Bridging the Gap: An interview with International Ferg
Author: Daniel David | Thursday 14th January 2021
Speaking to International Ferg for over 2 hours, the thing that strikes me the most is how genuine he is in his love for the UK music scene. The Harlemite influencer has made a name for himself for his knowledge of the UK scene. Interviewing at times, it was like he had more questions for me than I had for him, asking about different artists, different eras, songs, albums, everything.
He shares opinions, he asks questions and is eager to learn and soak up anything and everything UK. Along with this is his desire to be a conduit between the UK and US, building a platform and using his contacts to get UK artists heard in the US.
“I don’t understand how there’s so much talent in London, I can probably name 30 rappers off the top of my head that Americans will be like “wow he’s dope, who is this?” It’s crazy to me, the UK has this perspective that America's not messing with the music, but we’re not even hearing it. I am definitely going to go out of my way to help artists become household names in the states.”
Starting in January 2020, International Ferg has been creating videos that are both entertaining but also informative to American audiences who might not be aware of the UK scene or the context around it. Creating a rapport with his audience, there is a give and take relationship, were his fans are telling him what songs to check out, providing context and all around being a part of the movement.
“First video, I went live and told everybody what I want to do. This is going to be me playing music for UK people to reminisce and Americans to get put on to it. I knew a majority of the main stuff I did initially, but after mad videos, I started learning a lot. But a lot of my American people wasn’t really understanding it, so that’s when I started changing the way I do the videos, and started breaking down the bars to the best of my abilities and giving the backstories of the songs.”
The Harlem influencer was first exposed to the UK scene after a legendary Westwood freestyle that we all have watched several times.
“Maybe 2011, my boy linked me with a UK artist performing at SOBs. He put me on to the movie Kidulthood. Searching for Kidulthood on YouTube and I run into the Chipmunk freestyle with Ice Kid and Wiley. And I’m telling you, I really listen to music, I’ve never heard nothing like this before in my life, the beat was fast, he was spitting fast, and that joint was fire.
“I watch Kidulthood, and I felt like “I was there, this is a cool little movie.” Prior to this the average American, when we think of London, we think of what we’ve seen like Austin Powers and Mr. Bean, and we don’t know it’s similar to here. I immediately put two of my cousins on to that and Top Boy. I was watching Top Boy before Netflix, I had to download it off PirateBay. Me and my cousins are watching it, like “damn this is dope”. And from there I started rockin’ with the culture.”
This appreciation of the culture led to him actually making a trip out of London, one that would end up being the first of many.
“I started flying to London, I was really feeling the vibes out there. One time I just flew out there on my own, not a person with me. I post up in a hotel by Edgware Road. I start going around, I hit Shoreditch, I hit Notting Hill, and I think “damn I love it here.” I came back, now I’m telling all my family and everything “yo we got to all go down there,” so we all take a trip. We go out there, and everybody loved it, they’re all like “we need to move here” Between 2017 and 2019, I’ve been to London like 7 times. This ain’t business, this is just me enjoying the atmosphere.”
While International Ferg was raised in Harlem, a place with so much history and culture, it was moving at an early age that made him open to other regions.
“I’m from Harlem, but my mom did something probably nobody else moms would have did, out the blue one day moved us to South Central, when I’m 14, in the midst of East Coast West Coast Beef all that, and then this move this was supposed to be an upgrade. It's supposed to be like “aaah, we’re moving out the hood” and we move to Slauson and Crenshaw. So, if you’re familiar with Nipsey, that's the same area.”
Moving gave him an insight into a completely different world and lifestyle compared to his upbringing in Harlem.
“Harlem, everybody growing up in Harlem, we looked up to hustlers. We knew the real story of Paid in Full, that’s a story that every kid knows and everybody looked up to Rich Porter. Everybody looked up to Azie. Harlem was just about hustling, it was all about making money. People in Harlem didn’t really look up to too many athletes, it was more dudes on the street. The thing in New York there’s a lot of urban legends, stories of dudes from the streets. You got the Guy Fishers, Nicky Barnes’, Frank Lucas’, so many movies based around people from Harlem.
“We moved to LA, LA is the exact opposite. It’s really gang culture, it’s crazy to see so many people, so young, understanding that you can’t go here, you can’t go there, you can’t wear this colour. Like how a 13 year old understand the math of LA to a tee, from a gang perspective. LA people stay in their areas. Slauson and Crenshaw, I moved to probably the most serious intersection in LA. Any movie you watch, Boys in Da Hood, Menace 2 Society, you always going to hear Slauson and Crenshaw.”
“So I moved there, now when I moved to LA, everyone was at that age when they start getting put on to whatever gang they were going to get put on. But I’m already a New Yorker at heart, so when I go there, I am in Inglewood, I am in Compton, people used to look at that funny, but I just enjoyed seeing LA.”
This desire to explore and engage led to International Ferg learning more about the differences between his hometown and LA.
“Everyone knew the formula to get where they was trying to go, in LA a lot of people go to the NBA. The biggest players you could think of, most of them are from LA. New York has just as much talent, but in New York, people’s parents don’t know the formula. So when I moved to LA, everyone knew the steps to make it to what they wanted do, whether it was music, sports, whatever. In New York everyone was freestyling life. In LA every day, you watch TV, it’s someone you were friends or went to school with, is winning a Grammy or is on a big TV show.”
This ability to connect with people is what led to him creating a name for himself when he returned to New York.
“I moved back to New York after high school. By then I have built up a big reputation in LA already. In LA, Crenshaw high school is a school everyone wanted to go to. It might be the most popular high school in the US. Going to Crenshaw, everybody wanted to be up there, you meet so many different people, everyone is coming up to Crenshaw. Schools in LA, it was like Instagram before Instagram. You create mutual friends through meeting people from different schools, so regular people can be friends with big famous people. New York’s not like that. Not everyone is friends with Jay-Z cause of what school he went to.
“I had a cool little name in LA, from being from New York. I move back to New York, and I am trying to link my LA people with my New York people. I used to always just link people. On a small level.”
Ferg’s enthusiasm for the UK scene is infectious. If anyone feels jaded by it all, speaking to him will reignite that love. This enthusiasm for this new scene he was discovering is what led to him reaching out to his contacts, trying to get them to listen and share in his excitement.
“I’m just a person who was always sending text messages to my core friends. I immediately start forwarding it to people and playing it for people in person. People was just like it’s different, they wasn’t understanding, they felt it was too fast.
It took a song going viral and become a meme for people to start reaching out to Ferg to get more information, making him an ambassador for the UK scene.
“Then when the Michael Dapaah, Big Shaq clip goes viral, they think it’s serious, they think he’s on there talking about real beef. But I’ve been seeing what he has been doing, I’ve been watching SWIL, so I became the UK representative and I am breaking it down for them.”
At the height of the Big Shaq pandemonium, International Ferg had a chance encounter with a friend of his on YouTube which would inspire him to expand his reach when putting Americans on to the UK scene.
“In the process of me doing that, I see a video to the side. I see my boy DJ Ghost, he is one of my closest friends and my childhood neighbour in LA, he’s doing reactions. He has 500k views reacting to Man’s Not Hot. I’ve never even seen a reaction video before this. I call him and he tells me he has been doing it for a while. Then I start thinking this is a dope way I can probably start playing music for people, I think I have a big enough name in America, not huge, but people know me, and a lot of people that mean something know me. So I can just play music in the form of a reaction video and put my American people on.
“Immediately I start getting some recognition, UK artists start hitting me saying “I like what you’re doing, I see the difference”
Taking the successful reaction video format, International Ferg has taken it a step further, using the videos for more than just gaining popularity, but as part of a larger goal, all part of his efforts to gain UK artists more recognition in the US.
“I have a real goal, this isn’t about me getting some views, this is one little step for the next step. First step was creating the platform to be known so I had to get a name in the UK too, so that I can make things happen. Next step is me starting the podcast. There’s so much politics going on, there’s so many deep things going on, and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how Dave is as talented as he is, and has a song as powerful as Black, and the average American hasn’t even heard it. Especially with the year we just had, are you kidding me?
“Top Boy is popular out here, people watch it faithfully and don’t even know that Kano raps, Asher D raps, Dave raps, Little Simz raps. I can play a Dave song right now, and they won’t even put it together that is Modie.
“At the end of day, these dudes is talented, and I don’t get it, how are we not hearing some of this stuff. How do we not hear Akala’s Fire in the Booth? If an American does that, it’s the biggest thing at the time.”
With the foundations laid, International Ferg started planning his next moves.
“So I create the platform and I know a lot of people with big platforms and now I start bringing these people in. This year is going to be a way different shift, because I am actually going to use my connections. I kept it humble on YouTube. I’m putting my foot on the gas now, I was on cruise control, just to get everything right.”
Part of that putting his foot on the gas was connecting with his friend Mal of The Joe Budden Podcast, and getting him to play Digga D’s ‘Daily Duppy’
“So like Mal, that’s one of my closest friends, he has a big platform, they’re the biggest hip hop podcast. What I start doing, now it’s time, let me start hollering at Mal and putting Mal on all the way. I told him to play it, that was the plan, I know how many people watch and listen to it, that was a way that it can get played and this amount of people can hear it and go over to it. That was the plan. Everything with me is strategic.
“I was like there hasn’t been a podcast that’s as big that’s showed love to any UK artists like that. I’ve seen little interviews, but I’ve never seen someone show love like that, so I was like lets do that. I didn’t want to play something that is getting pushed out here, I didn’t want something American’s have seen already. “
When the song was played on The Joe Budden Podcast, the response was crazy, everywhere you turned it seemed people were talking about Mal playing Digga D. I have been a supporter of The Joe Budden Podcast since the early days and I was gassed to hear that played a UK artist. Mal even commented on Link Up’s Instagram. While Ferg saw this as a next step, he couldn’t have predicted how much and how quickly it took off.
“I didn’t expect the response that quick, it happened kind of quick, especially on my end, where a lot of people started hitting me, label people, industry people. Where they see now, that I am really trying to push. I started getting DMs instantly.
“There’s a lot of plans, that people are going to see. A lot of people that matter listen to the podcast, and a lot of A&R’s, they listen to them sleepers, cause it does their job for them. A lot of labels. So for me that was a big thing. It was a dope move.
Working with Mal wasn’t a one off, in fact Ferg sees Mal as a big part of his plans going forward.
“But it’s not a one time thing, this is something that is going to be consistent. And Mal is going to be consistent with me, on my platform, and we are going to start making trips out to London
“Mal been seeking a lot of stuff, but I’m like “don’t look on your own” cause I want to do it on camera with him, cause I want the people to see when he’s seeing some of the stuff, like the first time he’s seeing “Kennington Where it Started” I wanted people to see if he’s really messing with it. I sent Mal some Mizormac and Loski stuff, and he said he was up for about an hour, getting recommended things and he said “those dudes out there is fire” it took him hearing one thing, then he listened to others.
“And it’s not just Mal, it’s a ton of people I have, it’s a big, big plan, that I really want to do that I think is going to be dope.”
Over the years, we have seen collaborations between UK and US artists. The conversation between Ferg and I eventually went down the path of discussing who we would like to see collaborate between the 2 countries.
“I would go with first, Kano and Jay-Z, I would love to hear it, they could both be 80 years old I would care. I loved the Rocky and Skepta joint. When I was in London, it was playing out in the club all day. I love the video. Majority of the people in the video is my peers in Harlem, I would love to see them do another joint. I would also love to see Little Simz and Kendrick on a track, I think Little Simz deserves a lot of credit. I think she’s super, super, super dope. I would like to see Unknown T and NBA YoungBoy on a song. I think Dave on a song with Nas and also have like Premo (DJ Premier) as the producer. Not no new school song, I want an old school beat. I want to hear Dave and Nas back and forth. And of course, if we could have got an Abra Cadabra and a Pop Smoke joint that would have been fire.”
Ferg’s passion for the UK scene is something that shines through in his videos and in our conversation along with his desire to only promote the music and not become what other YouTube channels have become in order to get more exposure.
“I am glad people see that there is people outside fighting for they joint too, it aint people just waiting for some drama to cover it. If you look at my channel, I’ve never covered anything thats been negative, those are the things that get the views, I don’t even cover the street drama, because it’s not about that for me. It's not about a view, I know what the finish line is. I want people to see that there are people that care about the positives. An artist gets shot today, people rush to cover that, they might not ever have covered their music.”
Speaking to Ferg, you can tell this is someone who has it all mapped out and isn’t going to let anything come in the way of that. Now that he has put his foot on the gas, he is on to his next plans. Some of which he was happy to talk to me about.
“So that’s the main thing as far as a goal, is to now start a podcast. The difference with me and a lot of people is that I understand both sides, who’s hot, who’s not. Who people on the ground is messing with, who has the machine behind them, I understand it. It’s going to be easy for me, to put it in a perspective where people out here can understand it too. And not just out here, I now have a following all over the world. I have spoke to people out in the UK who have decent followings, and they’re on board and they want to be on the early episodes. A lot of early episodes will be history things, get people on that know the history. I want people to learn about certain things.”
2021 is sure to be a big year for Ferg as he continues growing and expanding his platform, all part of his plan to gain recognition for UK artists in the US. The passion and drive that he exhibited to me throughout the interview is what will propel him. The honesty and appreciation he has for the UK scene is infectious and I am excited to see what he does next, comfortable in the knowledge that he will be doing his best to promote the UK scene to new audiences.