Before KSI, there was Olajide Olatunji – “JJ” for brief. Before the YouTuber, gamer, rapper, boxer, promoter and vitality drink magnate, there was the affable class clown in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
“I remember we did a production of Sweeney Todd,” one in every of his schoolmates tells The Independent. “He played the judge, and when he died at the end, he was twitching and doing the worm across the stage. Everyone was in stitches. He was funny, a nice guy – everybody liked him for that. He was popular, but not like, ‘I’m the s***’; he was confident but also a nerdy, endearing, sweet guy.”
With these qualities, JJ was tailor made for YouTube, the place he launched his channel ‘KSIOlajideBT’ in 2009 – 4 years after the platform’s inception. Fifteen years outdated on the time, JJ rapidly garnered a following by filming himself taking part in Fifa – the well-known soccer online game – at his dad and mom’ home in Watford. His bewitching cackle was a key characteristic in every add. “He always had that very distinctive laugh,” his schoolmate remembers. “I remember that. He would laugh at something during morning registration, and the teachers would be like, ‘JJ, please!’”
By the tip of 2009, Olatunji had amassed 1,000 subscribers. That quantity had tripled by the tip of 2010, and Olatunji’s development accelerated at a startling tempo in 2011, as he reached 150,000 subscribers, and in 2012, when he crossed the million mark. JJ had develop into KSI – standing for ‘Knowledge Strength Integrity’ – and he would quickly develop into arguably probably the most well-known YouTuber in Britain.
“When he started getting big on YouTube, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone,” this schoolmate says, “but you’d hear from certain people that knew him: ‘Oh, he’s definitely got a bit of an ego now. He’s not as sweet anymore, there’s an arrogance there, he talks about himself a lot. He used to be more engaged when he would talk to people.’”
If the YouTube enterprise “made sense” to his friends, then so did his subsequent transfer, when he launched his first rap track in 2015. “I remember he’d written a rap to learn every element on the periodic table, and all the teachers were so impressed,” his schoolmate provides, nevertheless it was singing about supercars, after dropping out of faculty, that demonstrated how drastically KSI’s life had modified. His debut single “Lamborghini”, that includes P Money, peaked at No 30 within the UK chart. It has since been adopted by quite a few EPs and two studio albums.
KSI’s subsequent endeavour was much less predictable, nevertheless.
KSI ushers within the period of ‘influencer boxing’
“He was so sweet that no one would’ve said, ‘Oh, he’s gonna fight when he’s older,’” says his schoolmate. “When he did, it was like: ‘Oh, jeez. Well, I guess he can, so who’s gonna stop him?’”
Popularity isn’t the synonym for likeability that some suppose it’s, and KSI has lengthy had his detractors. Wisely, nevertheless, he started to weaponise a widespread need to look at him get punched within the face. In 2018, KSI fought in his first novice boxing match, beating fellow British YouTuber Joe Weller through TKO inside three rounds, following a build-up that noticed KSI mock his opponent for opening up on experiences with despair. KSI later apologised for his feedback.
Next for the Briton was Logan Paul, who in some methods gave the impression to be his American equal, and the pair fought to a attract a sold-out Manchester Arena. The battle did a reported 1.3 million pay-per-view buys, resulting in an expert rematch in 2019 – held at Los Angeles’ famed Staples Center, streamed on Dazn, promoted by Eddie Hearn, and received by KSI on factors. Fighting on the undercard have been world champions Billy Joe Saunders and Devin Haney, the latter of whom defends his undisputed light-weight titles in opposition to Vasily Lomachenko this month.
The dynamic was disconcerting for many boxing followers, who accused the YouTubers of creating a mockery of the game, but pop star Justin Bieber was current because the likes of Haney and Saunders have been uncovered to a wholly new viewers – one which they might have in any other case by no means reached. Hearn, probably the most recognisable promoter in boxing, recognised that.
Alongside Paul and the American’s youthful brother Jake, KSI had ushered within the period of ‘influencer boxing’.
KSI thrives as new-age entrepreneur
KSI, for his half, has mastered the artwork of self-promotion, however he’s now attempting to show that outwards, too. Now 29, with greater than 30 million subscribers, seven billion views and a reported web value of over $25m, KSI returned to boxing in August. At London’s O2 Arena, he stopped rapper Swarmz and professional boxer (in free phrases) Luis Alcaraz Pineda on the identical evening. Notably, the occasion was the primary staged by Misfits Boxing – a promotion created by KSI in partnership with the established Wasserman Promotions and streaming platform Dazn.
Another extra unlikely partnership adopted, because the mutually antagonistic KSI and Logan Paul launched the vitality drink Prime collectively. For causes that – past the worldwide consciousness of the YouTubers – are troublesome to discern, the drink flooded by way of the nation and off cabinets, promoting out in lots of shops and in the end being banned in some colleges within the UK, US, Canada, Australia and South Africa. It has, nevertheless, attracted sponsorship offers with Arsenal FC, the UFC and WWE, with KSI showing alongside Paul at this yr’s WrestleMania. Trying the drink on Heart radio, Gordon Ramsay mentioned: “Oh, Jesus. It’s like swallowing perfume. What would I give it out of 10? A zero.”
KSI got here below starker criticism simply final month for his use of a racial slur in a YouTube video, which led the 29-year-old to apologise and go to a Mosque in Bradford – an effort to coach himself on the matter. “There’s no excuse, no matter the circumstances,” he wrote on Twitter. “I shouldn’t have said it and I’m sorry. I’ve always said to my audience that they shouldn’t worship me or put me on a pedestal, because I’m human. I’m not perfect, I’m gonna mess up in life, and lately I’ve been messing up a lot.”
Fighting into the long run
Fans will hope that KSI’s preparations for his subsequent battle will maintain him out of such bother, although his progress has been gradual. His type is missing, however his energy is spectacular. This weekend, he’ll check his attributes in opposition to Joe Fournier. The 40-year-old, a former professional boxer with a 9-0 document and an exhibition defeat by David Haye in 2021, acquired his begin within the health trade earlier than transferring into the nightclub enterprise.
Perhaps these are areas for KSI to beat at some point; it will not be a shock. For now, nevertheless, his boxing endeavour takes precedence and takes him again to the O2 Arena.
JJ had his faculty in stitches throughout a rendition of Sweeney Todd; KSI will hope to have Fournier’s head in stitches come Saturday evening.
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