Yizzy, the lost jacket and the great British rap-off

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Eva Pentel

As Stormzy becomes Glastonbury’s first black British solo king, a young pretender to the throne tells the BBC how he’s “ready to go right now” with any rapper.

Towards the end of Stormzy’s Worthy Farm set on Friday, the 25-year-old paid tribute to a host of UK grime legends that had helped him to arrive at that historic point, before bigging up a new wave of exciting black British music stars breaking through on stages across the festival.

One such artist is fellow south Londoner Yizzy, who has been pretty busy despite not being at the Somerset event this year.

The 19-year-old MC, who is hotly-tipped by the ‘Godfather of Grime’ himself, Wiley, released his explosive third EP in as many years in June before going on to support 2016 Mercury Prize winner, Skepta, at Field Day in his home city and heading up to Manchester to play Parklife festival the following night.

His summer so far has been about as breathless as some of the double-speed raps that have seen him compared favourably with a young Eminem.

“That was arguably one of the best weekends of my life,” beams this week’s Newbie Tuesday-featured artist.

“I didn’t expect that kind of energy and reaction straight away from the beginning.”

The young Lewisham rapper speaks knowledgeably and passionately about all of the above grime stars but admits he never dreamt he’d become one himself. In fact, he only started to take the rap game seriously a few years ago thanks to a sartorial twist of fate in his high school music building.

“The story behind it is I went back into the music block at lunchtime because I left my jacket,” he explains, “and as I turned to leave I noticed that one of the music room doors was open. I heard some rapping and I asked to join in a freestyle and that was literally the start of my music career.

“I’m very much a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I always truly believe if I didn’t go back to get my jacket, I don’t know if I’d have started doing music.”

Until then, the keen runner and Arsenal fan had planned to leave school and prepare for an athletics scholarship in America or, failing that, join the army. Now just three years on, instead of running around the track he’s been producing them, freestyle, for the BBC’s coverage of this year’s London Marathon.

“It’s really weird how life kind of links up and takes you back,” he laughs.

While Stormzy’s big Glasto set drew on his grime roots, British rap, UK garage, gospel, pop and beyond, Yizzy is mainly mastering the former, for now at least, as it best suits his rapid-fire delivery.

One obstacle standing in his way of the big time, however – according to a recent report by MPs – is that “prejudices against grime artists risks stifling one of the UK’s most exciting musical exports.”

The Glastonbury headliner used his platform to tackle issues of race and discrimination and Yizzy finds it frustrating when the genre is associated with crime or confused with another controversial discipline – drill – by “ignorant” journalists.

“It’s through ignorance or a lack of understanding by whoever’s reporting on the situation as to what grime music actually is and the culture it entails,” he declares.

“To someone who just sees a musician from a certain area being stabbed and killed they just add grime [to the article] for convenience and that’s sad. It’s unfortunate that we have to defend grime but doing that could shine an even more positive light on it.”

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Eva Pentel

After dazzling a small-but-frenzied tent at Field Day, Yizzy made it his mission to go backstage and find Skepta, but had the added bonus of bumping into the star’s brother JME, as well as Frisco and Chip en route.

Not content with just meeting his heroes, the confident and fast-learning grime student challenged the latter master to an impromptu rap battle, just like he was back at the old school.

“It wasn’t really a challenge,” he explains, “it was just me kind of being cheeky! I said the same thing when I met Ghetts, and Dizzee Rascal: ‘I’m ready to go right now, let’s spit some bars’. If I do that it means one, I like you, and two, it would mean a lot to me.”

“It’s funny,” he adds, “the only person who has taken me up on the offer was Chip. We both went back-to-back and it was a real moment for me.”

The moment got even more “surreal” he says, after the headliner joined him.

“Other than Chip, I’d met every other single grime legend,” he says, “there was only two left. So as a 19-year-old doing grime, to end up backstage with him and Skepta – after he’s just done the main stage – just having a conversation about life… that is a real surreal moment, that is just crazy!”

With fans in such high places you get the impression Yizzy won’t have to wait too long before joining the ever-growing number of grime stars being called up by Team Eavis. And he won’t be needing that jacket.

Yizzy’s third EP, Welcome to Grime Street, is out now.

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