Jordan Stephens is a man of many talents. As one half of Rizzle Kicks, he conquered the charts with infectious hip-hop bops like ‘Down with the Trumpets’ and ‘Mama Do the Hump’. Since then, in addition to spearheading the mental health awareness campaign #IAMWHOLE, he’s shown off his acting chops in Mae Martin’s Feel Good and hosted the hilarious hip-hop quiz show Don’t Hate the Playaz.
His latest enterprise is a solo musical project that reflects his fascination with “sex and death”, and a genuine love for many different genres. “I found naturally as I was creating this project, I was moving from a moody indie sound – which I have played with previously in a band I made called Wildhood, just after Rizzle Kicks – to making this house stuff,” he explains to NME, before adding more precisely: “Well, it’s kind of funky house-inspired upbeat stuff.”
So, whereas his previous track ‘Wicked’ represents the project’s bright and upbeat side, Stephens decided to follow it with this month’s woozy, guitar-led single ‘Star’ because it’s “kind of a formless stream and a vibe”. “I’m excited about it coming out because it centres the lyrics,” he says. In the latest instalment of NME‘s In Conversation series he discusses ‘Star”s “cryptic” subject matter, the changes he’s seen in the music industry and his interest in becoming a writer-director. Here’s what we learned.
‘Star’ is inspired by “grief, generational relationships [and] heartbreak”
Stephens explains that ‘Star’ lyric “I put the star in bastard” is a “good encapsulation of my life”, adding that he’s always been fascinated by the colloquial evolution of the word “bastard” because “literally, I am a bastard”. “[This song] was initially me talking about coming from two people who’ve had complex, crazy lives – my mum and dad,” he adds. “And then I’m born and I’ve got my own shit and for some reason I’m in everyone’s fucking face. And everyone’s trying to compete to be there.”
Still, he seems keen not to over-explain every detail of the song. “I only sing for about a minute and a bit, so this [discussion] is a real essay on a small thing,” he says. “But I do mean it.”
The industry’s changed massively since his days in Rizzle Kicks
Stephens began his musical career over a decade ago, and it’s not the same landscape as when he started. “The industry’s changed massively, there wasn’t even Instagram when Rizzle Kicks came out.”
He reflects that social media has increasingly become a huge part of the industry, and while it started as a place to show fans what you’re doing in the day, now it’s become more tactical. “It’s like ‘how many followers you got? No, you can’t release any music’”
“It’s mad to me. Somebody literally said to me ‘a good song isn’t good enough any more’. That was an actual statement I had from somebody who works at one of the biggest music channels in the game, and for me I think it’s a shame,” he says.
Stephens does recognise some of the benefits increased use of social media has brought, though: “On the plus side you have more access to your own unique fanbase, and arguably you create your own world and empire and live off there, and more artists can live off that than ever before.”
His dream in college was to be a writer-director – and it’s something he remains keen to break into
Stephens explains that early aspirations he had at college of working as a writer or director are still goals he’d like to work towards. “I’ve been heavily involved with music videos in the past and I definitely see things visually on occasion,” Stephens says, adding: “So I hope to maybe develop into that.” Stephens, in fairness, has filmmaking in his blood: his grandfather John Boulting directed the classic British gangster film Brighton Rock starring Richard Attenborough.
In fact, Stephens can remember meeting Attenborough – himself an Oscar-winning director, as well as the star of Jurassic Park – at a party when he was a kid. “I think I actually put a whoopee cushion under Richard Attenborough as he went to sit down,” he recalls. “And it was met with, well… some people thought it was funny; others thought I was feral.”
He’s much less fussed about taking on more TV work
While Stephens says he really enjoys hosting Don’t Hate the Playaz, ITV2’s hip-hop quiz show, because loves the scene and panellists like Lady Leshurr and Maya Jama, other TV gigs aren’t top of his priority list right now. “If I’m being really honest with you, I think it’s a piece of piss,” he says bluntly of presenting.
“People have suggested I do more presenting or hosting or whatever. And at this moment in time… being in front of a camera isn’t a stress to me [and] dealing with people isn’t a stress to me; but ironically, that’s something I don’t really want to pursue because it feels like a massive commitment. You have to smile all the fucking time. I mean, you’ve got to be all up on your Insta stories and shit and [on] Twitter being like ‘hahahaha’.”
Plus, Stephens says doing that the rounds of celebrity panel shows feels like “hell on earth” to him because “everything’s overproduced” and “you get edited to fuck”. “I just can’t be bothered,” he adds, “I’d rather have a cup of tea.”
He believes the next phase of mental health campaigning is making sure it’s taught in schools.
Stephens has spearheaded #IAMWHOLE, a mental health awareness campaign aimed at encouraging young people to speak out, seek help and get support, since 2016. Now he wants to see young people taught more about both physical health and mental health – something that shouldn’t have the “upper-middle-class tint” it’s sometimes given.
“Allowing children to understand stuff like meditation and interpersonal relationships is imperative,” he says. “Why are you not taught as a kid how to deal with being sad? Why are you not taught what to do with joy?”
Stephens also believes young people should be taught more broadly about nutrition and how what we eat can affect our mood and energy levels. “In food tech, I was taught how to make a fucking flapjack,” he says. “And flapjacks are great, but what would [also] be great is to say, ‘Yo, every morning you can have porridge with chia seeds, flax seeds, blueberries, raspberries. And this is why: because [it will mean] energy is dispersed throughout the day.'”