10-year journey: KSI on posting FIFA vlogs to becoming bigger than YouTube
And selling his Tron-themed Lamborghini
I uploaded my first video on to YouTube when I was 15. It was just me playing Fifa and commentating over it. People loved it. Not everyone can do skills with the controller, so they liked watching me do it. When someone commentates over it, that’s interesting. Add humour, and I had a formula for hits.
People watched me for entertainment. They thought I was hilarious – how I sounded, what I was saying. I saw other people doing it and I thought it’d be cool if I posted a video as well. If I hadn’t done this I’d have worked in McDonald’s.
YouTube gave me the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be. KSI is like my YouTube persona and JJ is offline me. When I first told people I was a YouTuber, they’d say, “That’s not a real job. What are you doing, you weirdo?” “Yeah it is,” I’d say, and they’d go, “But how do you make money?” Trust me, if you do it right, you can make lots. Most sign to an MCN [multi-channel network] which collects and represents similar channels, and packages them for advertisers for a slice of the revenue. They help creators build and share audiences while finding sponsors for branded content or product placement. Payment ranges, but normally it’s $2 [£1.55] every 1,000 views.
The YouTube generation has succeeded because they understand social media. Traditional broadcasters failed to use it to their advantage. Are they catching up? One hundred percent. They have the money, simple as that.
The craziest thing I ever bought was a Tron-themed purple Lamborghini Aventador. I was 19 and thought, “Fuck it, I want a Lambo.” It was always my dream car but I never had the money. I want to sell it now. I guess it was fun at the time but I’ve grown past that. I’ve started to realise what’s important in life, and a fast Lamborghini really isn’t.
Growing up online is weird. Especially when people come up to you and know more about you than you do. Certain videos they mention I’d say, “Er, did I do that?” I mean, I’ve made more than 1,000 – you can’t expect me to remember them all.
Being a YouTuber’s not easy. You have to constantly think of new ideas. Constantly post. You have to be director, producer, editor, commentator, cameraman, star. In the past, if I didn’t post for a while, I’d get messages saying, “KSI RIP.”
It got to the point where all the YouTube stuff had got too much and I went Awol for a bit. Then I came back and released an EP called Space to explain the things going through my head. It’s about figuring out who I am, to show the old aspects of me, what made me KSI, and transforming into this new person who’s more real. An evolved state.
I don’t know how big I would’ve been in music without YouTube, but I would’ve got a fanbase. That’s the problem with me doing music. If people heard it without knowing who it was by, they’d go, “This is sick.” But because it’s got the KSI tag, people say, “Oh, I can’t like this because it’s KSI.”
Look at Will Smith. He did The Fresh Prince, then he started rapping and people were thinking, “What are you doing?” But he still did it, and look at him now. Same with Danny Glover. No [laughs], not him; he’s the guy from Lethal Weapon. I mean Donald Glover, but you knew that, didn’t you?
YouTube’s changed a lot, and not for the better for YouTubers. The ‘you’ part of YouTube isn’t a factor any more. Now it’s companies pumping money into YouTubers to force them to succeed. Gone are the days where people made videos without a hidden agenda. They’re doing it to make money or get famous. YouTube has changed, but I’m sure it’s doing well either way.
I feel like I’ve reached the top of the whole YouTube thing. Now it’s about what’s next. I’m in a space where I want to go forward with the music and smash it. Once I do that it’ll be, “Cool, now I’m going to try acting.” Then I’ll probably retire and have kids [laughs]. Not before I’m 30, of course.
Space and Disstracktions are available to stream now
(Photography: Tom Barnes)