Exclusive Interview: Kamakaze on juggling pro football with music
The Leicester artist treading a path so few have done successfully before him...
How many kids wanted to be a professional footballer when they were older? How many teenagers dreamed of rocking crowds on stage? These hopes and ambitions require such a level of hard work and talent that realising them is itself an all-encompassing venture, but 22-year-old Matt Robinson is fast becoming the envy of us all as he is finding a way to be live those two dreams at once.
By day, he is a midfielder for Dagenham & Redbridge Football Club in the National League, England’s fifth tier, signing from Luton Town in the summer following loan spells at Kidderminster, Grimsby Town and Woking. By night, he is Kamakaze, a MC making name for himself with explosive freestyles and his determination to bring awareness to the talent in his home city of Leicester. He is certainly making an impact: as part of The Squad, he appeared on TV channels around the world last Spring performing ‘Fearless’, an anthem celebrating the unlikely Premier League title win of Leicester City, where he was one-time part of the academy, while at the end of last year he captained a team of MCs from his home city on a surprise run to the Final of the Red Bull Studios clash tournament Grime-A-Side (and were robbed, many would argue).
Not long after the Final, RWD spoke to Kama on the way home from a Daggers training session to talk the balance of his two careers, his imminent Royal Blud EP with Midlands producer Massappeals (coming via Astral Black) and much more.
How do you reflect on the Grime-A-Side experience?
I look back on it fondly, there are no hard feelings about the result. The concept from the beginning was very good, and I feel like Red Bull executed it very well. My performance in the final, I slipped up on one bar which I don’t think made a massive difference. I won’t talk too much on the verdict because in my eyes I still think Leicester won, but the format of the tournament from the start was a voting system so I’m not gonna complain about it.
What do you think getting as far as you did in the tournament done for Leicester grime in terms of exposure and respect?
It’s probably been more important for [winners] Derby and Leicester because up to now I don’t think people would ever mention them as cities that produce MCs. Manchester, Birmingham and even Nottingham have a history of people on Lord of the Mics and stuff like that, so for me I think it was important that people look beyond what’s already been out and recognised. For the two smallest cities to be in the final is an achievement in its own right. I think everyone in Leicester appreciated what we did for the city.
You’re based in Essex, near Dagenham & Redbridge FC. How much was being closer to London’s grime scene a factor in joining a club?
One of the factors that helped me decide to join Dagenham was that it was close to London and its radio, studios and other artists. Being close to basically where the main hub for the music that I’m making is, it definitely contributed to the decision. I record at Wax from MTP’s studio in West London, and other than that the only studio I use in London is Red Bull, but it definitely does make music easier being close to London, because there’s so many more opportunities and outlets. If you’re not on Reprezent Radio, you can go to Deja vu, Radar, Mode…in Leicester there’s not that at all. I don’t think there’s a show that has MCs on it ever, so that’s a big difference. There’s outlets here to reach if you have the material to do so.
When did you first to start to feel you were making progress as a musician?
The first Road Rage [JDZMedia freestyle]. For a long time I have been spitting grime but I have made solo hip-hop EPs, trap and experimental stuff as well. Basically I’ve always been sick on grime, but it didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. When the Road Rage came out, everything happened in fast forward. People are calling me who’ve never called me before, I’ve gone from 800 followers to 4500 in a year. The progression is something I’ve not experienced before.
It’s the first time it’s ever happened to me and I’m obviously trying to make it a long lasting thing, so that’s why I’ve been trying to consistently bring stuff out – a couple of things on SBTV, a couple of features. I’m trying to keep myself at the forefront of what’s popping. I’ve seen it happen to MCs before: you look at Bugzy Malone, he dropped the one freestyle and bang, a million views and then everything snowballs from that. It’s whether you can keep producing that level. Obviously he has and I hope that’s something I can keep doing. I’m not trying to rest on my laurels, and if I continue to do what I have been doing then the progress will go upwards.
Has the last year or so given you increased self belief? Did you need it?
When I’ve spat bars, and this is not to sound braggadocios or big-headed and shit, but nobody has ever told me I’m not good. It’s not what keeps me going, but no one has to said to me ‘you’re wack’, and that’s always in the back of my mind, I’ve always thought it’s only a matter of time. When you get the reception that I got from that Road Rage and the responses from big people in the scene, the joy of it manifesting is definitely there. You can’t pretend you’re not happy about it when other people recognise how good you are as well.
Juggling both football and music careers seems a lot of work. Do they often get in the way of one another?
I’d say football gets in the way of music a little bit, but at this moment in time football is my priority so I try not to think of it like that. There have been times when people have tried to book me for shows but I’ve got a game the next day and that’s not really professional preparation, do you know what I mean?
They both bring different disciplines to each other. One thing football has taught me is not to doubt yourself, because a person’s opinion can determine your whole football career, and it’s the same way with someone at a label who could put you on, or like a DJ who would get you in for a freestyle on their show. One person’s opinion can really elevate you.
Do you find you make the most of your spare hours from football with music?
The way my schedule with football works, it totally dictates what I can and can’t do in terms of music, so the time I do have free I try to put to the best use possible, or else there’s no point. When the whole JDZMedia stuff started kicking off, I’d been waiting long enough for the opportunity, so I thought ‘don’t stop going in’. I’d rather miss a couple of hours’ sleep then miss it and in three or four years time think what could have been. It’s something I think it will be worth it when I look back.
How do you look back on your time in the youth setup at Leicester City?
I’ve been a Leicester fan since I was four years old. The personal relationship I had with them was not one that ended particularly well, because I can’t lie there was bitterness and resentment towards the establishment if you will, but that was all a part of growing up and learning what football is as a job. It helped me grow quite a lot because at the time being from Leicester, playing for Leicester, being a MC from Leicester…quite a lot of that was my identity, and when part of it is taken away your reaction to it is never going to be one that’s particularly healthy. I was angry, but I was young. Going through that and getting past it is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my career, but in terms of my personal love for Leicester as a football club, that’s not something that ever left because it’s been part of me longer than being a footballer or rapping has.
When they won the league it was one of the best times of my life. That might sound a bit sad, but when you’re from Leicester that don’t happen and it’s probably not gonna happen again so you’ve gotta embrace it while it’s there. Having 10-15 years of man saying ‘Leicester’s shit’, when we’re all from fucking Leicester. Come on.
Speaking of the title win, how did the idea for The Squad and ‘Fearless‘ come about?
There’s an OG of Leicester music named A-Bomb who runs a studio called Yard 26, where pretty much everyone who is good and on it properly in the city has recorded. We were recording an EP and I said to him I want to put together a Leicester anthem, and then a couple of weeks later he said we should do an anthem for Leicester City winning the league. They hadn’t won the league at that time, so it was a bit of a gamble. We mulled over it and decided we didn’t want tons and tons of people on it because it would have given more reason for people to moan that they weren’t on it. We kept it to a small list and picked two olders who have been in the game for a while in Rezz & G-Tek, and then Skeez who is up there with the top of of this generation of spitters coming through from Leicester. I’ve got to shout my g Massappeals on the beat too.
Your EP with Massappeals is about to be released. How do you feel ahead of its arrival?
As I say, the last year has been a mad experience in terms of people reaching out to try to teach me and bring me places I’ve never been before, and one thing I hadn’t done before until now was work with a label [Astral Black]. The process before for me was make a tune, advertise on SoundCloud and put it out. It wouldn’t necessarily have the same impact as experienced people within the industry would want the music to have, so it’s something that we’ve been sitting on for a while but I think the outcome for it when it does come out is something to be proud of and something I’ll definitely take pride in.