rising star of the UK scene, who always performs in a mask and gloves, has sparked frenzied speculation around his identity after claiming to play in the Premier League.
Footballers from John Barnes to Neymar have tried their hand at rapping, but whoever the player is behind Dide’s mask seems not to be a gimmicky one-off but is much more intent on building a following with his music.
“I train in the morning or the afternoon, depending on the schedule,” he says, of juggling football and rap. “In the evening, we have a lot of downtime as football players, and instead of going out, going shopping, and all these other things that some players do, I prefer to stay at home and relax.”It is during this time that he makes his music.
Dide, who is dropping his mixtape Who is Dide today and has a sound influenced by Drake, released his first track Thrill in April. “I just kind of took the gamble to release it, and then obviously, the rest is history”, he says. The track has since clocked up millions of streams.
Keeping his trademark mask firmly in place during our conversation, Dide says his musical venture was relatively spontaneous, and originally started off as a hobby.
But since going viral, internet sleuths have set about decoding his songs, placing his accent, and trying to match up the brief glimpses of tattoos on his arms.
That London accent has led some to think he might be one of Arsenal’s talented young attaching players with suggestions it could be Bukayo Saka or his teammate Eddie Nketiah. Some fans noted that Dide is an anagram of Eddi. Others have suggested its former Liverpool player Sheyi Ojo because of similarities in their tattoos.
Dide himself won’t be drawn. He says that taking the spotlight away from his sporting profile allows listeners to focus on the music. “I just feel that especially in football, there’s always people with different opinions, and I feel like, when we’re listening to music, you always want to have a face to the music that’s being played.
“With this whole mask theory, it kind of forces you to listen to the music more, and appreciate the lyrics that I’m saying and the stories that I will tell you.” Though in terms of publicity, the mystery and the speculation around who it may be, hasn’t hurt its popularity.
Only a few very close friends are aware of who is behind the mask, “my inner team, my music manager and one or two other people”. He says that none of his footballing teammates know about his secret musical side hustle. Indeed, he has heard his teammates speculate among themselves about who the mystery rapper might be: “It’s happened a couple of times,” he says, “but obviously, in order to protect the identity of it, I’ve got to be ruthless. I can’t really allow anyone to know that it’s me, or to give them an idea that it could be.”
He regularly raps about football. He started writing Derby Day, a high-octane, drill-infused track on the way to a match against his club’s bitter local rivals (could that be Arsenal against Tottenham?). “I finished it on the coach back. The nerves and anticipation you feel on a derby day are a unique feeling, and the energy of the song came from that adrenaline.”
He adds: “I think it captures what anyone who plays sports at a high level feels in those moments. We’ve always got music playing in the changing room before a game and ever since I made it, it’s been the perfect song for that.”
His new mixtape is not just about football however. It’s a versatile project that spans UK hip-hop and drill, allowing him to switch up flows, and tell different kinds of stories.
The title-track, Who Is Dide, is delivered with the beat and flow that recalls legendary south London rapper Stormzy. It also demonstrates Dide’s skill at writing.
Delving into more personal subject matter is also something that may pose obvious challenges for someone who hides behind a mask. I ask him how he strikes the balance between genuine storytelling, and not giving too much away.
“Some of the lyrics could be about me, it could be about my teammate, it could be about my friend,” he says. “It can relate to so many different people.” He adds, “That’s what I feel makes [my] project special.”
Dide is hoping to head out on tour in the future, though these ambitions do come with a big question mark; how on earth do you balance the intense demands of life as a touring musician with playing at the very highest tier in professional football? Even Dide doesn’t seem entirely sure, and is vague about timelines. “I think it’s important that the fans have quite a few songs to listen to and to vibe with before I even start doing shows.”
With the mystery surrounding Dide is he considering revealing his identity in the future? “Who knows?” he says. “In the future, maybe I’ll show my face. Maybe even the next song I’ll show my face,” he teases, “we’ll just have to wait and see what happens I just want people to appreciate the music that’s being played so far.”
While Dide is not yet ready to reveal all, he does drop some subtle hints in his tracks. “I think is it’s all part of the mystery, and in the mixtape you kind of understand a bit more about who it could be. I feel like every song kind of gives more detail into who actually did it,” he says. “Hopefully, as the songs come out, and you listen to more, you’ll understand the bigger picture.”
Dide’s debut mixtape Who Is Dide is released September 29