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KhakiKid: ‘The 2000s in Ireland was a horrible place. You’d get called the P-word every single day’

Distinctive Dublin hip hop artist is making serious waves. He talks about growing up with dual heritage, democratic technology and his ambitions to go all the way to the top

It’s the morning after his biggest London headline show to date, and Abdu Huss is buzzing. “It was a dream, honestly,” the curly-haired Dubliner says, shaking his head in disbelief. “First time I’ve cried on stage. I got emotional, but it was fun.”

It was a big night, but make no mistake: the artist known as KhakiKid is not living the high life just yet. While fame and fortune await, for now it’s a matter of living within his means. “Hotel room? I wish!” the 24-year-old says, laughing. “We’ve had a few nice spots, but yeah, I’m still slumming it.” He smiles, shrugging. “Everyone has to sleep on the floor at some point.”

The Dubliner is making waves with his distinct brand of hip hop. His good-natured demeanour is infused with occasionally hard-hitting lyrical themes that document life as a young man of dual heritage growing up in Ireland, family, identity, childhood and more. The universality of his music, coupled with a mellow soundtrack that nods to acts like Anderson .Paak and his hero, Tyler, the Creator, means that audiences outside of Ireland have responded to his music enthusiastically.

Growing up in a council house in the Dublin suburb of Walkinstown (not the nearby Crumlin, as he has mentioned in previous interviews because “nobody knows where Walkinstown is”) with his mum and five siblings – his Libyan father is not part of their lives, he says – he was passionate about basketball when he was younger. It was while playing in a tournament in the United States as a 16-year-old that he got his stage name.

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“When I was on the court, the coach on the other team was telling his players who to mark – and he said ‘Get the khaki guy!’” he says, shrugging off any notion of casual racism. “I guess in America, khaki is a beige/tan kind of thing, so that just kind of stuck with me. It didn’t offend me.”

Heritage, family and identity have also loomed larger in KhakiKid’s more recent material, particularly on songs like Underbite, a single from earlier this year that also touches on his sometimes difficult childhood. He has noted in the past that he felt stranded in a no-man’s-land between his Irish and Arabic backgrounds. Now he celebrates his multiculturalism, noting that his grandfather on his mother’s side was an “Austrian truck driver who loved Bob Marley and Dolly Parton”.

“I had so many identity issues when I was growing up,” he says. “Now I’m proud of it, and I’ve come to accept myself. Growing up, when you tell people you’re Arabic you get such a hard time. And I had no connection with that side of me, so I didn’t want to be pigeonholed.” He shrugs, recalling a time that he and his siblings went to a summer camp at Sunshine House, the holiday home for disadvantaged kids in Balbriggan, in north Co Dublin. “I remember telling everyone my name was Deco. Even my siblings were, like, ‘What? Your name’s not Deco.’ I just didn’t want to be Abdu,” he says. “But in the last few years I’ve felt really bad about that stuff. I didn’t like that I was rejecting that side of me. So I’ve come to be more accepting of myself, and I think it’s just important to talk about it – even if it’s only a few lines here and there.”

He has been racially abused in the past, but now he laughs off the comments he gets, particularly those he receives online.

“To be honest, those comments… compared to what you’d hear growing up in Ireland in the 2000s, they’re not that bad,” he says, shaking his head. “The 2000s in Ireland was a horrible place. You’d get called the P-word every single day. I’m almost glad, in a weird way, that it happened, because I’m weirdly desensitised to it now; it doesn’t bother me. But [being] eight years old and people saying, ‘Your da did 9/11,’ and I don’t even know him…” He shrugs. “So I feel like Instagram comments going ’You’re not even Irish’ are, like, whatever.”

Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, Huss admits that he was “an angry little kid” until he was 18 or 19 – “a bit of a mad kid with parental issues that had built up. But now I think I’ve dealt with it,” he says, shrugging. “Kind of.”

Music has clearly been an outlet. His love of rap was sparked as a child by his brother’s 50 Cent album; he was dazzled by the American gangster culture portrayed by such rappers. He wrote his first lyrics at 12, but it took years to find his own voice, when he began “writing bars about maths and stuff like that” to avoid studying for his Leaving Cert. His initial demos, he says, were made in the most rudimentary way imaginable – but the changes that have swept the music industry over the past decade or so have levelled the playing field for artists like him.

“Twenty, 30 years ago, there’s not a chance that I could have made music,” he says. “Not a chance that I could ever have gotten into a studio. When I started making music it was just me and my three brothers in my bedroom, and I bought a laptop that barely worked off Adverts.ie for €100. I used my brother’s gaming headset, like headphones with a mic attached, to record vocals. It sounded horrible, but I loved it, and I made some songs with it,” he says, laughing. “So it’s really cool that people get to do that now. It’s more of a democracy, in that respect.”

He has the tunes, the talent, the attitude and the demeanour to go far – and KhakiKid is ready to make his stamp on the world. His ultimate ambition is to have his own festival, along the lines of Tyler, the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival. In five years – having impressed at Longitude earlier this year, and played the Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris last month – he wants to be a festival headliner,

“It’s a bit snobby talking about yourself in the third person, but I want to build a KhakiKid world,” he says. “I can’t wait to do shows where I can have incredible set design and stage design. I have so much music I want to get out there. And I’m doing singing lessons at the moment, so maybe a bit of that, too.”

KhakiKid’s star is clearly in the ascent, with two EPs (including this year’s Sand Bebé) under his belt – but until he hits the big time Abdu Huss is okay with the way things are going. You get the feeling that he would find the positive in the bleakest situation, even if it meant sleeping on floors. If that’s how it’s got to be for now, then so be it.

“But some floors are actually good,” he says, his curls bouncing as he nods his head with a wide-eyed sincerity. “I’ve actually slept on some floors that are better than other people’s couches or beds. Seriously. A nice bit of carpet is sometimes better than a bed, I’m telling you.”

KhakiKid plays the Academy, Dublin, on Thursday, December 14th