can, but I’m happy with a top three if I’m truly being honest,” he says. “For my first album to get a top three, yeah, let’s go. I’m against The 1975, and kind of, like, these are big, huge artists.
“See, I never expected to be in competition with any of them a few years ago, so yeah, it’s one of those things where we’ll see what happens. I’m going to push as hard as I can, and if I get number one, it’s best to believe I’m going to f**king celebrate.”
KSI’s debut album Dissimulation is out this Friday. You can pre-order it here.