Meet Matt Robinson, the pro soccer player making big moves in the rap game as 'Kamakaze'

Kamakaze's 'The Best FIFA Football Awards' rap (0:51)

Non-league footballer and rapper Kamakaze raps about Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Beth Mead for ESPN. (0:51)

In the middle of an unforgiving winter schedule, Matt Robinson -- captain of National League club Dagenham & Redbridge -- has more than just a late-season push for the playoffs and promotion out of the fifth tier of English football on his mind; he is soon to drop a career-defining album.

Robinson on the pitch, Kamakaze in the studio -- each have their own impressive accolades. Placed in front of his 2022 player of the season trophy for the club where he's plied his trade for the last eight years, stand a microphone and acoustic panels. On his desk there are books, labelled by the year, teeming with lyrics to songs, some of which have featured in past versions of EA Sports' FIFA and NBA video games.

"Everything I do music-wise will happen from this room," Robinson tells ESPN. "It's my inner sanctum."

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In this space, Kamakaze masterminded hit tracks such as "Last Night," "Codeine" and "Time it Took" which, combined, have been streamed more than 16 million times on his Spotify profile alone. These numbers show plainly that dismissing the 28-year-old's music career as merely a side hustle doesn't do justice to his achievements in the music business.

But his priorities have never been tangled. It's football first, and when it comes to pulling on the kit, Kamakaze is a distant thought.

"Without football I don't earn a full-time wage, straight off the bat," he says. "So football's always been the priority, just in terms of the way it's structured.

"Not to say I'm embarrassed, yeah, but I'm very much of the mindset that when I'm at football I'm there to play football. So bringing music to the forefront of what's going on in the changing room, like if one of my teammates [played my music] I wouldn't be opposed to it, but I'm the DJ.

"Maybe if I had an outrageously good game and I was just feeling myself I might, but generally speaking I try to keep the two separate because I wouldn't want anyone to think my focus was elsewhere when I'm in the dressing room getting ready to play a game."

Robinson's teammates mostly leave Kamakaze alone -- barring the odd spurred-on performance on team buses and nights out -- but opponents do not afford him the luxury. The reality of running a career in music alongside one in football means he has a certain notoriety, not least after his nomination for a MOBO ("Music of Black Origin") award -- one of the most prestigious music prizes in the UK -- for Best Grime Act late last year.

"I've had it where opponents have done it to rile me up," he says. "They've played my music when they've beat us or something, just to p--- me off or whatever.

"To a certain degree, I know that with the exposure I've had over the last couple of years it would be very difficult for some of them to not know, if that makes sense. If they're a fan or not, it's not generally something that is spoken about. I think when people are at football they're there to be at football, and I think the only people who would really mention it are people who are trying to annoy me.

"They'll just tell me 'ah you're rubbish' or whatever, or 'heard your music you're wack' etc, and after the game they'll be like 'ah you know I was only messing around, I actually think you're good, I listen to your stuff' ... so it's not something that's brought up like a paying homage thing before a game when we shake hands or when we see each other in the tunnel."

While music can be dismissed for the crucial 90 minutes around which Robinson's life revolves, the game is often the subject of the music he produces in his downtime. The beguiling array of football references in his lyrics (including in a rap about the nominees for The Best FIFA Football Awards, recorded for ESPN) appeal on a surface level, but a lot of what drives his musical output comes from using it to articulate how football makes him feel, good or bad.

"I saw my haters check my shoulders, I was glancing/They try and narrow down my angle but I still hit the stanchion like Marco van Basten." ("Pretty Nice")

"Got my stripes like PSV/Ain't no rapper in my league but if there were I'm PSG/Hold it down like CDM/I'm like Wilfred Ndidi." (Est. 93")

"Just know that you could never test me/Man, I make it look easy like Eberechi/Still the fox on my heart like Kelechi." ("Pretty Nice")

"The referencing thing is just something that's cool, and if you make a cool analogy or like a cool metaphor out of a footballer's name it's something that's easily translatable because a lot of my listeners like football," he says.

"The Marco van Basten lyric I just thought that was a cool reference, I'm not going to lie I thought it sounded good. Like I just thought it was a sick lyric and it rhymed, and it was in context with who [he] is and what he did with the volley [for Netherlands at Euro '88.]

"Basically, a lot of the time my frustration from football influences my music, or my happiness in football. The emotions that I take from football, which is obviously like an everyday thing for me, are what goes into music in terms of inspiration.

"These are my frustrations, and obviously since I've been working on my album they're things I've tried to incorporate into it, really giving a picture of what it feels like to be me."

While working his way up the ladder of professional football, Leicester-born Kamakaze had to put himself on the map in the music industry. Grime is a genre of rap which still thrives in its London roots -- often artists who originate from England's capital dominate the field.

Names such as AJ Tracey and Dave headline the genre -- both have had multiple hits at the top of the album and single charts such as "Ladbroke Grove" and "Funky Friday" -- and Kamakaze stepped up to the mic against them in 2016. Despite his music career taking second priority to football in his life, the midfielder didn't falter. His performance begged the question: where could he be if his music career took precedence?

"It's something I think about, but I genuinely just think that regardless of whether I play football or not, the level of skill does not always reflect the level of success," he says.

"When I say 'chosen' I don't mean those people are undeserving of their positions, I'm not saying that at all. AJ Tracey, Dave they're people who I know and who are amazing artists.

"But within the context of how the music industry works, there comes a point where people open some doors and people close other doors. [Those] certain doors that were opened were not necessarily opened for me."

Hollywood-backed Wrexham have shed light on the challenges of the National League. Ryan Reynolds' and Rob McElhenney's club are second in the table, five points behind Notts County in the battle for just one automatic promotion spot. Robinson's Dagenham are five points below the top seven in the table, so they could well be up against Wrexham if both sides finish the regular season in the playoff positions.

While the potential of entering England's top four tiers is at the forefront for Robinson, Kamakaze is set to release a career-defining album in March. In his eyes, it is his best work yet. The music industry shares many traits with the world of professional football, and he knows his time to hit big is running out on both fronts. The move to release his first album is significant as, in his words, "people don't want an emerging artist at 35."

He says: "I've done the EPs, I've made good music that some people have listened to, some people haven't. I've had certain accolades like songs on FIFA and NBA, and adverts and all those kind of things. But I've never put my name to an album.

"What I mean by that is most people's first album is arguably their best work, their defining work. With a rapper, everyone remembers their first album. Not saying people don't remember the second one, but the first one is very definitive in who they are as an artist.

"I'm putting my name to an album for the first time and it's the best music that I've ever made. If this one [doesn't] work, none of them are going to."