THE ‘coming of age’ experience is different for youngsters in the limelight.
For former teen dream, Miley Cyrus, it recently meant shedding her Disney channel facade and emerging as a provocative symbol of ‘twerking’, but for Rizzle Kicks, the celebration of getting older has meant refining their sound and maturing with new album, Roaring 20s.
Refreshingly, Rizzle Kicks aren’t keen on the whole misogyny phenomenon that plagues popular hip-hop. There is no calling women ‘bitches’ in jest or what is now strangely considered as a compliment.
The Brighton raised duo, made up of Jordan ‘Rizzle’ Stephens and Harley ‘Sylvester’ Alexander-Sule, are known for their laid back Will Smith, “summer summer summer time” lazy-raps that meet a Lily Allen-esque tongue-in-cheek.
It’s, for the most part, rap with a sunny disposition.
Together, they’ve cheered us up with their ska-infused urban-pop melodies, created the ‘mama do the hump’ dance that will feature at many more work Christmas parties to come and are responsible for the middle aged getting ‘down with the trumpets’ – all while becoming platinum selling artists in the process.
Even so, now both are 21, like many pop-acts there’s a desire to be taken more seriously.
Meeting them at their one-day-only pop-up shop at Kraak in the Northern Quarter, I asked if they’ve gone too serious on us?
“No not all”, said Jordan, the far more vocal member of the two. “We’re still very upbeat and funny. It just happened naturally. We grew up and that became apparent in the concept and the music.”
“I think we’ve definitely grown up as song writers as well,” added Harley. “It has showed in the melodies and the song writing is much stronger."
Any pre-conceived ideas of the boys being as laid-back as their lazy raps was quickly dispelled. The boys have opinions, lots of opinions, on everything.
“We’re both very outspoken people. If we do feel something we will say it. I just realised that I don’t actually give a fuck about what people think. As long as we’re not irrational or vicious,” said Jordan.
With a bit more leverage following their successful 2011 debut album, ‘Stereo Typical, the boys have found that with a bigger following and some Zane Lowe approved credibility, comes a platform to talk about whatever they want.
The first single off the album, Lost Generation, is testament to this, with the boys taking a nihilistic stance on the culture of Reality TV. In short, they hate it.
“What’s worse the X Factor or Jeremy Kyle?”
“That’s a difficult one, but I would say Jeremy Kyle,” winced Jordan.
“As at least there’s a positive outcome on the X Factor. Some people have fucked up their career because of it, but you do have 1D, Ollie Murs, Leona Lewis, etc...
“But Jeremy Kyle, he just really pisses me off. I think people are getting too comfortable with laughing at other people’s expense, when really they should just sort out their own fucking lives.”
Under the guise of easy-going pop, the boys dabble with social commentary and take on what many would sensibly steer clear of, such as John Terry and all the racism rows.
Rizzle Kicks are fearlessly mouthy.
When asked what their favourite provocative lyric was, Harley grinned, “My favourite lyric is one of Jordan’s – ‘I don’t want a bad bitch. I want a chick that would slap up a guy if he calls her a bad bitch’. I’ve seen people quote it on Twitter.”
Refreshingly, Rizzle Kicks aren’t keen on the whole misogyny phenomenon that plagues popular hip-hop. There is no calling women ‘bitches’ in jest or what is now strangely considered a compliment.
“I just don’t understand it. It’s even in songs that are weirdly about female empowerment, it’s like people, including women, are happy to accept such submissive terms,” said Jordan.
“The word 'bitch' has become nothing and I don’t understand why because you can use it maliciously.
“What’s the return? Men haven’t 'repossessed' the word ‘dick’, as in, ‘you’re a bad dick’? No one says that,” he laughed. “It feels like it’s almost a way to subtlety maintain a gender priority without any respect.”
Gender equality is considerably heavy stuff for the BRIT School graduates who are most recognised for collaborating with the squeaky clean cut Ollie Murs and their mums. Far from being lily white though, the boys use their potty-mouthed cheeky chappiness to retain a certain degree of street- cred.
“I don’t feel like I have to speak out on anything. I was just brought up in a certain way and I think in some ways that definitely doesn’t fit this apparent frame you have to be in to be considered hip-hop or rap. But I’m not one to be quiet on my principles,” said Jordan.
Principles, unfortunately, tend not to be identified with hip-hop these days and it may be fair to say Rizzle Kicks don’t tend to identify with hip-hop in general. It’s a genre they loosely fit into.
“I think we’re a bridge into rap for some people that don’t like rap. Only downside to that is we’re not seen as rap by people who do like rap” Jordan explained.
Yet Rizzle Kicks insist that is what they are – rap and hip-hop. It's rap music that is far more palatable for mainstream audiences, sure, making them mass appeal and easy to like.
“The British public like us because we’re quintessentially British and we represent Britain well,” said Harley.
Indeed, Rizzle Kicks are as British as James Corden popping round your place for Christmas dinner.
And it is evident the new album is conceived with young Brits in mind, with the Roaring 20s album tackling very British experiences such as ‘dismissive teachers' and ‘estate life rivalries’.
But it’s not just my own idea of being ‘in your 20s’, nor is it the gruesome Geordie Shore version of being a twenty-something that would have you wee-ing yourself on national television. It’s a far more abstract idea based on a love for the free spirit of the 1920s.
As Jordan explained, “If you say 1914 to 1918 was World War I and put that into the context of a human life, 14 to 18 is end of GCSEs, you're just becoming legal, hormones have all kicked in, I'd definitely describe it as a war, trying to get a job, all this shit kicks off.
“Then you get into the Roaring 1920s and that whole mentality is very reflective of what it's like in your 20s, the time to have fun. The punch-line being that after the 20s is the 30s, the great depression, and people always whinge about turning 30.”
Far from staring thirty in the face, Jordan and Harley are still very much the fun-loving guys we met a few years ago, but now, holding up a mirror to the current times appears to be at the forefront of Rizzle Kicks’ new found maturity.
With one final push to know what really goads Rizzle Kicks more, I ask what new generational craze is more annoying, ‘selfies’ or ‘twerking’?
“100% selfies. At least twerking is dancing. You need rhythm. There’s a weird self obsession that can occur for the continued need for selfies.”
“But twerking is starting to piss me off as well.” grumbled Harley.
There’s no pleasing these guys.
Photo credit Martin Barratt
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