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Player Playlist: How Bradley Wright-Phillips got into the grime scene

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Football could, indeed, be coming home. This year’s blowout, chaos-driven extravaganza of a World Cup has come down to the quarterfinals, with the defending champions – Germany – and other usual titans – Spain, Argentina – knocked out. But still England’s Three Lions, have made a run, notably eliminating Colombia with a penalty shootout. (Take that, everyone who had plenty of jokes about England and penalties.)

With England facing off against Sweden, you can count New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips among those cheering the loudest stateside. The north London native plied his trade throughout his home country’s divisions before blossoming in the States. Through this tournament, he’s joined his father, Arsenal legend Ian Wright, in public displays of football joy as his country’s passed through each stage.

But Wright-Phillips, who boasts 11 goals on the year so far (tied for second place in the league overall), faces his own tough test on Sunday. That’s when the Red Bulls visit NYCFC at Yankee Stadium for another New York Derby, one of the most truly bitter rivalries in the league (7 pm ET | FS1 - full TV & streaming info).

To be a fly on the wall, though – or to share earbuds, at least – with Wright-Phillips as he crafts his Spotify soundtrack on the day. Coming up in the grime scene of North London, Wright-Phillips forged early friendships with some of the genre’s biggest stars as they blew up internationally. No other MLS player can say they’ve low-key gotten acts like multi-platinum MC Skepta out to a game, casually, without fanfare, or that they stay clued in to underground shows in Brooklyn.

Oh, there was also that infamous rap battle in the underground video series Lord of the Mics, in which Wright-Phillips casually ethered his friend Yannick Bolasie, currently of Premier League side Everton.

We caught up with Wright-Phillips to hear about his passion for underground beats and rhymes, what the Red Bulls locker room sounds like, and which UK artists are next set to blow.

Skepta’s been out to Red Bull Arena to see you play several times, and you even gave him a place to stay when he was starting his career in the US. How did you become friends and how did you get involved in the scene?

Yeah, a few years back he wanted to come over here and just make a name for himself. He stayed in my house for a while when he was over here. He’d be on radio stations and doing pop-ups and doing sets, you know, just in the middle of New York. He just kind of started from the ground up, came over with not much money in his pocket. That was about 2015 or 2016.

I know Skep through a good friend of mine who I grew up with, from years ago … through people I knew in the grime scene, when it was still raw.

But me, growing up, that’s all I listened to. Grime is our hip-hop, you know? I’d record off the radio with a tape cassette – that sounds mad old! – but I would take a cassette and tape the radio sessions, not just Skepta, but all of what the local MCs were doing. We would record the shows and swap the tapes.

It’s just the music I listened to growing up and relate to. I know what they’re talking about in the lyrics more. The words I use, how I dress — that’s grime culture.

Who were some of those early artists who were the most influential to you, who might not have crossed over to the States?

Wiley, obviously – he didn’t quite blow up in the States like that. Dizzee Rascal was over here meeting up with some rappers. It’s tough because I feel like 90 percent of the grime scene, both old and new, is not getting seen overseas, where like, in England, in their genre, they’ll killing it.

There are so many MCs that, for me haven’t gotten the recognition, so it’s hard to name just a few. Kano is one – he was the next one to really blow after Dizzee Rascal. If we’re gonna shout out anyone who didn’t really get that recognition, Kano should be it. His album Home Sweet Home was so good.

Burning question: that Lord of the Mics appearance where you battled Yannick Bolasie. How did that come about? That clip is legendary.

Yeah, so me and my friend Yannick Bolasie – he plays for Everton now – that’s my brother, but when we were at Plymouth together, me and him and another guy used to mess around and write lyrics together. And we’ve just always done it, even when we weren’t playing at the same clubs, we’d always send each other voice mails or just write a lyric about them.

And after a while, I think he had done something and uploaded it, and then I did too. I think Game Daily told us to just do a freestyle and send it to them, and people liked it. So the [host of Lords of the Mics] got in touch with us; I had known him through people like Skeppy as well. So he got in touch and said we should do it.

At first I was kind of hesitant, because if you know me, behind closed doors, I’m more outgoing, but I wasn’t so sure about the world – even with my teammates, I didn’t want them to see me doing music. Because I don’t take it serious and I didn’t want it to come across cringey. But I got convinced, so I did it, and I won.

Yannick was just over here and he has the same love for that world that I do. Because in football, like in the changing room, you wouldn’t hear it. Not there is, but when I was younger, in the changing room, there weren’t too many people talking about grime.

Now that you’re at the New York Red Bulls, what kind of stuff do people play in the dressing room when you’re getting ready for a game?

Normally we listen to hip-hop. Tyler Adams, Derrick Etienne Jr., or the kit man, Sean, will control it. It’s really those guys. It’s good music. We have some good tunes, all the latest songs. I can’t be bothered selecting songs at the time, and theirs are good. There are some guys they play like Kodak Black and Lil Yachty, who I think make some good songs, though I wouldn’t necessarily sit and listen to them alone in the car.

Are there any particular songs you listen to as a team before a match to get you hyped?

Yeah, Mobb Deep, “Quiet Storm,” and then we listen to that Puff Daddy song with Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes, “Victory.”

You have a new clothing label, Two Nines. How does your love of music influence that?

It’s things like caps, bomber jackets — there’s some Brooklyn influence in there too. Dad hats, hoodies, it’s stuff that I would wear, you know? It’s stuff I grew up wearing. We had more dad caps growing up instead of snapbacks – which I never liked because they never suited me – and now they’ve come back around again. We’ll have a long parka coming out, and I’m thinking some sweatpants, too – but I don’t want it to just be regular.