2020 has been a good year for Yizzy. The Brockley-born MC released his explosive Prince of Grime Freestyles Part 1 and Part 2 - where he called out half the grime scene - and also dropped ‘Only One’, an exclusive single for the soundtrack for EA Sports’ ‘UFC 4’.
Earlier this week the self-styled ‘Prince of Grime’ released his new single and video ‘Thierry Henry’; the first release from his newly-formed label RTL. Inspired by the legendary Arsenal and France baller, ‘Thierry Henry’ is interwoven with Gunner references and football-laden bars. The track combines witty lyrics and notoriously slick production - both of which have become commonplace for the south London artist.
At just 20 years-old the MC is punching well above his weight and so we sat down with Yizzy to discuss 'Thierry Henry', where his love of grime stems from, working with Arsenal and his relationship with AFTV; who feature not just in the lyrics but in the video throughout.
What sort of music did you grow up listening to?
It was a mixture of everything. My mum played a lot of R&B and Reggae in the house but my brother was playing a lot of old school American hip-hop like Nas, Andre 3000 and quite a mix.
I took my influences from all over. When you’re the little brother you just have to listen to what everyone else is playing.
What made you want to get into grime music?
It wasn’t so much grime music but more grime sets. So it would be stuff like watching F Radio with Criminal and Ghetts for example. Or old Rinse FM shows and hearing old XFM sets. It was a mixture. It was the energy of the shows and the sets that got me interested in the music and the performing side.
If you’re the Prince of Grime - who is the King?
[Laughs] I have two answers to this because I actually spoke about it with my friends before. If we’re talking in terms of purely success, then without a shadow of a doubt it’s most definitely Stormzy. However, if we’re talking from a cultural perspective and someone who has remained true and loyal to the grime sound and pioneered and been there from day one, then it’s either JME or D Double E. That is my honest opinion.
Now if you want someone who is the bridge between the two in terms of success and also been there from day one, then your answer would be Skepta. Those are my multiple choice answers. I can’t really put it down one because it comes down to what your interpretation of a king is. Is it success? Or is it relevance?
The connection between football and grime seems to keep growing and getting stronger - why do you think that is?
Because a lot of the artists that are coming through in grime or that are at the top have their own favourite football teams that they support and I feel like when you go to a lot of these events or clubs you meet. For example I met some footballers and rappers at the FIFA 20 launch last year. More events like that where people run into each other is making people become friends. It’s like ‘I listen to your music’ or ‘I watch you play’ and from there you just build relationships and I think it’s starting to cross-over.
Did you grow up playing football?
I did. I did a mixture of sports but football wasn’t my main sport, but I did play on a Sunday.
Which player would you compare yourself to?
Well I used to play upfront for my team but I wouldn’t compare myself to Thierry Henry, because I wasn’t that polished. I’d compare myself to someone with a bit of pace who could tuck it away. So a bit like Theo Walcott but a better version.
Have you been happy with the reaction to your new track ‘Thierry Henry’?
More than happy to be honest, I wasn’t able to predict how it was going to go. It was the first song on my new label. It’s definitely the most hands on I’ve been with any of my stuff so far and I'm quite hands on already. So I didn’t know what to expect but I’m just so happy with how it’s gone.
Our aim was to get a quarter of a million views on the video in a week and it’s done just over 300,000 in four days. Everything is going better than I expected.
Some of the video was shot in The Emirates - was the aim to work with Arsenal on the video?
Being an Arsenal fan I’ve always wanted to work with Arsenal as much as I can and one of the things I said to my manager - even with Manchester United today announcing the away new kits, some of the rappers they’ve announced it with was Dutch and Aitch - there wasn’t necessarily a spokesperson like that for Arsenal that they would call upon to do kit announcements and collaborate with. So I was like ‘oh, I’m an Arsenal fan, I like Arsenal, maybe that could be me?’
At the time I was getting quite a few messages saying ‘Yizz we love your bars but you never talk about football’ or ‘you talk about football but not in your lyrics, what’s going on?’ So I thought, you know what? I’m going to save up all my best football lyrics and put them in one song. And that’s how Thierry Henry came about.
So would you like to become to Arsenal what AJ Tracey is to Tottenham? Do you want to be known at the Arsenal grime MC?
For me it’s more than that. I want to be more like what Aitch is to United. Being a similar age as well and obviously Aitch originally came from a grime background and kind of making his way through the different genres and obstacles. I think that’s much more of a fair comparison. Because it’s like who would have thought that him at 19/20, like me, would be announcing the third Manchester United kit in the main adidas promo video? Come on, that’s incredible.
You’re rocking the Arsenal away kit in the video - what have you made of the kits this season?
I think they’re sick to be fair. I genuinely think we have some of the best kit designers out there, and I feel like every season we’re consistent with the level of kit that we’re producing; which I’m really happy about. The only other team that I think has better kits than us this season, and everyone would probably agree, is PSG. PSG just came out and did a madness.
Football shirts in recent times have become fashionable to wear not just for sporting events and I think PSG have done the opposite. They’ve created fashionable shirts that can be worn for sporting events. They’ve kind of done the reverse, hence why it looks like more of a statement piece than just a football shirt.
The AFTV gang appear in both the video and the lyrics, what’s your relationship with them like?
It’s great - I did an interview with Robbie at YouTube quite a while back and talking and meeting with them was great. Troopz I met last year at the FIFA 20 launch and just stayed in contact with him since. At the time I had a song that was on FIFA 20 called ‘Hustle Hard’ - which was lit. We stayed in contact and when the song came about - Thierry Henry - I had an idea for the chorus in my head, like very much a one line flow old school grimy feel, and I just wanted to include them.
Especially because they come from similar backgrounds to me. Like Robbie, Troopz and the rest of them are just Arsenal fans and come from the ends really and truly. I just felt like I wanted to include them because people that are also from similar backgrounds to me and them would just get it. It’s really just a love and respect thing. For all the work they’ve done and the passion they’ve shown, it was very much a nod to them. A tip of the hat, if you will.
They split opinion in the Arsenal fanbase, do you see them as part of the club now?
Nah I do, they’ve always been part of the club. Regardless of what the rest of the Arsenal fanbase think, how many of you can just jump on Insta Live with Aubameyang? At the end of the day you’re talking about you want Aubameyang to stay and players stay not just because of contracts, wages and demands. They stay because of how they feel and if one of the fans has a good relationship with one of our best players, and that might help him make his decision easier on whether he wants to stay or whether or not he feels welcome and loved at this club, then really and truly you should be getting behind that.
You shouldn’t be questioning whether AFTV or Troopz or anyone is good or bad. At the end of the day it makes people happy.
You said you saved up all your football lyrics for this new track but which one stands out for you?
So - it’s also the lyric that I think people will miss the most because it has three meanings behind it - it’s the La Cassette bar where I say ‘French ting says she wan go Tape, I don’t know nuttin bout La Cassette darling.’ The reason that’s my favourite is because Tape is a nightclub in London and obviously cassette is French for tape, and then La Cassette is ‘the tape’ and then La Cassette sounds like Lacazette as well. So it’s got three meanings wrapped up in there and when I wrote that bar I was gassed!
The track has obviously got a line of Spanish in there and on the chorus the French. I love to integrate me speaking multiple languages into my stuff as much as I can because I enjoy speaking different languages but I understand I don’t want to convolute the track with a load of lyrics in different languages that people just aren’t going to understand. Subtle ones here and there go down really well, like that one for example.
2020 has been a bit of a mess but this track is really strong and it’s been a good year for you - what’s next?
This is the first single off of my new label RTL. This is me wanting to build my label. I’ve been independent since the age of 16 but now I’m finally kind of taking the big steps towards building my own brand and something that I can own and incorporate other people and artists into.
So building up the label, more songs on the way, a lot of big features. The next song I’m dropping is actually me and JME which is going to be lit; especially with the video idea that we’ve got which is crazy.
And finally, where will Arsenal finish this season?
Optimistically fourth, realistically fifth or sixth. I’d probably go sixth. I don’t think we’re quite there yet but maybe one or two more key signings and fourth and third are an option, but I think we’re still lacking at the moment.
Photography by Zek Snaps