Meet Yizzy, The Marmite MC Going For Gold

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Alex Barakat

Love him or hate him, Yizzy is determined. From our one-hour long conversation in East London, I sensed an admirable ambition to grow with his music, but to also retain the richness of his lyrical roots. That is why, in the midst of grime’s recent war dub season, he pulled no punches, spared no one and came for necks. Sending for some of your favourite grime MCs in his “Prince Of Grime” freestyles was brazen, yet the seriousness of his delivery was levelled by the chicken shop box in his hand and a cheeky skank in the accompanying visuals. It was a game to Yizzy, but also a statement of intent. This sense of balance is crucial as he morphs from a precocious, promising grime MC to an artist with distinction.

2019 EP Welcome To Grime Street saw Yizzy maintain the dichotomy, with a tongue-twisting lyrical exercise on “Deh Suh” and “Freeze”, matched with social commentary. The sombre “3 Minutes To Live” tackled knife crime, with the video portraying the Lewisham MC gripping a knife wound, aided by paramedics as he takes his last breath. Then, on his late 2019 collaboration with Dizzee Rascal, “Back It”, Yizzy took it back to basics with more lyrical shells. Coming from a scene where being the best spitter is the alpha and omega, where pirate radio sets and clashing sharpens skill, Yizzy has put these tenets at the forefront of his music, while simultaneously stripping them back when the time is right.

Growth is the motive for the self-professed ‘best newcomer in grime’. At just 19 years old, and with respect from grime generations old and new, the sky is the limit as he aims to take his art to the world and back, inviting new eyes and ears on the scene he loves.

“The reality is no one got rich off a grime set. No one got rich off radio. They got rich having proved they were sick, and then they got rich off of making songs.”

You’ve called out a lot of MCs over the last few months, but why now? Where has this vim come from?

It was always something that was gonna happen at some point. If I'm honest, it was probably around the time Stormzy and Wiley decided to go back and forth, which brought a spotlight back to grime and to the scene. I decided to capitalise on that while it was there. I wanted to do a freestyle anyway, to kick off the year, and it just so happened that I got super-excited about music again and about clashing especially. So, I was like, I’m going to use the moment to put this out.

You mentioned you got excited for music again—was there a point where you’d kind of lost that element?

I’ve always loved music, but sometimes everyone has moments where it’s not as exciting as when you first started, whatever’s going on. It happens to me like every four or five months, but usually off the back of doing something that’s been really important to my career at that time. But it just takes one moment; it could be that you see someone win an award, it could be that someone puts out a really sick song that inspires you. It’s like a car: you need a little jumpstart to get you excited and raring to go again.

I feel like with grime’s war dub season, MCs were trying to prove something—mainly that they were still top tier barrers. What were you trying to prove with your freestyles?

I feel like people had forgotten that I could actually spit bars, and that I’m a real grime MC that came up on radio and did his thing. I wanted to remind people that I can actually bar out with a freestyle when I want to. Just because I don’t do it all the time, doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I wasn’t really trying to prove anything; I was trying to get a lot of stuff off my chest.

It’s funny you say that because I know you from barring: the first song I heard of yours was “Steppin”, so it’s interesting that you feel like people may have forgotten about that aspect of you.

The last body of work I put out was Welcome To Grime Street, and you’ve got songs like “Deh Suh”, which is more of a bubbly one. You’ve got “3 Minutes To Live”, which is more storytelling. To some people, that might have been their first introduction to me. I haven’t been going radio as much as I used to, so it’s not like you can see a new Rinse FM set every couple of weeks. When I was younger, it was more quantity over quality and I decided that, as I’m kind of maturing, really and truly it should be the other way around.

In your mind, what’s the difference between being a grime MC and a grime artist? Being a grime MC suggests that you are able to do sets, shell one down and that’s that, but when you turn it to the artistry, it becomes something different.

It’s where a lot of people hit a brick wall. There are some amazing MCs that people don’t even hear from anymore, or just aren’t doing music, because they were great at MCing. But when it came to songwriting and artistry, they just didn’t know what to do. It’s just about finding the balance between the two.

I see that balance on Welcome To Grime Street, because you do have the barring tunes but also “3 Minutes To Live” as well.

I’ve only been releasing music for about three years. So having a balance between songwriting and MCing is very difficult, and it’s still something I’ve not perfected and I’m still working on. But I’m getting better at it. We dropped songs last year, and then this year kicked off with a mad freestyle. So that’s the MC inside coming back... I’m still learning.

As a tradition for grime artists to want reloads, in a sense, it can kind of restrict their growth because that might be all they’re aiming for. Do you think that’s what’s holding grime back as a genre?

In the past? No. Currently? Yes. It’s a sad thing to say, but the reality is no one got rich off a grime set. No one got rich off radio. They got rich having proved they were sick, and then they got rich off of making songs. But a lot of people, because that’s their introduction into grime as an actual MC, they put so much emphasis on that. They forget there’s actually another side, that there’s a business world, there’s a song. But can you be an artist and put together a piece of music that I actually want to listen to? Especially in a day and age where genres, music, and what’s popular is forever changing. They put a lot of emphasis on being an MC and forget the artist side; they get caught up in the whole nostalgia of wanting to prove you’re the best, and reloads. Nowadays, that’s not how it works.

“I feel like it’s important to be liked because it makes the process easier. Having said that, if people don’t like you, it’s not the end of the world.”

When you look at someone like Stormzy, a big part of why people support his music is his likeability factor. Do you think that’s an important part of being an artist these days? Do you ever worry about coming across as being too confident?

I feel like Stormzy is a very likeable character. I also feel like that’s something that kind of relates to me a little bit as well. From what I’ve seen, the general public opinion about me is one of excitement. And, in general, people seem to like me—which I’m very thankful for—because, obviously, it makes it easier when it comes to trying to maneuver in the scene and put out good music. I feel like it’s important to be liked because it makes the process easier. Having said that, if people don’t like you, it’s not the end of the world, because if you’re putting out good quality music, there’s still gonna be some kind of audience out there that will listen to it. Like, even if you’ve got haters... Haters will hate on you, but they will still check for your music. Which is obviously still going to benefit you because it’s still adding to your streams and your numbers. It’s just the way the world works, but everything kind of comes in swings and roundabouts. Just because you’re not liked one day, doesn’t mean you can’t not ever be liked. I don’t really worry about coming across as too confident because I feel like that’s part of what makes me, me. And if I was to decide to become a bit more relaxed, or laid-back in terms of not being as sure of my ability, then that might lead to people not liking me, because it’s like I’m pretending to be someone that I’m not. I’ve always been someone that tries to better myself, just trying to improve, and I know what I’m capable of. I know what I expect from myself. In turn, that comes across as confidence because I won’t allow any less than a certain level from myself, but I don’t really worry about coming across as too confident because I have good people around me and I’ve got enough of a good head on my shoulders to know where the line of ‘confidence’ and ‘arrogance’ comes into it, and for now I’m happily staying in the bracket of confident in my ability. I know what I'm doing and where I want to get to.

What was it like working with Dizzee?

It was amazing, man. Not just because of how fun it was, but because of how easy it was. I’ve worked with producers and artists before, in the past, and it’s been difficult or challenging at times. They say don’t meet your heroes, but I’m very glad I did. When you work with someone who’s a legend, that you look up to and relate to on certain things, and then that reflects in the music… You can just see it’s a very smooth process.

I feel like artists like you are very important for bridging that gap between the old and the new, especially when you collaborate with people like Dizzee Rascal. Do you feel that kind of responsibility?

This is something I naturally feel inclined to do. All the best people in grime have brought something to the table: whether it’s Kano and his lyricism, or Skepta and his clarity. The next person that comes through needs to do something with grime and with the sound that we can look back on in ten years’ time and say, “That was a moment.” The challenge that I’ve decided I’m gonna undergo is to be the person that champions, and takes grime worldwide through collaborations with MCs, producers, videographers… There’s so many aspects that I think people overlook. I’ve managed to go back and see what went wrong for MCs, and also what went right, and what’s currently working in the world; that’s how I’m able to put that blueprint together. If it wasn’t for the people that came before me, I wouldn’t be able to do that and see it like that. See the game for what it is. But that’s where I believe my journey is going to take me.

What are your views on Wiley? Twitter would suggest it’s kind of love-hate.

What you see online isn’t necessarily what goes on behind closed doors. I’ve spoken to him on the phone more than once about x, y and z. So, at the moment, everything’s cool in a world of Yizzy and Wiley. I don’t have bad feelings for anyone and he’s not someone I’ll have bad feelings for. He’s just someone who’s very unpredictable, where I’m someone that likes to plan and be organised. That clash of characters is very difficult, and that’s where problems can arise.

2019 was a good year for you. How have you registered the year you had?

It’s still probably not all sunk in, but I’d say it was definitely the most important year of my career so far, in terms of establishing myself in the grime scene and bodies of work. People saw someone that was kind of growing into a young man and mature in terms of his sound. I never thought I was good enough. And I’m a realist, like I see things clearly for what they are. I used to play football in my class, and in Sunday league. I always knew that if there’s 20 people on the pitch, 18 of them aren’t going to make it to pro or semi-pro. With music, when I decided to take that leap of faith, it paid off for me ever since. This is actually a love, like I love what I do now.

Do you sometimes feel like you’re harsh on yourself?

Yeah, but I'm harsh on myself in life. I'm not a perfectionist, but there’s a certain level of demand for myself that I know I’m capable of. And I don’t want to allow myself to go below that, because I’m definitely someone that believes in self-improvement. I’m not doing myself justice if I don’t deliver that level of quality every time.

What do you credit the success in your career to?

Being visible constantly and taking every opportunity, whether it’s open mics, radio sets, whatever. This was while I was in school as well. I was coming home most nights late, when I had exams the next morning, because I dedicated everything to music. I put it before my health and before a lot of my friends. Every opportunity, I took—no matter how far I had to travel, no matter what I had to do, I was always there, and it’s that kind of attitude of taking an opportunity with both hands and making the most of it that, I believe, has propelled me to where I am today.

Sonically, and in terms of subject matter, what are your ambitions for your music moving forward?

I’m always someone that likes to raise awareness about certain things, when I believe the time calls for it. “3 Minutes To Live”, for example: that was planned because I feel like that’s still something that’s ongoing in current modern-day society. But at the same time, I want people to have fun as well. I wanna make music people can dance in a club to. Sonically, I still feel like I’m partly discovering my sound as well, but the way I’m doing it is a way where I’m having a lot of fun with it and experimenting. I’ve still got a long way to go.

What are some of your plans for 2020?

I definitely plan on doing another headline show and I want to start launching my merchandise. I made a label at 16, called Living Legendz, and I wanna start pushing that a bit more to the public. I’ve always wanted to be a Jay-Z or a Diddy in the UK, and I feel like the only kind of label we’ve got at the moment like that, in terms of rappers, is probably Disturbing London. I don’t see why we can’t have more labels like that, for all kinds of music. Especially grime. There’s never been a grime label like that, to a certain level. I want to collaborate with more of the people that I grew up looking up to and currently look up to, but mainly, I just wanna grow and develop more as an artist and as a person.

Posted on April 09, 2020