KSI & Randolph at Vicar Street, Dublin on 23rd June 2019
Flashback to June 23rd 2016. It’s one day out from Glastonbury, probably the world’s biggest and most prestigious festival, one which musicians across the world dream of playing in some form or another. For YouTuber-turned-rapper KSI, however, the significance of the festival is of little relevance. Less than 24 hours out from appearing at the festival, he pulls out, citing a lack of “respek on my name”.
The YouTube star, who can now boast over 20m subscribers on the platform, cited his admittedly very impressive streaming numbers as proof that he deserved a higher billing than a midday slot on the Sonic Stage, even if it would have meant sharing that stage with the likes of J-Hus, Bugzy Malone and 2019 headliner Stormzy.
For many, this was a clear sign that the idea of KSI, real name Olajide Olatunji, being a potentially successful musician was one to be ignored. The arrogance combined with the lack of respect for the festival organisers showed that he himself was not ready to take a music career seriously. Of course, Olatunji isn’t the only young, successful celebrity to fall into the trap of believing their own hype.
However, KSI, who turned 26 last week, clearly has good people around him and in March 2017, he announced that he was taking an indefinite break, deleting all his social media as well as over 600 videos (with a combined 2 billion views) from his channel. It was during this break, it appears, that something clicked with KSI’s music. Upon his return, he released the ‘Space’ EP, which, while ultimately unsuccessful, showed an ability to pen insightful, inward-looking songs rather than the spoof-laden likes of previous singles Lamborghini or F.W.B.
While KSI has released some comedic tunes since then, mainly as part of a trend on YouTube in the latter half of 2017 which saw creators releasing a number of diss tracks aimed at each other, his musical output since he took that career break has been far more impressive, while his attitude – allowing other YouTubers to use his songs in their videos copyright free – is a far cry from that decision he made in June 2016.
Earlier this year, KSI and long-term collaborator and friend Randolph released a self-produced, self-promoted album entitled ‘New Age’ before announcing a UK & European tour. A few years older, it seems the 26-year-old has realised his limitations and what he has to do to grow in the music world, as the tour, for the most part, was booked to hit venues a fraction of the size of Glastonbury’s Sonic Stage. Finally, he is taking things seriously.
Despite booking smaller venues, KSI’s debut performance in Ireland, which happens to take place exactly three years on from those Glastonbury tweets, was perhaps a bit of a stretch at this stage. Vicar Street is abuzz with fans in their mid-teens to early-20s but, as the lights come down for the main event, the floor is only half full, while the ground floor seating area is lit-up by a smattering of smartphone-watching parents, and the upstairs segment is curtained off.
That said, those in attendance are still capable of making a lot of noise, as support act Big Zuu finds out early on. The up-and-coming grime artist, who is beginning to get some consistent airplay on BBC 6Music, feeds off the energy of the young crowd and delivers a whirlwind set that is enough to show he won’t be playing support for much longer. His final song is met with the first of many Olé Olé Olé chants of the night. The energy in the room is palpable. Time for the big guns.
While the album and tour have been billed as a 50-50 partnership, it’s clear who the real attraction is as a solo Randolph hits the stage first to muted cheers. Arguably the more natural performer, his lyrical skills are largely forgotten as KSI bounds on stage like a malfunctioning Energizer bunny. The first song acts as a precursor for the entire show, as it flip-flops between genuine gig and puerile pantomime.
Songs like Real Name, Pull Up and Beerus are evidence that the pairing could go some way to making a solid career out of music, while Uncontrollable (featuring Big Zuu) is a legitimately great tune that even has some of the parent/guardians sitting up and paying attention. The mostly male adolescent crowd roars every word back at the stage and it’s clear that even if The New Age doesn’t go anywhere from here, they have unearthed a new legion of live music fans, and there’s nothing negative you can say about that.
The highlight of the night was a heart-warming – if a little haphazard – segment in which a number of fans were invited on stage to try and recite a particular quick verse from Beerus. Some took the opportunity to just have the chance to meet their idol before admitting to not being able to do what was being asked of them, while others, like 13-year old Cork native Lee, who nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders in response to KSI questioning how he’d gotten into the show despite being underage, before perfectly relaying the lyrics at a speed which even the professionals were taken aback by.
However, that’s as good as it gets in all honesty. All the good work is undone by cringe-worthy call-and-response chants of “Fuck Logan Paul” (another YouTuber that KSI is currently clashing with ahead of a forthcoming amateur boxing rematch. Yeah, I know) as well as a momentum-killing solo cameo from Randolph as he performs a frankly embarrassing “diss track” aimed at KSI’s younger brother. The less said about that, the better.
All said and done, the duo’s young fans will have left Vicar Street on Sunday night feeling pretty pleased with what they’d seen; however, from a critical point of view, while KSI is clearly beginning to treat his music career more seriously than before, he’s still a long way off being treated seriously by the music industry as a whole.
Glastonbury won’t come calling again any time soon, but KSI has gone some way to making amends for his previous missteps. There’s plenty more to do yet.