Exclusive Interview: Young Yizzy – “It doesn’t matter your age; if you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”
Ahead of his set at Glastonbury, Lewisham's Young Yizzy takes us deep into his winning mindset...
Lewisham’s Young Yizzy has been quickly rising through the ranks as one of the grime scene’s most promising talents; despite having only spat his first bars just over a year ago.
His work ethic and proactive approach have allowed him to balance revising for school exams and a burgeoning music career, as he’s firmly secured his name on the map, by working hard, seizing opportunities, dominating pirate radio sets and releasing his debut EP, This Is Life.
Ahead of another milestone, a set at Glastonbury this weekend after getting to the finals of the festival’s Emerging Talent competition, we sat down with Yizzy for an in-depth conversation about his snowballing career and his winning mindset.
No matter what your dream is, be ready to take notes!
How are you feeling about the reception to your first EP, This Is Life?
I’ve only been doing this for like a year and a couple months now, so I genuinely didn’t know what to expect. It would be 10 times what I thought could have happened. The amount of things that’s come off the back of that EP is crazy. I didn’t think it was that possible.
Do you mean putting out music for the past year and a couple of months, or MCing in general?
I mean everything. Starting to do music, putting out anything, everything. I only started this last year January.
What happened in January?
I went to a video shoot for Koder’s ‘One Take Freestyle’, and afterwards, this was in Brockley, and that was the first cypher I ever went to, and he was just jump in spit some bars. I jumped in, spat some bars, it went all right, I started linking up with him a bit more, and then it was like, “Let me just run with this, see if I can do this. If I can’t, nothing gained, nothing lost. Let me just at least try it.” I always had a passion for music, so try.
Where did that passion come from?
The only time I feel comfortable is when I got headphones in my ears, it lets me zone out. If I don’t have my headphones I’m going back and getting them. Before I even started spitting, music it’s just been a big part of my life. I really appreciate all types of music. I love music in every sense of the word.
What was the first music that you recall listening to?
Probably, Reggae music from my Mum. Growing up in our house, and being Caribbean, I’ve been around a lot of aunties and uncles and everyone playing reggae music from birthday parties to drink ups to everything, there’s always some kind of reggae music. I just kinda started warming up to the music thing. And then my brothers playing the old school hip-hop, then from that into garage and jungle.
Grime has been through my own discovery; just sitting down and working out what I like. I don’t like every aspect of grime. I don’t like certain aspects of how it’s being portrayed, how it gets twisted by certain people. But for the most part I love grime. I’ve done my history, I’ve done my research. I know what I like and I will always remain true to that.
What would you say it is specifically that you really like about grime?
I loved the idea of pirate radio sets. I think that 30 men in a room all trying to get on one microphone is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s frustrating as hell, but when you get that mic and you do your thing, it’s one of the best feelings in the entire world. Even to this day, I’d rather go to a set than do a show.
You could be selling out headline shows or you could have just come off the block with a couple of 8 bars, but if you get on that mic none of that matters. It’s just who comes out on top, spitting the best, that’s what matters. You come and you spit your bars like everybody else. That is grime, that’s where it all started.
When you’re in the moment of that, you could just look around the room and every other man knows exactly what it is. That legendary moment where every man in the room, everyone goes crazy. That one bar that just gets you all pull up like, it is about to get broken and dashed off the floor. Everything is so ridiculously hyped in there, it’s just the best feeling ever. It’s real, it’s not commercialised. It’s pure, proper underground. That’s exactly what grime culture’s all about to me.
What was your first experience of going to pirate radio?
Balamii or Mode FM. Balamii is in Peckham, and I went there, just started spitting, going on the mic. It was me, a couple of people from Vision Crew and a couple of people from The Square.
One of the earliest ones I remember is Mode FM. I heard of it, I didn’t know how to get there, didn’t know anything about it, I just knew I wanted to go there. I had to go there.
I remember one time I must have put on my Twitter or something, “I really need to go Mode FM.” The next thing I know I get a inbox from Treble Clef. He’s like, “Send me your number.” I bell him. He sits down and he chats to me for 45 minutes. Bells me back later that evening, and he’s like, “Cool, you’re coming down. I want to see what you got.”
Even that was just incredible for me, because it was like one of the first times that I’d been to Mode. This legend of the grime scene has taken a chance on me, said, “You know what, come down, do your thing.” Mans inboxed me and belled me himself. The legend, that made ‘Ghetto Kyote’, one of the dons. That’s mad. Even to this day, that’s mad.
How did you start to go from the cypher after Koder’s video shoot, to getting kind of recognised by legends like Treble Clef?
I was just everywhere; every open mic, every show, every cypher. Any radio opportunity I was sending out emails, every single day to every presenter. This is all the same time I’m doing my GCSEs. I’m sending out emails, I’m going to Mode FM from 10 til 12, then I’ve got a mock exam the next morning, and I don’t know how I’m getting back. Every little thing that I went through, and even to this day anything, any opportunity that comes up I still make sure I’m there.
Everything that comes your way is a blessing. I will always be grateful to anyone that knew me when I first started out and gave me a opportunity. There were people that wouldn’t kind of acknowledge me or give me the time of day. Then there’s people that said, “You know what show me what you can do.” I’ll always have love for them.
What urged you to be so proactive?
I told myself I was going to take it seriously. Regardless, whatever is in life if I take something seriously, then I take it very, very, seriously. Not that I knew from that age that I wanted to do music, it was that I knew that I was going to try my hardest to make something of it. I said to myself, “If I’m going to do music, I’m going to do it properly.” No half hearted. I went into it, I did my research, started reading up about everything that I could about grime from the early days to what come out two seconds ago.
The more I found out the more it pushed me and made me go, “Yeah, I need to be writing.” I was up writing bars at like two, three in the morning and I had school in like four, five hours. Everything and anything that came my way was a blessing, and I made sure I took it with both hands.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to record songs, as opposed to just jumping on sets and spitting bars?
When I was going to radio and at the same time certain man that was spitting bars, before the set started their tunes were getting played. I’m like, “Rah, you’re tunes are getting spun, and you’re spitting.” I didn’t realise that you could get tunes on radio like that. That’s kind of started to find out that just send an email, there’s no harm is in that email with you’re tune saying, “Can you play this? Listen? Tell me what you think?” You can keep going to as many sets as you want, but musicians make music.
I wrote it for radio first, and then songs after. So I was trying to turn them into a song format, and slapping a hook on it. One of the youth clubs I used to go to had a studio. It was only open to a certain time, like 7 to 9, and you can get an hour slot, but everyone wanted to go to that studio. So if two other people got there before you, you weren’t getting into that studio tonight. You had to get there from early. Then just get in there and get as many tracks as you can, as fast as you can, and then get the bus back home. It was a good thing, because I can record tracks quite quickly; its kind of been drilled into me, or I kind of drilled it into myself.
What do you want listeners to take away from listening to This is Life?
I’d like them to get the feeling that the youth of the grime scene is very much as professional… When I started doing it people didn’t want to give me a chance because they thought I was young and it was just like, “You’re not ready”, or “You’re immature.” That’s one of the things that I’m trying to break down. It doesn’t matter your age, you could be five, six, seven, 50, 60, 70 if you’ve got it, you’ve got it, you get me?
For me what i kind of want people to take away from This Is Life is that, that’s my first official body of work and that as a young person his work means a lot to me. It show everybody else that I’m coming through, I’m new, I’m trying to do my thing.
This EP is the first representation that you’re going to hear of me, not only as a grime artist, but as a young person, as young musician, and as a youth coming from the ends. All of that into one, that’s what my EP is.
Do you think that in there are some advantages to being young enough that grime has always existed growing up – you didn’t grow up on hip-hop or garage or jungle and then have to adapt to this new thing like the generations before?
Most definitely, I’ve made reference to all of the old school originals that have kicked the door open, for us to follow. I feel that I need to pay homage to those that have come before me and taking all the shit from when garage became grime, and grime wasn’t widely accepted and was shunned. They took all that shit, kept moving forward and made something of it, then opened up that door for new MCs to come through. Without them, there would be no us. I feel like people don’t respect that enough. I feel like people just take it for advantage.
People don’t respect the old school sound, or the old school generals, because that’s what they are. The old school mandem that have been spitting bars from day one on the sets, and everything to even just the sound in general, is a crazy thing. I’ve always got to pay homage to that. I’m very much old school with my lyrics, with my type of flows, and my content. Like, the way I put together a song is more to an old school sound, than a new school.
I’m not a big fan of grime songs, but I will sit down and listen to any grime set. I would rather sit down and listen to a Westwood set with Devlin, Griminal, Lil Nasty, Ghetts and Maxsta, than I would sit down and listen to a song that’s just come out or something like that. That for me that is grime, that is my definition of grime. From way back when there was nothing. I feel like people coming through nowadays, or a lot of the people that have been in the game for four five years, have lost that hunger. Because its like, “Yeah I’ve made it now, I’m in a position now where I’m stable.” They lose that hunger. For me, way back when there was none of that, you’d see these man going on the mic like their life depended on it.
I still come with that hunger, I will always have that hunger because that’s what makes me as an MC, full stop. All of this stems is back from the old school sound, the old school dons, and the origins of grime. I’ll always have respect for those that have come before me, and I will always be thankful that I’ve been born in the time period that I have, cause it allows me to do what they’ve done, but for people that will come after me.
What’s been the most difficult thing for you to overcome in your career so far?
It would probably be balancing music with normal life To deal with school, and still find time to try and do music is mad. It was more mad when I was still doing exams as well. I couldn’t physically devote enough time, it was difficult. To split up your time and try to balance everything was difficult. There were times where I felt I didn’t want to do it anymore, but there were always people around me that would push me and say, “No, you’re just, in a bad place right now. Pick yourself up, stop feeling sorry yourself. Go and get it.”
I have to G check myself now. If I think that I’m taking an opportunity for granted, then I’ve got to G check myself and say, “You know what, you’re an idiot, you’re blessed, you’re lucky to have that opportunity, enough people would kill for that.” That’s my mentality, that’s how I kind of move forward, while remaining firmly grounded.
Interview by Grant Brydon