2K and UnitedMasters have just unveiled their first-ever UK winner from their ‘2K Beats: The Search’ event, with West London rapper A1 Illa and his track “Elevating” set to feature in one of the biggest music soundtracks in the world on NBA 2K21. ‘2K Beats: The Search’ scours the globe for new artists to feature on the in-game playlist, which boasts an audience of 1.4 billion people worldwide. Battling it out against over 13,000 submissions, A1 Illa made the cut for this year’s edition, to claim his place alongside rap royalty and make history in the process.

Having his music selected by the judges that include hip-hop superstar Jadakiss and rap super-producers Murda Beatz and Tay Keith—to appear on a soundtrack that features UK legends Dave, Stormzy and Little Simz through to U.S. stars like Lil Baby, Lil Uzi and Roddy Ricch—this is truly a breakthrough moment for A1 Illa, who’s now ready to elevate his career to new heights off the back of the biggest moment of his rap career to date. 

We caught up with A1 Illa to talk about how it feels to get his music selected by one of his hip-hop GOATs, putting on for West London, and we get the lowdown on his exciting year ahead—which includes a collab with fellow West Londoner Fredo for his 2021 debut project. 

NBA 2K21 is available to buy on PlayStation via 2K now.

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COMPLEX: How does it feel having one of your songs in a game as big as NBA 2K21?

A1 Illa: It’s nice to start the year with a win! I’m just honoured, man. I’m grateful to being starting the year like this. My whole vibe has just changed now; my outlook on life is just so positive as a result of this. 

How did this opportunity come about for you?

I’ve been following people like Steve Stoute on socials, so when I heard UnitedMasters were running the competition via him, I definitely wanted to try and showcase my music to the world. I carried on getting contacted by the people at 2K, asking if I wrote “Elevating” and that. I knew they were interested, but then they went quiet for a few months. But after that, I got a message through saying “You’re the winner!” It was a crazy moment.

How does it feel repping West London on such a global scale?

It’s always good being able to bring something home and rep where I’m from. We’ve definitely got a different style to the scene over here, so I’m glad I’m gonna be able to showcase that on a wider scale. Coming from West, we’re the most stylish, fashion-oriented people, and that’s reflected in the lyricism.

As someone who’s fairly new to the music game, this gig must make it even more special for you. How do you think this will help to elevate your career?

I’ve been doing music since ’07, but I’ve never really taken it seriously. Now that I’ve made this next step in my music career, it feels good that my efforts are being recognised globally. It feels like I’m on the right path now. My mindset has changed now—I’ve got more drive to my art and what I’m doing now. 

You’re now on a soundtrack alongside the likes of Stormzy, Dave and Roddy Ricch. Is the aim goal to get to their level?

Of course! All three of those artists have worked hard to get where they are, and all three have achieved success within their own right—the goal has always been success for me as well.

Do you play NBA 2K now—and if so, was it a big part of your upbringing?

I’ve played it a couple times, but when I was growing up, I was always playing NBA Jam so I know it’s come a long way since the ‘90s! But yeah, NBA 2K21 is a great game. I’m definitely gonna be playing it a lot more now that my track’s on it.

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Did you play basketball growing up? How inspiring is it for you knowing that the game’s best players are going to be playing this game with your music on?

I dabbled with basketball, but I was always playing football growing up. I was a big Michael Jordan fan though, so I was collecting Air Jordans as a kid. I also had Scottie Pippen’s sneakers, so basketball definitely inspired my style growing up. It’s mad that the biggest stars in the game are gonna be listening to my track, man.

How does it feel to have your track selected by rap superstars in Jadakiss, Murda Beatz and Tay Keith?

I’m happy it was Jadakiss, for real! He’s one of my Top 5 dead or alive, so that was crazy to me. For him to feel my music is proper overwhelming. Murda and Tay Keith are both dope producers who make bangers, too! Let’s hope we can link up in the studio one day.

What music are you listening to on repeat that is keeping you inspired during lockdown?

I’ve been listening to Fredo’s new album, Money Can’t Buy Happiness. With him being another guy from West, it’s only right to be spinning that regularly at the minute—it’s an inspiring listen for me, too. We’re also gonna be jumping on a track together, so stay tuned for that. 

How are you still inspired to create during this time?

Every obstacle brings out different levels of creativity. Everything I hear, see and go through, that’s what inspires the music. I try and turn what I go through into a positive through the music; that’s what’s been keeping me going, giving me more fuel for the rhymes. 

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

To keep elevating! Along with the track with Fredo, I’ve got a few more singles lined up so that’s gonna lead on to a little project of my own this year. Keep it locked!

You can now listen to A1 Illa’s “Elevating” in the Next Gen version of the game on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S now.

 

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