Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Image courtesy of DAZN.
The Bigger Picture (London) — KSI, real name Olajide Olatunji, was in his element last year.
The 26-year-old British YouTuber, who now boasts a total of 28 million subscribers across his two YouTube channels, initially rose to prominence in the early 2010s. While his early content showed comedic potential and was raw, authentic, and had a degree of “relatability”, it was not without controversy. Throughout the first half of the decade, KSI uploaded largely the same content; primarily videos of himself playing the video game FIFA, comedy sketches, and videos of himself and his YouTube group “the Sidemen” playing football.
However, in 2017, KSI underwent a massive shift content-wise after taking a long break from uploading content to YouTube, reemerging in June with the music video for a single, Creature, and an EP, Space. It was his first foray into serious music, and it clearly showed room for potential - his flow and lyrics on Creature was rather questionable - although most of this was overshadowed by a series of money-grabbing diss-tracks, which accumulated tens of millions of views online.
In 2018, KSI’s music notably improved, with a more rhythmic, easygoing flow on tracks like Uncontrollable. Even his diss-tracks, like August hit On Point, a diss-track against Logan Paul; and Ares, a diss-track against fellow YouTube rapper Quadeca; showed that he had made much progress throughout the year, with stellar, haunting instrumentals and a diverse flow. His lyrics became more intelligent and less pretentious, rich in meaning while incorporating references to Greek mythology.
He participated in two high-profile (but amateur) boxing fights against the YouTubers Joe Weller (which he won in the third round) in February 2018 and Logan Paul (which ended in a draw) in August. While KSI’s technique in terms of boxing was questionable, the fights were undoubtedly a commercial success, with millions of pay-per-view viewers on each fight’s live stream, and videos of the fight uploaded to platforms like YouTube gaining views in the tens of millions.
However, KSI really took his boxing, his YouTube content, and his music to the next level last year. He, along with his YouTuber group, the Sidemen, has been uploading weekly videos to the Sidemen YouTube channel, whereupon they usually gain more than five million views. While the comedic competence in the videos may be up for debate, and while they are more polished, professional and a little less personal than Olatunji’s previous content, they are hugely popular amongst viewers.
His music was more successful than it has ever been; early in the year he released a collaborative album with the rapper Randolph called New Age. With features from the likes of Quadeca and JME, the two rap over hard trap beats; the album reached 17 on the UK albums chart. His single, Down Like That, featuring rap icon Rick Ross, prominent Atlanta rapper Lil Baby, and underrated British vocalist S-X, was a smash-hit, racking up 28 million streams on Spotify and rising to number 10 on the UK singles chart.
Later in the year, KSI fought a rematch against Logan Paul on the 9th of November at the Staples Center, a famed sports and entertainment venue in Los Angeles, California. It was the pair’s professional debuts, billed as the “biggest internet event in history”, with 12,000 in attendance and more pay-per-view streams than Anthony Joshua’s defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr., which was “one of the biggest upsets in boxing history”. KSI won by split decision, showing more heart and fight than Logan Paul despite not being up to Paul’s technical level. The fight’s promoter Eddie Hearn commented, “you don’t realise the audience these guys have. They brought our sport to reach new ground and reach new territories, new demographics and new markets.”
KSI’s music probably isn’t as good as he thinks it is; it’s no secret that the British megastar has a massive ego. He’s far from being the greatest boxer in the world either, no matter how many pay-per-views the fight got. But considering where he was at the start of the 2010s, it is remarkable and inspiring to see his development and where he is now.