Bradley Wright-Phillips on September 27, 2017
USA Today Sports Images

Skepta, Stormzy, and the best links between grime music and MLS

Last Saturday, UK grime artist Skepta turned up at  Red Bull Arena to support good friend Bradley Wright-Phillips as the Red Bulls hosted the Vancouver Whitecaps to a 3-0 victory

That made for a bigger celeb guest, sitting normally in the stands, than many at the match that night might have realized. Grime itself - a subgenre of UK hip-hop and dance music — is still relatively new to North American shores. But beyond the Skepta-BWP friendship, the genre already boasts a few interesting links to MLS. 

Skepta reps the Red Bulls

Skepta is one of grime’s most well-known and longstanding artists. His last studio album, 2016’s Konnichiwa, charted globally (peaking at number two in the UK), went gold in his home country, and racked up major award wins and nominations. In North America, Drake and Kanye West have championed him.

Skepta himself was born and raised in Tottenham and supports Spurs — but he now seems to have acquired a soft spot for the Red Bulls! That Saturday night, the hundreds of thousands of fans he picked up along his career got a lesson in his appreciation for BWP.Skepta was delighted to see Wright-Phillips put away RB’s superb second goal and also bought a pin badge of the striker to celebrate the occasion. 

Wright-Phillips himself, meanwhile, is a big grime fan — and has competed in a rap battle against current Everton winger Yannick Bolasie. 

Jermaine Defoe’s grime connections

Jermaine Defoe’s stay at Toronto FC was brief, but it didn’t stop him from bagging 11 MLS goals while he was there. Don’t forget it was Drake himself — a long-time Anglophile — who helped orchestrate Defoe’s transfer to the team. The striker grew up in a musical environment — and his half-brother, Gavin, better known as Esco “Big” Bars, was one of the early MCs in grime’s first wave, and considered a pioneer of the genre, until his tragic death in 2009.

Ashley Cole bigs up Wiley

Fans and critics laud Wiley as “the Godfather” of grime, boasting a prolific output comprising 11 albums and numerous mixtapes to date.

In 2011 he released the mixtape Creating A Buzz Vol. 1 with American producer DJ Whoo Kid. The mixtape’s host? Current LA Galaxy defender Ashley Cole.Cole's selection at the time seemed a little out of the blue — after all, his former clubs include Arsenal and Chelsea, both London rivals to Tottenham, who Wiley supports). But they’re more similar than not — both have enjoyed long, successful careers in their respective fields due to an ability to reinvent themselves and maximize their talents. 

Kano compares himself to Thierry Henry

Kano’s been making grime since 2000, but it was only last year that he achieved his  first U.K. top-10 album. He’s also enjoyed success as an actor, featuring in British TV drama Top Boy

Yet before all that, he was a soccer player. Playing for youth teams at Chelsea, West Ham, and Norwich City, Kano eventually chose music instead as a means to leave his mark. His first passion, though, bleeds into his second. His debut album, Home Sweet Home, remains a classic of the genre, and the track “9 to 5” captures the crossover of the grime and football subcultures in London. There’s even a line about former Red Bull Thierry Henry:

Started sub as the manager’s tactics but when I did play I used to score hat-tricks / Then I gave up now I’m in the music biz and I won’t ever let my laziness ruin this / There’s just no point, I’m on point, I’m the Henry on the mic, I’m so on point

Stormzy and Beckham share the love

In recent years, Stormzy has proven the breakaway artist in the grime movement. His track “Wicked Skeng Man” was the first-ever freestyle to reach the top 40 in the UK, and his album released earlier this year, Gang Signs & Prayers, reached number one there. 

Stormzy’s also a Manchester United fan, and last year helped to launch their new jersey alongside Paul Pogba. During that process, Stormzy got to hang with former United legend and former LA Galaxy star David Beckham. Speaking of the experience he said, “It has been my dream to meet David Beckham since I was a youngster. He is a gentleman and hasn’t disappointed. I hope I wasn’t too fanboy around him!"

Series: 

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.