As the 80s turned into the 90s, hip hop was fun. De La Soul brought in the D.A.I.S.Y. Age and all of a sudden the genre was filled with sunshine and good vibes and positivity from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde. Basically hip hop went hippie. But over in Compton dark forces were taking hold and NWA’s gangsta rap persuaded that if you weren’t ‘keeping it real’ – that is talking about how many people you shot this morning – you weren’t representing the culture. Soon the grumbling violence of 50 Cent was the norm and you were lucky if Eminem or Odd Future gave you a chuckle. Even Britain has signed up to the misery with our love of grime.
But from an unlikely city comes a new era of the D.A.I.S.Y. Age. Rizzle Kicks are two Brightonian teenagers full of charm, humour and smiles who rap about their lives in a way that makes you want to hang out with them rather than run a mile. Sure, current single ‘A Prophet (Better Watch It)’ might claim that “Dennis is not even half what this menace is” but they’re much more believable when they’re personifying smoking as a femme fatale on ‘Miss Cigarette’, or worrying, on ‘Down With The Trumpets’, about getting “grass stains on my new trainers”.
Which is good, because the music is so alive with what it feels like to be young. With a love of mariachi brass and as much affection for indie and pop as they have for beats, their hook-laden songs feel like they’re pulling the sunshine from the sky. If it’s going to be the long hot summer the front page headlines are promising, Rizzle Kicks are going to be the soundtrack.
And it’s not just us who think so. Radio 1 have already started writing love letters to the band, with ‘Prophet’ getting the BBC Introducing pat on the back of sticking them on the playlist. “We’re so happy about that,” beams Jordan, the rapping half of the duo. “But our first Radio 1 play wasn’t even as a result of that. Fearne Cotton is a supporter, which is an unbelievable thing to have at this stage. She follows us on Twitter and all sorts!”
“Our management said that she might play ‘Prophet’ on her show, but we weren’t sure,” explains singer Harley. “I was on the train but I didn’t have my headphones so I had to listen to it over the speaker. People were telling me to shut up, but I was like, ‘Wait, just wait!’ I had to listen to it blaring out of my phone while people around me were trying to sleep. But then when it came on I was like so happy it was a joke.”
It doesn’t end there either. After playing four gigs in 24 hours for The Great Escape – including SOURCE and Made In Brighton’s official launch party – they rushed off for Radio 1’s Big Weekender, one of the most star-studded line-ups of the event to date.
“It was fricking awesome,” Jordan says of the experience. “We got introduced on stage by MistaJam and congratulated after our performance by Reggie Yates, so it was pretty beneficial for us. It was definitely an important step and the crowd were wicked.”
But it’s easy to work out why they’re so adored live. Even playing to the industry crowd of the Great Escape launch, they still had the whole room jumping. Loose enough to not worry about having too much fun, they’re tight enough to keep the songs sounding great. They joke and bicker onstage (“Brighton is our town,” claims Jordan before quickly correcting himself. “Oh, we just live here, we don’t own it or anything”), and their easy charm is infectious.
It’s a nice little set-up too. Brighton trumpet player Chris is joined by Lou, an 18-year-old former metal drummer who Rizzle Kicks found on Facebook, and a bass player who lurks away from the spotlight and turns out to be Jordan’s dad.
“We’ve made a massive leap from doing acoustic sets, or before, when I used to plug in my laptop,” says Jordan. “It’s a good vibe.”
And it is a good vibe, but they’re just as arresting backed with an acoustic guitar and a trumpet on Channel 4’s T4 Loft, or with Harley strumming away with Jordan spitting over a stripped-down take on Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’. Clearly they’re not the average hip hop outfit.
It’s undoubtedly helped by the fact that both had eclectic musical upbringings. Before Harley came onboard Jordan used to rap over instrumentals by bands as diverse as Arctic Monkeys, Christina Aguilera and Cyprus Hill. It’s something that has carried right through with a cover of Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’ being a key part of their live set.
The fact that they’re mates who go all the way back to primary school gives their songs an extra believability; that the tales of everyday exploits are what they actually get up to when they’re together. There are also practical benefits too. “The fact that me and Harley are really good mates is hugely beneficial,” ponders Jordan, “firstly because we don’t argue a lot. The way our personalities work is like yin and yang. We can get frustrated with each other. I think I’m a bit of a control freak and he knows that – we know how each other works.”
Also important is their embracing of YouTube as the channel to get their tracks out there. The visual side of the band is so important, with each song having its own video – from the narrative of ‘Miss Cigarette”s redheaded temptress, to the jaw-dropping light painting of the live animation that accompanies ‘Prophet’. They’re all made off their own bat, something that impressed Island Records enough to snap them up at a time when major labels are more likely to sign their own death warrant than sign a new act.
“The short story is that YouTube got us a record deal,” Jordan explains. “We made the song ‘Down With The Trumpets’ and put it on our MySpace last February and, well, people liked it but no one really said that much about it. Then we made a video and people seemed to understand what we’re about more.”
“Even the label are wanting us to visualise as much of our music as possible,” says Harley. “Apparently it brings the song out completely. YouTube, for us, gets across the vibe of our music a lot more than just listening to a track would.”
So we guess we’d better leave the last words to the boys themselves. Anything they want to say?
“Yeah,” considers Jordan. “Shout out…fucking Brighton. Shout out Running Dogs. Shout out Twin Brother.”
“Shout out Frosty Jacks,” adds Harley.
“Yeah, shout out Frosty Jacks,” concludes Jordan. “Keeping my mates pissed since 2004.”
PHOTOGRAPHY: KENNY MC CRACKEN
ASSISTANTS: ANDY NELSON AND TOM SIMMONDS
SHOT AT GARAGE STUDIOS/CREATE