Rizzle Kicks know exactly what being twentysomething in London is like. Look no further than the cover of their new album.
A week before the rap-pop duo’s planned and paid-for official album shoot, Harley Alexander-Sule and Jordan Stephens attended a restaurant launch, by their own admission got “smashed” and hopped on some parked Boris Bikes with their mates for a lark. A passing teenage photographer, Harry Crowder, took a grainy snap and sent it to Stephens on Twitter the next day.
“I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘F***, that’s the album cover’,” Stephens tells me. With the Barclays logos replaced by signs saying “DEADBEATS” and the title Roaring 20s scrawled above the partygoers, here’s a picture of a 24-hour city where the streets really could be paved with gold.
Of course, these are not your everyday 21-year-olds. We can’t all have platinum album sales, James Corden popping round and TV companies banging down the door. But it isn’t that long ago that Stephens was cooking burgers in a greyhound stadium and Alexander-Sule was working as a teaching assistant. Lifelong friends, both Londoners via teenage years in Brighton, they know how it is, and are increasingly keen to become the voice of their generation.
“I think we’d like to be. Yeah, definitely,” says Stephens. “The last thing we were known for was making a dance move, so we wanted to state our intentions this time.”
With their hit single Mama Do the Hump they invented a dance routine well before Gangnam Style. Their debut from 2011, Stereo Typical, was pretty much the most fun your ears could have, all mariachi horns, chunky beats and hilarious rhyming.
“We’re seen as light. I’m not really that bothered to be honest, I’m just a happy guy,” claims Stephens, although he has deliberately allowed some darkness to creep in on the new songs.
He’s the one with the gift of the gab who dominates our conversation, so self-confident that if he wasn’t a rapper he’d probably be the emperor of some small country. Singer Alexander-Sule is more thoughtful when he can get a word in. Both turn out to be more serious than I imagined, keen for their new songs to be a first step away from being lairy jokers to respected musicians.
For although they may be drunk on the cover, Rizzle Kicks (at times) have sobering things to say in their new album. This Means War is about impoverished early years in Neasden. “We moved to Brighton because my mum wanted to take me out of London when s*** started to get real,” says Stephens, who raps about pre-teen battles with eggs in the song, but is all too aware that this could have foreshadowed heavier weaponry.
The menacing piano line of Lunatic underpins a rhyme about being miserable at school. The comeback single, Lost Generation, seems to sum up their state of mind, though it’s mainly about being addicted to reality television.
“On the first album our outlook on life was very face value,” says Stephens. “We didn’t talk about our pasts, where we came from – it was just about right now, being 19, getting into a fight at a club, nicking a girl off a boy. Then we grew up. That year 20 to 21 is a big year.”
Being taken more seriously is the eventual goal, but they obviously haven’t become Throbbing Gristle overnight. Roaring 20s is still a joy, fizzing with hummable melodies, sharp lines and energetic horns. Skip to the Good Bit nicks the keyboard tune from EMF’s 1990 hit Unbelievable and is surely another smash.
The pair are appearing at the Stephen Lawrence tribute concert at the O2 Arena in London next month. “It was a huge part of our upbringing. It felt like Doreen Lawrence was always on the telly. It’s a very important, inspiring thing to be a part of,” says Stephens.
Their own experiences of racism happened more in Brighton than in London, “Mainly at football matches from kids from weird villages,” Stephens adds.
How times change. Since the album went platinum, Stephens in particular has become a livewire member of the celebrity party circuit. They may be tiring of that glossy world however, and they now seem to be shying away from what, for a while, looked like their natural end goal: mainstream telly. They recently made a pilot music show for Channel 4 called Smells Like Friday Night, which unfortunately wasn’t very good. “We’re waiting to hear back, dunno what’s happening,” says Alexander-Sule, sounding about as enthused as someone expecting a biopsy result.
Stephens is keen on the idea of a directing career. “Directing is in my family blood,” he says. His grandfather is John Boulting, who made Brighton Rock and Lucky Jim. Alexander-Sule still wants to be an actor, having studied theatre at Croydon’s BRIT School.
In fact, although they attended the BRIT School together, neither studied music there: Stephens took media. Being surrounded by performers helped, though. “BRIT School was great because you could do all this stuff without worrying about what other people thought.”
Five months after they left, they had a major label record deal, the big cheeses having spotted something genuinely fresh. Now it looks like their record company is getting much more than two teenage pranksters straight out of college. “I want to have a build-up to the point where in three albums’ time, we’ve released a song that’s number one that has a really deep message to it, and no-one’s even realised because they’ve been buying into what’s seen as our poppy theme,” says Stephens. “That would be the dream.” Don’t put it past them.
Rizzle Kicks’ single Lost Generation is released tomorrow. The album Roaring 20s is out on 2 September, both on Universal Island.