Having played a pivotal role in defining the grime scene as we know it, Footsie’s work both independently and as part of Newham Generals with D Double E has pioneered so many sounds we hear today. An aspiring football player as he was rising, he was served the choice between professional player or professional musician. Now embarking on his own solo project having had two tunes of his own on the FIFA soundtrack, we spoke to him about the process.

Having received critical acclaim through the launch of debut solo album, ‘No Favours’, the album was an education in the movement that he remains at the helm of. Melting grime, dubstep and reggae, his sound, much like his take on football is bespoke though poetic. The man who was part of the N.A.S.T.Y crew with Kano and D Double E is now leading the charge in the solo space. His latest release ‘Restless Jack’ is out in force now.

So to begin with, how are you doing? How have you found the whole lockdown experience?

Yeah it’s a mad one, the days are all mashing into one. It’s like the day doesn’t end and it’s felt like groundhog day.

How’s it’s been from a making music perspective? Obviously the live performance element is limited right now...

The making of it has been fine. I’ve actually done a load of things that I was dodging. Mixes, and loads of things I’ve been putting off. The making side has actually been good. The thing I’ve been missing is the daily inspiration. The opportunity to go out and see things that inspire you and bring that back indoor and making something from that. That’s been missing. That part of the equation isn’t happening.

It’s one of those things, you probably don’t realise how important that daily inspiration is until it’s not with you anymore... Have you taken positives from the situation?

Yeah it’s good to be productive. It’s surprised me but getting all that stuff I was putting off done actually means that I’ve now had the time to enjoy the process of making music. Normally doing things like mix-downs are something that you swerve but I actually feel fresh from having the time. I’ve done a load of things that have meant I’m not too lost in the normal programme of just sitting in your house.

What about from a reflective stand point - is it a chance to look back at the last few years?

Yeah, it’s changed things for me. We’ve been gearing up to release the album and in this time, it’s given me ideas for video and things like that because I’ve had the time to sit and think through them all. I’ve looked at it as though when we come out of this period, what is the world going to want to see. The world will be different once we’re through all this. Are people going to want to see guys sitting on the hood of a flashy car, you know? Will you even care about that. What’s important to people will change after this. What you had time for before, you might not have time for again. That’s how I feel so who knows how other people are going to feel. A lot of people are going to adopt and keep a new attitude.

Music is something that runs through everyone. If anything this is a chance to listen to a lot more music isn’t it?

Yeah definitely. I think now is a time to reconnect to some of the stuff you thought was sick a few years back. We all get swamped with music and sometimes you get swept away with stuff but what do you love? I’ve done a lot of that. It makes you realise that we have a lot more music these days but I think the quality is down. I think I’d prefer to have more but of a higher quality.

How do you feel about it being as a time to release new music?

This is it, I feel two ways about it. I half want to press pause on the whole campaign because we’re using music in such a different way with different routines now. People listen to music on the way to work or to get into a type of mood, so it changes the way you also make music. Like you start to think about the gap you’re trying to fill for someone and that changes the music you make. I also feel that in this time, everything is kind of sick for an hour. We’re all consuming so much because we’re bored, you know? You can’t follow your interest in the way you used to be able to. At the same time, the need for music is higher because people want to listen to new stuff. So I get both sides of it. It’s a hard time but I think music is also needed now more than ever. I just want it to still mean a lot to people rather than just filling time.

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On the football side of things, can you tell us where it all began for you? Who introduced you to football?

My dad had a football team. That was my first introduction. I used to train with the adults as a kid. They let me play. I used to love that. It was my dad’s Sunday side. It was a sick team. Predominantly Rastafarians who could all ball. It looked mad but was incredible. It was sick.

My Sunday League team was called Senrab FC. We were the top in England in my age group. We got to represent England in this club football tournament back in the day. It just cost too much. The parents had to pay for us to go and none of them could afford that so we couldn’t do that but my Sunday League team was amazing mate. I posted a picture on Instagram about them not long ago. In that picture, there’s Muzzy Izzet, Jon Fortune - loads of ballers who I played with.

So Football was in your life from early on with you Dads team being so present then?

Yeah, I can remember being ten years old and loving that team. Great memories.

Was there a point in your life when football was put on pause and music came into your life?

This is the thing. I was always into music. Alongside football and sport. They were running concurrent. Sport had the edge when I was younger as it was a bit of a clearer route. Especially for your family, it was viewed as a sort of way out of the hood basically. It was a chance. It was a good job that would mean you can provide for others. It’s an opportunity for you to take yourself somewhere else. So I pursued that and I loved it. Secretly, I think music was always pushing for me in the background.

This is the thing. I was always into music. Alongside football and sport. They were running concurrent. Sport had the edge when I was younger as it was a bit of a clearer route. Especially for your family, it was viewed as a sort of way out of the hood basically."

You’re a Man Utd fan aren’t you? Tell us about that...

Yep. Through and through. My Dad was a Man Utd fan, my Grandad too. When they came from Jamaica, my grandparents lived in Manchester for a bit. So yeah, that’s where the link comes from. I’m not a full ‘London Manc’ [laughs].

What would you say the club means to you - was there a golden era for you?

They mean a lot. It’s been emotional this last season. So many lows over the last few years. I’ve been trying not to watch them but I can’t resist. I keep saying “nah I’m not watching that”, then the next thing I know, I’m sat there watching them play by myself and putting myself through it again. But things are looking good now. We’re getting better and looking strong. Ultimately they just mean a lot to me as a club. Especially at the time I was playing football. They were a top side and I had a lot of bragging rights in the changing room.

Do you know, my most favourite time was when Paul Parker and Dennis Irwin were right and left back. The sides that were built from then through the 90s were something else. Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister... I was a defender at the time so I just used to watch them. Andre Kanchelskis in front of him... They were dangerous. That was even before the continental style football came into play with wing backs. It was only 442 back then.

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How would you describe yourself as a fan as a kid? Did you have all the shirts?

Yeah I’ve still got them. My favourite one was one that was white with ‘Sharp Viewcam’ on it. I liked that one because it was worn by players like Lee Sharpe. He was still about and it was towards the end of his career. In today’s football, I think he would have been a legend. A bit wild. He had the character that today’s footballers have. Back then, you weren’t really allowed to show that character. I remember reading Fergie’s book and saying he slammed Lee Sharpe for doing a celebration. Fergie told him not too but he still did it and took the fine. Little things like that I like a lot.

What about Old Trafford as a place. How special is that as a place for you?

Yeah incredibly special. My favourite ever memory there was from when I was playing for Charlton. Charlton had an FA Youth Cup game against United. Phil Neville played. Lee Bowyer was our star boy at the time. Phil Neville had been in the Utd first team a couple of times. He’d been on the bench and in with the squad so it was a big game for me. We saw it as Utd’s top boy versus Charlton’s top boy. Phil crucified Lee Bowyer that day. Even Lee said it back then. I remember him saying he couldn’t get away from him. They both played in centre midfield. We drew that game...

How do you consume football now?

If you go on my phone, top searching is always football. I’m still weirdly interested in it all. Down to the details, who has scored, who is on form. It says a lot about a side in the stats I think so I’m always looking at that.

Having one track on FIFA is immense but having two is a different level. From a fan perspective, that’s a pretty sweet thing to say isn’t it?

Bro. I’ve wanted it for ages. Loads of my pals have had tunes on FIFA previously. To get two on there was a real “YES” moment. I’ve worked on so many tracks from behind the scenes and seeing them on FIFA meant so much to me but the ones that are on there now, they meant so much to me and to get that nod, as my first venture out as a solo artist, it meant a lot. I’ve been in a group for most of my career so far and those tracks as my first solo tunes to get on there, man, as me, a football fan, it meant so much to me. But it was also a good indication and benchmark of where my music is and it tells me that it’s good if other people like that are picking it up.

Do you ever see those comparisons people make between life as a footballer and life as a musician? Obviously you both train, graft then go out on your respective stages...

Football, as much as it is a team sport, it’s still a solo sport too. You’ve still got to go in on a solo aspect as well. You’ve got to do a lot for yourself otherwise you don’t become part of the team. It’s very similar in that solo mindset that says, “I’ve got to be the best.” I think that’s where musicians and sports personalities correlate in understanding each other. We’ve both been on journey’s looking to be the best in what we do. That understanding gives us parallels.

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This is unchartered territory for me. I’m throwing my music out there to the world and the critics and it’s an interesting, pioneering time for me. I feel like it’s the start of a big era."

Has music brought you to the football world in other ways at all like FIFA has? Do you ever get word that a player is listening to your music as an example?

Yeah Welbeck and Oxlade Chamberlain, I remember meeting them a while back and they knew who I was. It was funny because Welbeck was at Arsenal still. I remember Welbeck saying that we shouldn’t be taking that picture because I supported Utd. He knew I supported Utd. That was funny.

Your journey has been incredible given the early days of a playing career and then moving to music, how would you describe it?

Yeah well if you go back to the start when I had the chance of making a career out of football, the real lows were messing that up and then finding my feet, getting back on track and getting into music. I feel grateful and blessed with another talent that has got me to a position where I can feed my family and stuff. So it’s been emotional but I feel blessed because I’ve worked through it. It could have been one of those stories where I was one of those guys moaning “ah I could have been a professional”, but that doesn’t even matter to me, music is where my life took me.

Touching on not making it as a player, what took you away from the game, how come it didn’t happen? Was it down to distractions...?

Yeah it was definitely distractions away from football. I was too involved in stuff I shouldn’t have been at the time. It wasn’t a matter of skill. It was more about outlook and preparation. It was one of those that when my love for football was broken at that age, my mind had gone elsewhere. I moved on and found my next love which was music. I realise that I’m lucky to have another skill and that I’ve been able to break into another industry with that. It’s one that I love as well so I get to do something else I love for a living. I think I was always destined to end up on the music side. I loved football but music had my interest more.

Final question then. How does it feel to have something out there now that’s entirely yours and break cover as a solo artist?

This is unchartered territory for me. I’m throwing my music out there to the world and the critics and it’s an interesting, pioneering time for me. I feel like it’s the start of a big era. I know it’s a stepping stone onwards that I needed to take. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The timing of it all just worked out and I’m excited for it.

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Restless Jack by Footsie Ft. CASISDEAD is out now.

Photography by Vicky Grout.