Getting their kicks

Getting their kicks

Getting their kicks

First published in Music

With a second album under their belts, Rizzle Kicks are just about to embark on their biggest tour to date. Andy Welch discovers why hitting the road will always be their first love.

Jordan 'Rizzle' Stephens is running around his west London flat in his boxer shorts while a taxi waits for him outside.

"You'll have to excuse me," says one half of the hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks, searching for a T-shirt. "I can do two things at once though."

The car is waiting to take him to a meeting with Beats By Dre headphones, a company they're 'collaborating' with at the moment.

"No, it's not just so we get free headphones," says Stephens. "Cynical... There's always a mutual interest in these things; they want exposure from being seen on our tour, and... yeah, we might get some free headphones."

You couldn't blame the audio company for wanting to be involved with the duo. They are, after all, just about to play their biggest-ever tour which visits 21 cities and towns all over the country. The fact hasn't gone unnoticed by a now fully clothed Stephens.

"We've done really well to sell the tour as quickly as we have done," says the 22-year-old. "We've sold well all over the country, and I think there's been a wave of difficulty and decline for some artists in the past year. People aren't buying tickets as much as they used to. So yeah, we're really excited and pleased to have done what we've done."

To mark the achievement, they've added a saxophone player and DJ to their live band and the stage design will be more elaborate than the "little boring ramp" they had last time.

"There'll be more colour in the backgrounds, platforms, loads of stuff..." he continues. "We need to make it more of a show at every step. There are going to be a lot of fans who've seen us before and we don't want to make it the same for them."

To prepare for the tour, the live band, which features Stephens's dad Herman on bass, rehearsed for a couple of weeks before Jordan and his much quieter bandmate Harley Alexander-Sule joined them. "They find it easier to begin with if we're not there, then we go in and add our bit," says Stephens.

Their bit, as he says, involves a lot of rapping and, in Harley's case, singing too. The duo formed properly when the pair, already friends from school in Brighton, attended the BRIT school in south London, an establishment that famously boasts Adele, Jessie J and Amy Winehouse as former students.

Stephens began putting his own versions of his favourite songs on YouTube and asked his friend, who was studying to be an actor, to sing on them too.

"It's mad to think how I was fully prepared to go to drama school and Jordan was doing his solo rapping," says Alexander-Sule, also 22, looking back. "We started doing stuff together, but when college finished, I was always just going to study acting - that was my passion. Jordan persuaded me to give it a year, and then if nothing happened with the music, I'd go back to drama school. I thought 'Why not?'

"Within two months we'd been signed and six months later we'd had a hit single."

As he says, the pair did sign to Island Records and got to work on their debut album, Stereo Typical, with a little help from, among others, Norman 'Fatboy Slim' Cook.

That debut, released in late 2011, spawned six singles, including Mama Do The Hump and Down With The Trumpets, eventually going on to sell around 300,000 copies.

When it came time to record their second album, last year's Roaring 20s, they again teamed up with Fatboy Slim, who they're huge fans of.

"It's amazing to have a strong connection with that kind of guy," continues Alexander-Sule. "He's not only a legend in his own right, but also a Brighton legend. When we made our first record, he hadn't made any music for about 10 years, so he was worried he couldn't do it, and wondered why we wanted to work with him. We said 'Err, because you're Fatboy Slim!' We were more worried about tarnishing his image but we didn't."

Jamie Cullum also got involved with the second album, as did The Wire actor Dominic West, who features on Two Thumbs Up. Ant Whiting also returned, the songwriter and producer who not only masterminded the duo's first album, but has also worked with a raft of pop stars from MIA to Pixie Lott.

Rizzle Kicks's charm comes from their personality as a duo. They're very British, like PJ and Duncan if they'd been raised on PlayStation games, MTV Base and Nineties hip hop, rather than the goings on at a fictional youth club in Newcastle.

It would be easy to imagine them following Ant and Dec's career path, in fact, although Stephens isn't quite so sure.

"This is going to sound arsey and it'll probably be a nail in our coffin, but I think presenting is a bit easy," he says. "I hear the term 'presenter' used as an insult towards us, too. Maybe it's just hip hop purists who don't like us, but they'll say things like, 'What are you two, presenters or something?' like it's the ultimate diss. I think it's so funny, as if they're making fun of me because I'm confident and I can speak fluently."

Indeed both members of Rizzle Kicks have other projects they're working on independently; Stephens a screenplay, while Alexander-Sule has some acting roles coming up. There's also a long-mooted sitcom written by the pair based on their time living together in a flat in London.

Touring, for now at least, remains their sole focus, and they can't wait to get back on the road.

"It's because you're in this little bubble where the same thing happens every day, except you're in a different place each day. That's a unique experience when you think about it," says Stephens.

"I wake up when someone tells me to, they then tell me where I can eat and what I can eat, and I can either do as they say, watch a film or sleep for a bit longer. Then the evening comes, we go on stage, loads of people are happy and then we're on a tour bus with our friends, ready to do the same thing all over again the next day. How is that not amazing?"

Extra time - Rizzle Kicks

:: Rizzle Kicks are Jordan Stephens and Harley Alexander-Sule, both aged 22.

:: Both Jordan and Harley are Arsenal fans.

:: The duo are lined up to record a song for the 2014 football World Cup.

:: To date, they have sold around one million singles and 600,000 albums in the UK.

:: They have a famous fan in Stephen Fry, who tweeted in 2011, "Unexpectedly loving the old-school hip hop sounds of Rizzle Kicks".

:: Rizzle Kicks' second album Roaring 20s is out now. They begin a UK tour on Friday, February 7. Full dates below

Tour dates

February:

7 - Lincoln Engine Shed

8 - Nottingham Rock City

9 - Sheffield Academy

12 - Aberdeen Music Hall

13 - Edinburgh Potterrow

14 - Glasgow O2 Academy

15 - Liverpool O2 Academy

16 - Newcastle O2 Academy

20 - Norwich UEA

21 - Cambridge Corn Exchange

22 - Birmingham O2 Academy

24 - Bournemouth O2 Academy

25 - Plymouth Pavilions

27 - Manchester O2 Apollo

28 - Leeds O2 Academy

March:

1 - Hammersmith Eventim Apollo

2 - Cheltenham Racecourse

4 - Bristol O2 Academy

5 - Southend Cliffs Pavilion

6 - Cardiff University

7 - Brighton Centre

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