Words by: Matthew Griffiths
KSI is a character that has constantly split people and his musical foray has been equally divisive, but is the music good?
JJ Olatunji, also known as KSI, has been doing music “for years” – so it makes sense that he wants to be taken seriously as an artist. Popular YouTubers must often face the plight of being marginalised by their audiences, into the tiny box of only being able to please them with one type of content, without much breathing room to venture into other forms of entertainment. KSI has impressively had success in both YouTube and music, ever since releasing his first singles back in 2015.
Now that it’s 2021 and he’s still going, let’s consider – as KSI has been doing music for years, he should sound pretty good by now, right? Was it always that way? And how much has his music improved since he began making it?
In early 2015, KSI launched his music career with the highly-viewed (121m views) track “Lamborghini”, featuring a punchy, well-delivered verse from P Money. JJ’s verses certainly have energy – but his “juiced up” flows have no lack of cringey lyrics. The line “ride with more peers than Morgan” is pause-worthy (or perhaps worthy of just closing the tab altogether). Did KSI try to use Piers Morgan as a flex? It’s awful but brilliantly authentic in how it reflects his crazy personality. But it’s understandable, coming from someone who recently spoke on how lyrics are now less important for rappers.
On Logan Paul’s Impaulsive podcast, he said – “No one cares about lyrics these days. It’s all about flow. Flow, and how it sounds, and how it feels. That’s probably why I’m doing so well in music.” *KSI laugh*
However, I can’t help but like the combination of the tempo-ing up trappy drums on the hook combined with JJ’s yells of “LA-LAMBORGHINI” – his ridiculous enthusiasm is uncalled for, yet infectious.
Music started out as a passion project for JJ, which he admitted in response to a review from fellow YouTuber and music critic Anthony Fantano on his 2020 album, Dissimulation. The video is full of intriguing insights into KSI’s psyche as an artist, and also reveals his humble attitude towards criticism. Something refreshing about KSI’s entrance into the music business is that it’s not focused on the business element. Early into his reaction, he shared that he hasn’t made as much money from music as he has in his videos, but he doesn’t care.
Fantano’s review had various positive comments which JJ loved, like when he complimented the tone of KSI’s voice, its range and described his flows as being “smoother” than other rapping YouTubers Jake Paul and RiceGum. Fantano went on to say that if he didn’t know which artist the music was from, based off of the tracklist (with its high-profile features), and the vibe of the beats, he would assume that Dissimulation was a “major label project with a big budget behind it, from an artist who does this professionally.”
Dissimulation was KSI’s first album, and he put effort into those verses because he genuinely cares, and wanted his first album to be “special” – so he was delighted when Fantano recognised these efforts behind his verses and hooks.
The review was not all sunshine and rainbows, however.
I personally thought the melodies and production on “Bad Lil Vibe” (ft. Jeremih) were fun and catchy, but Fantano thought it lacked originality, writing it off as a Travis Scott rip-off – even savagely suggesting that someone like Don Toliver would’ve done a better job of the track altogether.
However, one of Fantano’s final criticisms really resonated with me when he questioned KSI’s future in music. He thoughtfully posed the question, without the songwriting ability to convey deeper and more personal ideas, how will KSI’s music really form a strong long lasting bond with fans? Maybe having a YouTube platform as big as his makes him unforgettable, but if KSI really cares about his music as much as he makes out, we’d see an improved attempt at this on his follow up album, All Over The Place.
All Over The Place (2021)
All Over The Place, sound-wise is a strong departure from the 808-heavy, more trappy productions on his previous album. KSI’s singing seems a lot smoother too, baring his emotions vocally on tracks like “Patience” although he’s barely on it because of YUNGBLUD’S dominant feature, and “You”. These feel like KSI pop-equivalents of Post Malone‘s “Circles”, and any of the mildly tropical-sounding songs by Drake (think One Dance, or Passionfruit). JJ’s vocals sit well on top of the skippy, danceable beats by Digital Farm Animals, and on the track “Really Love”, I felt myself actually looking forward to hearing KSI’s verse after the hook (sung by Craig David) was over, which was a new feeling for me (no offence to Craig).
I was also pleasantly surprised by KSI’s lyrical improvement on the track “Don’t Play”, on which he gets vulnerable and explores the feeling of being ignored by a significant other on social media. They seem both sincere as well as relevant in today’s age of instant online gratification.
“But now you’ve just gone missin’/
You’re airin’ all my wishes/
You’re online, but still won’t listen/
My time is you dismissin’/
This is no way a two-way street/
I’m playin’ “SAD!” and it’s on repeat/
Got me here hopin’ you see my Snap/
‘Cause I’m not ready for us to wrap, no, whoa”
Perhaps KSI is gradually edging towards what Anthony Fantano questioned his capability of – good writing on a deeper level, that will ultimately bind him musically to fans for the long haul. However, something I would like to see KSI do eventually is drop a project without any features. His projects seem extremely reliant on features at this point, and hopefully soon he’ll no longer need them. But in the meantime, features are getting eyes and ears on his music, which clearly is improving, so much so that even when he released a track at the same time Kanye West is having a listening party for his latest project, somebody still drops a tweet like this: