Taking the road less travelled changed me, says Everton's Bolasie in an exclusive interview

Yannick Bolasie is talking Skepta, Stormzy, grime and MCing. "A lot of people are getting to know grime music," he says in a soft, north London accent, the smile that is never far from his face becoming positively evangelical. Music is his passion. "Stormzy has just done a video with Paul Pogba, so if anyone doesn't know what grime is, it's that. I'm a fan of Skepta, too, especially his new album, Konnichiwa, which is really good. I listen to grime before games. My missus has been known to get annoyed sometimes with me rapping."

Grime rapper and producer Jammer picked up on his talent for MCing and featured him with his pal and former Plymouth team-mate, Bradley Wright-Phillips, now with New York Red Bulls, in the DVD Lord of the Mics 6. "I might make a couple of lyrics now I'm here at Everton," Bolasie says, laughing, his vocals attracting an ever-growing audience on his own YouTube channel. "Let me hit the ground running and then maybe I'll start. First I want to let my feet do the talking."

Bolasie's articulacy in the language of the beautiful game is testament to a freedom of expression nurtured in the shadow of Wembley's arch on the estate in which he grew up in Willesden. "There was a park outside my house and I just remember playing football with loads of people there," he recalls. "It could be 10, 20 guys kicking a ball, I would look out of my bedroom window and I'd be downstairs in a flash and out playing with them. I'd come back home and be out again in no time if I saw another group with a ball. I just liked to play football. Raheem Sterling is from close by - he was in my sister's class at primary school - and he was the same, playing on the streets and the parks.

"That kind of upbringing and introduction to the game benefited me. I didn't come through any academy system and that's played a part in the way I play on the pitch now. A lot of people say my style is very unpredictable. That's why. I used to just run at players, beating them with little skills I would go and practise. I remember as a kid playing at left back and right back and just running at players. I'd watch Thierry Henry taking on defenders for Arsenal and that's what I wanted to do. Taking on defenders is what gives me a buzz. I've played as a winger all of my life and I'm looking forward to doing that now in front of the Everton fans."

In a nod to Henry, Bolasie has selected the No. 14 shirt immortalised by the Frenchman at The Emirates. The 27-year-old's game combines pace, power and a predator's instinct. On top of all those thrilling, thrusting runs for Crystal Palace last season, he scored six goals and points out that two months of the campaign were lost to him owing to a hip injury. "Otherwise I'd have scored 10," he insists, not arrogantly but with conviction. His character and ability appeal to Ronald Koeman.

"Yannick is a player who has been a long time on my radar. He's the type of winger I like - fast, strong and he can play different positions in the forward line," the Everton manager explains. "He's a really good signing for the Club. At 27, he's a good age and he has experience in the Premier League. He will give strength to the team and I'm very pleased to have Yannick as part of what we are trying to build here."

Bolasie's journey to Goodison has taken the road less travelled. Born in Lyon to Congolese parents (his father played for the Congo at Under-21 level), he began his career in non-league with Hillingdon Borough in the Southern League First Division SouthWest having represented the Under-18s in the Middlesex County League as well as their Sunday league team and his school, West London Academy. His debut for Hillingdon Borough's senior side came at Didcot Town and The Railwaymen's approach to the game was, to put it kindly, from the other side of the tracks.

"It was a hard initiation, really tough, very physical and it was my first experience of proper men's football,"he recalls. "The way their players used their weight on me, I just wasn't used to that, so it was difficult to play my game and get past their players. But I learnt to adapt quickly - you had to - and what I remember, too, is that I got paid £20 and I was buzzing because, like I say, I just like to play football.

"Looking back, it couldn't be any further removed from the academy system, which is a really good system and at Everton it's produced players like Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley and many more. But if you do it the hard way, I believe you'll be better off in the long run because you don't expect everything. Hillingdon Borough had a decent stadium and a flat pitch but a lot of the teams we played, their pitches were on a slope and they weren't the best. But it toughened me. Physically, I knew I needed to be stronger if I was going to go past people and I needed to be fast, too, if I was going to avoid being kicked."

He avoided enough of the dangers to make the most of a trial in Malta arranged by his cousin, Lomano LuaLua, securing a contract at Floriana in the Maltese Premier League. In 2008 he returned to England to play for Plymouth Argyle and, following loan spells at Rushden & Diamonds and Barnet, he spent a season at Bristol City before he joined Palace in 2012, becoming a pivotal player in the Eagles' promotion to the Premier League and in their run last season to the FA Cup final.

If a part of Palace, as he says understandably, "will always have a place in my heart", embracing the Everton ethos will come naturally, too. Community means something to him. "My parents brought me up to respect people, to speak to people and to try to understand people as individuals because you never know what someone has been through. I know the kind of club Everton is, a tight-knit club, a family club and I know how Everton in the Community makes a difference in people's lives. Andy Johnson (the former Toffees striker and Bolasie's team-mate last season at Palace) made me aware of this and I'll definitely embrace that side of the Club."

On international duty his trips to the Congo - where war and internal strife has had a seemingly perennial, devastating impact on millions of people - have heightened his sense of social responsibility and a desire to impact positively on the lives of others. "So many families just survive and there is nothing beyond this," he relates. "Every day is a struggle for things that many of us here take for granted, everyday resources and amenities. Congolese kids play football in their bare feet on surfaces with sand and rocks mixed together. But it breeds in them a hunger and determination to succeed. The local players are on me when we're in training for the national team and you really have to be on your game. Their drive is ferocious.

"Football is so popular in Congo. At the airport when I arrive there are salutes from airport staff and military. People approach and I genuinely feel loved. I've taken boxes of kit with me to Kinshasa to give to people and the joy on people's faces when they see you is incredible. Like I say, you never judge people by the cover. If you can help and make a difference, that's a really special thing. A lot of things that go on in Congo are eye-opening. Those kinds of things make a person like myself not take anything for granted. Now that I've come to Everton, the job is not done. I've got to work hard and feel my way in, but I'm ready and up for the challenge."

And hungry to continue the upward curve of a career that began on those sloped pitches at Didcot Town, Harrow Borough and Wealdstone FC. "Everton is a big club and I know all about it from having played against them over the years. For me, it was a no-brainer to come here. It's not about the money for me. It's about looking at the ambition of the Club and where they are trying to get to. It's going to be really interesting to learn from someone like Ronald Koeman, who was obviously a top centre-back as a player and he played with some of the best players in the world. I think there was a little bit of interest when he was at Southampton and I've read some of the comments he made about me which were nice. The Club has made good signings - players like Ashley Williams, who I know well - and not only has lots of quality players but produces lots of quality players, like Ross Barkley, as well. I'm looking forward to putting on the Everton shirt."

And if he's listening to his music going to the game, it will probably be Stormzy: "Man try say he's better than me. Tell my man shut up.."