Knowledge. Strength. Internet fame*. These are the three defining characteristics of gaming/vlogging/amateur boxing star Olajide Olayinka Williams Olatunji (aka KSI). After more than ten years in the digital entertainment business, and a string of hot singles, his debut album Dissimulation is due out next week, and it’s touted to be one of the biggest releases of 2020.
KSI’s first single, “Lamborghini” was released in 2015. Since then, he has displayed an ability to perform in a variety of styles. From the trap hooks of tracks like “Poppin” (feat. Lil Pump and Smokepurpp) and “Down Like That” (feat. Rick Ross) to the recently released afrobeat/drill-influenced “Houdini”(feat. Swarmz and Tion Wayne), there’s a little bit of everything for rap fans in his backcatalog.
With 23 million subscribers, KSI is the third largest UK channel (sitting nicely behind Ed Sheeran and One Direction) on Youtube. While he originally made a name for himself as a gamer/vlogger (and for punching Logan Paul in the face), his forays into the musical world have generated a huge amount of buzz from fans.
He is the face of the next generation of superstar, utilising a devoted online fanbase to launch into a successful and lucrative music career. Pre-orders for Dissimulation have already hit #1 on iTunes album pre-orders in Australia.
Some critics or rap purists may decry this as an internet star capitalising on viral fame to exploit rap culture – the more cynical may even label him as a ‘culture vulture’. However, this stance is arguably short-sighted and pseudo-elitist, ignoring the impact that personalities like KSI have already had on the culture.
Rather than complaining that a former gamer streaming FIFA from his parents’ basement has no right to indulge in rap music, it’s worth examining how and why personalities like KSI resonate with the new generation of hip-hop listeners.
The worlds of digital entertainment, social media, gaming, music and technology have melded into a new form of hype conglomeration. The borders between each sector are indistinguishable. The recent record-breaking Fortnite Travis Scott event is further evidence of this new way of marketing, engagement and distribution.
The separation between artist and fan, producer and consumer is shrinking every day. Focusing on music is only part of the package now, and fans expect personality, and engagement beyond album liner notes (if anyone even reads those any more). From shirking traditional album-tour cycles, to engaging directly with fans on social media or in video games, artists are moving away from established music industry methods.
KSI has already mastered this multi-tiered approach and has been doing so for more than a decade. In that sense, he is the quintessential renaissance man of digital entertainment in the 2020s, pushing forward in this new, strange, and exhilarating frontier of rap culture.
Dissimulation is out Friday May 22 through RBC/BMG Records. Listen to “Houdini” now on all major streaming platforms.
*(OK, the ‘I’ actually stands for Integrity)