KSI – All over
There are a handful of reasons you came across KSI. Long-time fans will remember him as a 15-year-old who uploaded videos of himself playing FIFA on YouTube, where he has had more than 30 million subscribers since then. Or it could be due to his hugely hyped boxing match against rival YouTuber Logan Paul in 2019. You are less likely to know KSI as a rapper.
That being said, the Hertfordshire-born artist – real name Olajide Olatunji – has been tinkering with the musical side of things for some time. The most promising of these efforts came last year with his solo album Dissimulation, a surprisingly good debut from someone dubbed “Youtuber-turned-rapper”. KSI’s second album, All Over the Place, is more like that in the sense that it’s also a bumper-to-bumper mix of genres worn by some of the major music classes.
There are certainly highlights on the album. As with Dissimulation, KSI would do well to enable its employees to do what they do best in their respective styles. “Silly” is a confidently boastful grime track starring Bugzy Malone. Anne Marie brings some lightness and a sing-along hook to “Don’t Play With Me”. And it’s very easy to see the nostalgic Craig David dance track “Really Love” playing over and over again this summer.
However, sometimes All Over The Place beats for lack of a unique, distinctive voice. Parts of the album feel anonymous – a squishy amalgamation that vaguely sounds like trap-pop on the charts at the moment. Still, it’s noteworthy that KSI – a relative newcomer who has successfully converted billions of video views into millions of Spotify streams – holds its own among its many, many collaborators. KSI sounds like a musician. Maybe he can delete the “YouTuber” prefix from his name after all.
Willow – Lately I’ve been feeling EVERYTHING
In 2014, Willow Smith and her brother Jaden gave a breathtaking interview in which they discussed everything from theoretical physics to “pranic energy”. She’s also clearly into the idea of reincarnation. On her boisterous new album, Lately I Feel EVERYTHING, she killed off her 2019 psychedelic soul personality and returned as an emo pop star.
At first glance, it might seem like Smith is jumping on a trend led by teenage stars Olivia Rodrigo and Meet Me at the Altar. But her love for the genre is deep – she was bullied at school for listening to Paramore and My Chemical Romance. “Gaslight” is a breathless joyride that causes frustration in a potential romantic partner for sending mixed signals. “Grow” consists of crashing symbols (an emo-punk staple) and thrashy guitars – there is even a guest appearance by the pop-punk queen Avril Lavigne herself. Other influences creep in: Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better” lingers in the background the sultry “Don’t Save Me”, while “Breakout” is pure white stripes, crammed with chugging guitar hooks and Smith’s screaming Jack White imitation.
Critics complain that Smith’s previous albums don’t reveal much more than we already know about the daughter of Hollywood superstars Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. While I think women artists are often punished for trying to maintain an artistic level of mysticism (Prince and Bowie didn’t have that problem), Smith’s new record feels like their most personal. Her texts have a stream of consciousness style as if she were in the process of composing a message for a friend or partner. The joy she takes in performing these songs is palpable. I hope this incarnation of Smith stays a little longer.