Rizzle Kicks are a radiant burst of bright, brilliant colour and attitude, with a something-for-everyone approach that means their music has serious cross-generational appeal. Their beats satisfy the hip hop faithful who remember the genre’s golden age, while their songs pivot on the sort of melodies and hooks that charm pop kids and rap heads alike and bring the charts alive.
Hardly surprising, then, that they have sold 300,000 albums and a million singles in under a year. Since the release of their warm up single, Prophet (Better Watch It) in May 2011, they have been unstoppable. Their second single, Down With The Trumpets, hit the Top 10 in June 11. It was swiftly followed by Heart Skips A Beat, a collaboration with X Factor star Olly Murs and a number 1 smash in August 2011, then When I Was A Youngster (number 8, October 2011), and finally Mama Do The Hump (number 2, December 2011). A fifth single from their debut album, Traveller’s Chant, has at the time of writing just been released.
So who are the dynamic duo behind one of the freshest, funkiest debut albums of recent times? Step forward Jordan “Rizzle” Stephens (born 25 January 1992) and Harley “Sylvester” Alexander-Sule (born 23 November 1991), two articulate, intelligent Brighton boys with a wealth of ideas and a world of music at their fingertips.
Childhood friends in North London, they lost touch until their mid-teens, when they met up again during a football match in Brighton, where their respective families had moved. They grew closer while attending rap, performance and drama workshops with the Brighton-based charity Audioactive, and at the Brit School in Croydon where, between 2008 and 2010, Jordan studied media and Harley studied theatre.
Even before the Brits, they were already successful in their own right and showing signs that they would one day be treading the boards and entertaining large crowds, even if, at this point, they could never have dreamed that they would, in March 2012, be performing two sell-out shows at West London’s prestigious Shepherds Bush Empire.
Both Jordan and Harley were steeped in music from an early age. Harley’s stepdad was involved in music publishing while Jordan was brought up listening to the joys of Jeff Buckley and Beck, Kelis and Nelly Furtado, Dizzee Rascal and Cypress Hill, Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield. His father was in a band called Stealth and now plays bass with Rizzle Kicks. “Does he stop us misbehaving?” says Harley. “No. If anything, it’s like having our little brother on tour.”
Showbusiness is apparently in Jordan’s genes: his grandfather directed the classic British movie Brighton Rock, his aunt regularly had actors such as Daniel Craig popping round to her house when he was a kid, and he even has a funk musician legend’s middle name: Bootsy. It was almost inevitable, then, that he would end up doing what he’s doing.
It was in 2008 that he and Harley formed Rizzle Kicks when, during the making of the mixtape Minor Breaches Of Discipline in one of AudioActive’s Hip Hop Foundation projects, and under the influence of local rappers such as Heinzy Heinz, the pair realised Harley singing and Jordan’s rapping over samples of Lily Allen, White Stripes, Gorillaz and Arctic Monkeys was a lethally effective combination.
Having honed their sound, they gained a presence online, posting videos to their YouTube channel. A video was made for a demo of Down With Trumpets in summer 2010. During that time, they finished college and Harley went on to work as an assistant drama teacher, while Jordan flipped burgers at the Corals Greyhound Stadium in Hove. They were offered proper studio time and they began making tracks inspired by the classic, golden age hip hop of 1988–92: old school outfits such as De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Dream Warriors and PM Dawn.
In November 2010 they signed to Island Records and they have since collaborated with the likes of Fatboy Slim. By summer 2011, actor/comedian Stephen Fry was Tweeting about them and they were releasing singles accompanied by videos featuring cameos by everyone from Ed Sheeran to James Corden. They supported one of their heroes, Dizzee Rascal, at Ibiza/Mallorca Rocks in June, and proceeded to tour with The Streets and Professor Green before undertaking their own sold-out tour in early 2012 with their live band, a high-energy unit including a guitarist, drummer, bass player and trumpet player.