Exclusive Interview: Izzie Gibbs talks Yin Yang EP, BDL and building a cult following
Northampton MC Izzie Gibbs has today released Yin Yang, a six-track EP of grime and rap featuring Donae’O, Young T & Bugsey, Tremz and Big Narstie. Izzie has been a part of the latter’s BDL family for a couple of years now, impressing as a support act on Narstie’s tour, and Yin Yang his third EP released on BDL’s label home Dice Recordings.
As well as his own talent and hard work, notable endorsements from Stormzy have helped bring Izzie to new ears, and he has made the best of any new opportunities that come his way. His freestyles are among the best on JDZMedia’s hotly-contested Spitfire series, while his discography shows consistent evolution as an artist.
Izzie’s growing support is more than deserved, and indeed it’s a mark of how well he’s been doing is that his name is no longer synonymous with his non-clash with Novelist. Not expecting a fair crowd on Nov’s home turf, Izzie declined an invitation to clash at Lewisham McDonald’s in 2014, and despite a solid underground reputation the resulting online stir meant that this was Izzie’s negative introduction to many of grime’s passing observers or more moderate fans. Any fears that it may plague the youngster’s reputation in his career have been unceremoniously quelled, however, and his momentum towards a long, successful career continues with the Yin Yang EP.
In a short phonecall with Izzie, we discuss his progress since linking up with the BDL family, as well as the milestones that help an MC such as himself convince friends and family that he was on the right path all along.
You first linked up with Dice Recordings a couple of years ago, right?
Yeah, it was just after I had that thing with Novelist.
How was that situation at the time?
I didn’t even care, to be honest. I’m one of those people that don’t take violations so I was just f*cking going for it man, doing what needed to be done at the time. I was young as well. Don’t get me wrong I would do it all over again but the way people were blogging about it, I knew it was strategic from their side so I wasn’t gonna get drawn out to the point where I do something silly or whatnot.
I know what would have happened. It wasn’t me not turning up because I didn’t wanna clash. I looked at it like I’m travelling stupid miles to clash someone in front of his bredrins, so even if I went there and went in, all his friends would’ve just been reacting to some dumb bars. It’s an unfair advantage. I reckon if I did that clash, I wouldn’t been in the position I’m in today.
Soon after that then, you became part of the Dice Recordings family. How have they helped with what you do?
Apart from actually making the music, everything else is done through them. Since I joined them, they’ve taught me about how the music game works. They’ve also been proper harsh, telling me I need to work on my flow. They’ve helped me a lot with quality control as well, to the point now I don’t do something half-heartedly, it has to be the best that I can possibly do.
Also, joining them, I feel like people in the industry just take you a little bit more seriously, because they have done a lot of things way before they signed me – obviously Big Narstie, and their first release was Skepta ‘DTI’ back in the day. They’ve played a big part in the scene so YouTube channels and stuff took me a lot more seriously. They helped me get my name out there much quicker than I could have done myself.
Even with that quality control, you still release music relatively frequently…
I make music near enough every day if I can so don’t get it twisted, everything I make might not be necessarily be as good as what I put out. I just make sure for instance, that if I do an EP with six tunes on it, I’ve definitely recorded 50 tracks minimum. I’m so hungry for this ting now it’s actually unreal. All those tunes I record that don’t make the cut just become personal ones, you feel me. Nowadays, music has no shelf life so the novelty wears off real quick, and that’s why everything I drop is of a higher level. It all has to be of a top level because that way it gives you that edge over people. I’ve got the right set of people around me and I feel like I’ve worked hard enough on myself that now, without sounding cocky things, things I’m releasing are of a higher level.
We noticed! There are songs this year with music videos that aren’t going to be on the new EP, for instance.
That’s what I was going for. I’m a big fan of progression and ideas so after the Yin Yang stuff, when I move on to other music, everything has to progress. I hear a lot of ‘you used to shout, you used to be proper aggressive’ and for some people that was hard to take in, so now I’ve sat back and brushed up on the things people were criticising me about. Visual-wise, it had to be better than what is was before. Now I just look at everything like if I go studio, this track has to be better than the song I made yesterday or last weekend. Everything has to be better.
I’m never happy. I could make a tune and by the time it’s released I’m not too fussed about it. I don’t get the same feeling as when I made it because I’ve progressed since then, and I’m just super excited to let everybody hear my new stuff. I make so much music a lot of stuff that people are hearing is old to me, it’s weird. I can make something now and release it next year.
What are you working towards in the next year then?
What I’m working towards this year is building a cult following. People talk about MOBOs and stuff, and obviously that would be nice but right now my thing is keeping the attention going on the music I’m putting out, and build a cult following. I want my stuff to have longevity, and I believe that it can. Bloggers calling me top ten in the UK and that, I don’t care. It’s about what the people think, rather than what the people in the industry think. It’s more for the people that are going to come to my shows and support me, on my socials showing love. I do it for them – half I do it for my family, and then the other half I do for them – so what I’m trying to do is make everyone that supports me say to me at the end of this year ‘you know what, you actually done stuff’, and then I can go into the following year and kill everything.
I want to take over and build my own movement. You know, like those artists that you don’t see everywhere, but they can still sell out shows more than somebody you see everywhere? There’s some kids from America called $uicideboy$ & Pouya, they’re a movement you don’t see on MTV or all over the Twitter but they’re selling out 3000-capacity venues and stuff. Meanwhile you’re getting artists with stupid views on Link Up TV and GRM Daily, but they can’t even sell out a venue of 300 people! I don’t wanna be that guy, so that’s why I’ve got my own YouTube channel. I’ve done the whole thing of trying to get my name out there, and now what I’ve gotta do is build up my own following so that I can do my own shows, like these people I’m seeing.
Among your cult following is Stormzy, who has shown support in a couple of ways. He brought you out at Detonate Festival last year…
Yeah man, Big Narstie brought me to Detonate and I came out with him, then later Stormzy was there. How that came about, right…I do a lot of freestyles on JDZMedia, for a guy called Jake, who was one of the first people ever to let me go on one of their channel. This is when I was not known at all. I remember I paid him £10 to do a freestyle vid! Ever since then, because he was one of the first people to help me show my talent, I always said to him that no matter how big I get I’ll always give him content for his channel, whether it’d be a music video or freestyle. Every time I felt like my buzz was getting bigger, I’d do a JDZ video and now they’re hitting 4-500,000 views. Stormzy must have seen one and he tweeted it like ‘this kid’s sick’, and then over a period of time he would just randomly tweet my stuff.
Detonate was the first time I’d met him in person, and he was like ‘I want you and Mez to come out on stage’. I didn’t wanna be that guy that was just looking like he was hanging on to my man’s ting, but Stormzy was like ‘nah bro, I want you to spit with me. Come out!’ so then yeah it went from there. It was mad still. Obviously he’s the guy. He’s actually killing it right now and nuff love and respect to him showing me love even when he doesn’t have to. Considering the position that he’s in, a lot of people wouldn’t.
It was a good look when he invited you, Dapz & Jaykae to Spyro’s show, which was the only radio set he did for the album promo.
When he brought me on that Rinse set and let me showcase what I can do, he said to me that day ‘didn’t you listen to my interview with Rude Kid? I shouted you out’, but the way he made it out what he said about me…he made it out in person like he just said ‘Izzie Gibbs is going in’ but when I watched it…bro! He actually broke it down like ‘my man’s sick, boom boom boom’, so when I posted it up, everyone took me more seriously. People don’t look at me now like ‘he’s a YouTube rapper’ ‘he does freestyles’ or whatever. They didn’t know how serious it was, so someone like that turning round like ‘my man is going in’ suddenly they see me as an artist now. They look at it like it’s my actual job, like I’m Stormzy or someone.
Big up Narstie as well because in terms of the support he was the first big artist in the scene to be like ‘come to shows’. I knew Narstie before I was signed, when I was just making music and not taking it super seriously. He got booked in a club in Northampton, and I got asked to support. I didn’t have no tunes or anything, I was just spitting over beats for the 10 or 15 minutes my set was! I literally got a DJ who was there, I can’t even remember his name, he was just playing loads of grime instrumentals and I was spraying for 10-15minutes straight. After a period of time I’m putting in work, going to like Birmingham on radio and stuff, I kept encountering Narstie and [Dice Recordings], they kept seeing me put in work. One day they asked me to lay a verse for a producer called LDP on their label. I laid the verse and then before they dropped me back at the train station they were saying they wanted to sign me and that I can make a career out of what I’m doing. Ever since then Narstie was bringing me shows with him, he did the ‘My Life’ tune with me. The support was mad, you feel me.
How does that sort of high-profile support help convince family and friends that you’re on the right path with music?
Narstie brought me out on the Craig David tour, doing arenas and stuff, and obviously the older generation know about Craig David so seeing me do stuff like that they know this is actually a job. They take it a lot more seriously now. I used to get stick about what I wanted to do, I used to get told ‘get a job, do this, do that’ and all that shit. Everyone was telling me it wasn’t making me any money, they didn’t see the progression. When they see this stuff happening, there’s so much respect for me because I said I was gonna do it and now I’m doing it. There’s still a lot more work to be done though, don’t get it twisted.