Death At The Derby’s Intense Football Rivalries in the Form of Rap

With the European Championship in full swing, rappers Cousin Feo and Lord Juco of Death At The Derby talk about the joy of throwing verbal punches at each other and why they can’t wait to be old...
By    June 23, 2021
Photo via Roy Cho

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Jaap van der Doelen can kick it, yes he can.

Toronto rapper Lord Juco first heard Cousin Feo on his 2018 EP A Little Caviar; the song “Zidane” really piqued his attention. “As a football fan, seeing the name Zidane meant a lot to me. Because he’s very highly regarded in the football world, but it takes someone who actually watches the game to know that”, he explains over video chat. “Many people know Zidane for the headbutt [Zinedine Zidane, then the captain of France’s national team, famously headbutted Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final], they don’t know he’s one of the greatest midfielders of all time. So I felt like he knew what he was talking about and hit him up.”

The two talked sports and hip-hop, and soon collaborated in a track themed around the northwestern derby, the heated match between two of England’s top clubs. With Juco being a Liverpool supporter and Feo a Manchester United fan since childhood, both slipped naturally into their roles of throwing football-themed jabs at the other. Their friendship has blossomed since, as well as a catalogue full of tracks themed around classic derbies. Together with DJ Dubplates, they’ve become known as Death At The Derby, a group currently well into its second ‘season’ of football rivalries fought in the form of rap.

Their chemistry is evident on every track in which the two grapple. Imagine “Meth vs. Chef,” but with bars about Timb boots and chess moves replaced with darts about Shevchenko driving a tank home through ya ankles. Feo’s voice is a deep one, leisurely lurching over beats, smoothly imposing his will upon them, while Juco’s higher pitch deftly bobs and weaves through it. Their energies contrast and compliment each other, defying the fact that there’s almost an entire continent between them, with Juco residing in Toronto, while Feo hails from Los Angeles.

“I remember going to the first LA Galaxy game”, he says. Watching football culture slowly but steadily take root in his home country has been a joy for him to witness. “We don’t have the history that European or South American clubs have yet, we have a very small portion of it. I’m looking forward to being fifty or sixty years old, seeing the environment, feeling that it’s going in that direction. To be able to say ‘I remember when Zlatan scored that game winner 30 years ago’ and have a guy look at you like, ‘what are you talking about?’”

It’s exactly that weight of history, the folklore and myth surrounding some of these clubs, and the extreme passions that can come with it, that Death At The Derby taps into with their music. “The club, the history, is a fabric of the family. Those games, winning goals, devastating losses, those are all memories with your family, friends and community”, Feo says. “Everybody feels those things deeply.” They speak as passionately about the plans for Europe’s Super League going down in flames (“We loved seeing it cars and burn!”), as they do about the minute details of beloved matches. It’s the deep bond people have with their clubs that speaks to them. “Even if a club has money, the fans may not be rich”, Juco says. “These clubs outlive a lot of their owners, and it’s a lot deeper than money. A lot of the fans are working class people, and it’s their game.”

“We’re keeping the sound grimy, reflective of the streets and the energy in the stadium, but at the same time educating people who may not know what they’re listening to”, Feo notes. “So we gotta take care and be accurate—not make a bad reference, ‘cause there will also be a European or South American fan to let us know we’re wrong. We need to do our due diligence.” That means a lot of research can go into tracks about teams they’re less familiar with, but diving into club history and supporter culture never feels like a chore to them. There have been verses however, where they were champing at the bit to let loose a flurry of references.

“If you listen to “Spanish Savants,” the Barcelona versus Madrid joint—Oh my god, I heard that verse and knew I wasn’t going to put together anything that was going to beat that”, Feo remarks, while Juco laughs excitedly. “It felt so calculated! Like he’d been hanging on to some of those bars before he even knew me! And he got his chance to tear me a new one.”

Juco: “‘Spanish Savants’ was actually a response—’cause we did ‘Bombs in the Bombonera’ live, and I just wasn’t ready. I had to put some stuff together and this man was ready to go. He didn’t waste any time. So I figured ‘I have to come correct now.’”

Feo affirms the competition is real: “We don’t keep score, but we do talk shit to each other.”
“Absolutely, that’s mandatory!”, his partner in rhyme responds laughing.
Feo: “We leave it up to the fans, they’ll let us know who they think did better. We just give them the music and let them do the debating.”

That “Bombs In The Bombonera” didn’t require much homework for Feo might come as less of a surprise knowing that the match between Argentinian teams River Plate and Boca Juniors was a staple for the Guatemalan part of his family. The rivalry in the Argentinian ‘Superclásico’ got so intense that in 2018, it was moved to Spain for security reasons. “I hope they’ll be able to contain it to the point that it’ll be held in Argentina again”, Feo notes about the match topping his bucket list. “I need to go to Argentina and see River versus Boca.”

For Juco, the Merseyside derby between both major Liverpudlian teams tops the list. His hometown also has its own derby though: the Canadian Classique. “It’s not the biggest thing in the world, but the emotion is there, because we just don’t like Montreal, in Toronto. And that feeling is mutual. When they beat us in the playoffs in 2015, that hurt.”

Feo’s hometown derby of LA Galaxy vs LAFC is one they’ve actually caught on wax already, as part of the double A-sided ‘Ghost At The Derby’ 12” produced by Big Ghost. “The highest form of respect really is that Big Ghost kinda stepped into our arena, and took his toolkit to us”, Feo says. “When you have a producer who’s cooked with Griselda, who are arguably at the top of the pyramid of this underground thing right now—for us to be included in his catalogue is special. He appreciated the originality of what we were doing. He’s a dude that prides himself on being original in his own work, and he recognized that in us.”

Due to Feo’s relations within the LA Galaxy fan community, Death At The Derby have connected with the club as well. “They’ve done everything they can to welcome us and allow us to share our music, whether it’s performing, selling merch, it’s been cool.” Another pop-up performance like that is being planned to take off soon, and Juco will join as well. There’s not a big chance he’ll be dropping his LAFC verse from ‘Los Traficantes’ live at Galaxy’s stadium though. “We probably won’t do that”, Feo says laughing, as Juco responds “I gotta get back home man, I have kids!”

Death At The Derby is currently releasing its second series of weekly singles on Bandcamp, which will eventually be collected in their next album as a group. Before that though, Feo is prepping his next solo project Flamiche for release on June 18 through Frank’s Vinyl. Its release coincides with the European Championship, for which the French national squad is a major contender. Especially since star player Karim Benzema was recently announced to return to the national team after six years of absence, where he will join Kylian Mbappé, one of the best forwards of his generation. Both players have their own song on the project, which was conceived well before the news broke. “I might’ve spoken it into existence”, Feo says about France’s chances.

Flamiche is produced entirely by French beat creator Keor Meteor, and is themed around legendary players from the country. The rapper is excited about the unexpected bit of serendipity, but isn’t specifically rooting for the French squad. “There are so many young players getting this big stage outside of their clubs to make a name. I’m always looking for that, more than dominance from a certain country. I want to see who’s our future. You can be a player that does well and is on a couple peoples’ radar. You do well in those tournaments? You’re on everybody’s radar.

For Juco however, it’s entirely clear which team he’ll be supporting. “I’m Portuguese, so I’m biased. That’s blatantly who I’m rooting for”, he remarks. Feo perks up with a teasing smirk, reminding Juco of which Portuguese player is the captain of Manchester United. “It’s gonna be hard for you as a Liverpool fan to cheer on Bruno Fernandes”, he says. Juco just shakes his head, smiling. “This guy. I don’t know why we’re friends.”

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