Medy Elito is best known as a journeyman footballer with a distinguished career in the lower leagues. In a parallel life though, the 33-year-old is also known as rapper Don EE, an artist championed by Beyoncé who has played Wireless Festival and Wembley Arena.
Elito, who is set to turn out for Ramsgate FC in their FA Cup second round game against AFC Wimbledon on Monday, began his career as a youth player for Colchester United and was capped by England at U17, U18 and U19 levels.
“Football was always the first and main thing [in my life],” he tells Rolling Stone UK, “but as a kid, I was into music because of my brothers.” Grime was dominating the musical conversation in the UK at the time, with Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Kano and more all providing inspiration for a younger generation. “Everyone who was at the age of 18 was wanting to be an MC,” he says. “I’ve been into music since I was young but it wasn’t my main thing – it was more of a hobby.”
In the media, footballers are expected to be obsessed with the game and the game alone, with any extracurricular activities often lambasted in the tabloids. For Elito, he sees it as a healthy pursuit to give his life balance. “We go into training and we’re probably in from 9.30am until about 1 o’clock,” he says. Then you’ve got the rest of the day to yourself. Some players go and play golf, and there’s [no reason] that you shouldn’t do music in your spare time or do something that you enjoy.
There’s “a time and a place” for these excursions and celebrations, he concedes, and would tend to keep a low profile “after getting hammered 4 or 5-0,” but adds: “Footballers should be allowed to do what they want to as well, because we’re all human beings. We have other hobbies.”
Elito’s big musical break came on his 26th birthday, just as he was readying himself for a night out celebrating. He tells the story with continued pride and with a flow and rhythm of a tale he’s recounted with glee to anyone who would listen.
“I went out to eat with all my friends and we were at a Turkish restaurant, just chilling,” he recounts, with the plan to go to a nightclub later in the evening. “[My phone] was just going off, and everyone was messaging. I’m thinking, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ Someone said, ‘Beyoncé just put something on Instagram’, and I was thinking, ‘Okay, I’ll have a look.’” After being convinced that it was a hoax from his friends, Elito then went on the superstar’s Instagram to find out that, yes, she had indeed posted a video soundtracked by his 2017 track ‘You Alright, Yh?’.
“I remember going into the club,” he smiles. “I remember exactly where I was, walking into the club, Libertine in central London. I went on Instagram and thought, ‘This can’t be real. This can’t be real.’ For the whole night while I was in the club, I just kept clicking on the video, and kept playing it. It was a real moment.”
After the track went viral and Don EE’s profile exploded, Elito had to manage offers of record deals with his continuing professional football career. “I didn’t want to be signed, because then there’s no pressure,” he adds. “I just wanted to make music in my own time and be creative when I wanted. Sometimes, when you get told to make [another] similar track, you put too much pressure on yourself to try and capture that moment again. If you just make it in your own time, that’s when you make your best tracks.”
Since this pivotal moment in 2017, Elito has played his football for Cambridge, Barnet, Wealdstone, Welling and now Ramsgate. As it isn’t a lifestyle most can relate to, he says he wants his verses as Don EE to put listeners into a feelgood space, rather than put them into his shoes.
“I’m talking about where I grew up, my childhood, sometimes about football,” he says. “I put out music for people to feel good about themselves. When you hear my song, you just want to dance.”
When approaching their mid-thirties, retirement comes into vision for any high-level footballer, and Elito is keen to spend more time on his music when he does hang up his boots. “Meeting the people I did meet in the music industry gave me opportunities to build relationships with certain artists. I used to watch their videos, and now I’ve got their numbers and I can call them and say, ‘Can you jump on my EP? Can I have a verse?’”
This moment comes at a time when football and rap are more intertwined than ever. Memphis Depay, the Dutch international who currently plays for Spanish side Atlético Madrid and has previously been at Manchester United and Barcelona, was an opponent of Elito’s when he played for Dutch side VVV Venlo between 2014-15, though he only realised their joint ambitions of being rappers after he moved back to England. “I started seeing him dropping snippets of music videos, and I was like, I didn’t know you did music like this! I understand Dutch a little bit, but the way he was rapping and flowing on the beat, it was cool.”
Similarly, Rolling Stone UK spoke to AC Milan ace Rafael Leão earlier this year, who raps under the name Way45.
Of the increased interconnectedness between footballers and the rap scene, Elito adds: “Footballers dress more like rappers now, and everything’s coming together very nicely. A lot of footballers like going to concerts and if they feel like they can rap or make music, why not? A lot of footballers’ friends are musicians now too. It’s not a bad thing like it would have been 20 years ago. Footballers wouldn’t have come out and shared videos of them rapping, because they would have been ridiculed. Managers and pundits would have come out and said, ‘What the hell is going on?’ But now football is a bit more lenient with players and what they want to do.”
After his big FA Cup clash, Elito also reveals to Rolling Stone UK that he has recorded a joint track with Fulham and Nigeria winger Alex Iwobi and Ajax striker Chuba Akpom, to be released before the end of the year. An EP is also in the works to be released soon.
Of his own dual passions, he concludes: “It stems from having that good energy about you as a person. [It’s about] being a down to earth person – when people see me they know that I’m just a good guy, and I just want to live life and have fun. There’s nothing bad about me.”