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Clara Amfo & Jordan Stephens

1883 Magazine sits down with Clara Amfo and Jordan Stephens to discuss Make Me a Mixtape, their friendship, and more.
Clara Amfo & Jordan Stephens

Music tastemakers Clara Amfo and Jordan Stephens have teamed up for their new project, Make Me a Mixtape.

Thanks to lengthy stints at BBC Radio 1 and many TV appearances, Clara is a leading broadcaster, DJ, podcaster and revered personality in the entertainment industry. Yes, from appearing on Strictly Come Dancing to hosting this year’s BRIT Awards in March and everything in between, Amfo has done it all. In our last chat with the talent, which can be read here, Clara teased how we could expect to see her back in a project with a familiar face. Although it hasn’t been confirmed, we can only assume she was in fact speaking about her Make Me a Mixtape co-host, Jordan Stephens.

Like Clara, Jordan is also a creative triple threat, the musician, actor, and broadcaster is best known as one-half of the hip-hop duo, Rizzle Kicks, a British band that ruled the early 2010s before the act went on hiatus. However, Stephens’ versatility far extends that particular project, over the years, he has dazzled as a solo artist, acted in a mix of TV shows and films, and as podcaster and speaker. He’s also set to become a published author in August.

The duo, who have been longtime friends for over a decade, are now bringing their “soft-boiled” friendship and music expertise to the masses via the BBC Sounds series, Make Me a Mixtape. In each episode, the pair are given a theme by a listener or by a celebrity guest and subsequently have to curate the perfect playlist for it. Amfo and Stephens battle it out to have their curated mixtapes chosen, there can only be one winner.

What makes this show extremely special is not only the clear camaraderie between the pair as they playfully joke with each other, go on tangents, and share stories linked to the songs they pick, it’s refreshing to have these songs not come from an algorithm. It’s clear to see each track is picked for a reason and means a lot to the hosts. Along the way, you can also expect celebrity guests and the chemistry between the pair is a joy to listen to in each episode.

1883 Magazine’s Cameron Poole sits down with Clara Amfo and Jordan Stephens to discuss Make Me a Mixtape, their friendship, Clara’s new production studio venture Manny’s Daughter Productions, and Jordan chats about the return of Rizzle Kicks.

Hi Clara and Jordan thanks for chatting with 1883 Magazine. Given you’ve both been friends for a long time and you’re both music connoisseurs, I feel it must have got so competitive during the making of Make Me a Mixtape?

Clara Amfo: [Laughs] Never! Are you joking?

Jordan Stephens: Clara’s the only competitive one. I’m not competitive.

CA: No, I’m not competitive at all. Jordan is…

JS: No, Clara is really competitive. It’s wild.

CA: No, no, I just participate in what we’re doing. I have a great time doing it. I wouldn’t call myself competitive. I’d say I’m passionate but not competitive [Laughs]. Listen, yeah, who likes to lose in life? Not me,

JS:I’ve gone home after every recording and cried.

CA:It’s not that deep. He’s all right. He’s okay. Look, there’s very good after-care when it comes to Make Me a Mixtape. Everyone’s well taken care of. It’s all good.

JS: Listen, Cameron, music is subjective. Taste is subjective.

CA: That’s it.

JS: That’s the major takeaway. Whenever I don’t win, it’s because someone’s got bad taste. Do you know what I mean? That’s all it is, which is fine.

CA: We can’t give away wins or losses at this point because we want people to enjoy the show. No spoilers and that.

JS: I never win.

CA: But I’d also say when I don’t win, it’s because people have got bad taste. It is what it is.

But just going back to how you guys have been firm friends for quite some time…

CA: Firm!

JS: Not firm. Loose friends.

CA: Like soft-boiled.

JS: Soft-boiled friends. Soft-boiled friends is perfect.

CA: Al dente. Not al dente. No, that’s too firm.

JS: Al dente? No, that’s too firm.

Okay [laughs] you’ve been soft-boiled friends for a while

JS: Soft-boiled friends, it’s another podcast that’s going to pop up soon too.

CA: Exactly. Soft-boiled friends. I think I first recall meeting Jordan, and I tell him this story all the time, at the Brit Awards. I was on red carpet duty. I think that’s one of the first times we properly, properly met. I’d seen you about at things, like when Rizzle Kicks’ was first popping off[ Laughs] Jordan, in that era, he was a spirited guy. He still is a spirited guy.

JA: Cameron, what she’s trying to say is she didn’t like me when she first met me, which is fine. I was in a very messy era of my life. I was difficult. Do you know what I mean? She thought I was a little shit.

CA: Do you know what? That I will stand by because I’ve said that on record. I did think you were a little shit when we first met. But I didn’t think you were a nasty person, and there is a very big difference.

JS: A very big difference.

CA: There is a very big difference. Being a little shit is temporary, being nasty.… Look, I was trying to throw you a friendship bone here. Take it.

JS: Yeah, I was delusional and high, look I’m taking it. Listen, I understand my former self, that Jordan is dead [laughs].

CA: Exactly. It’s like what Taylor Swift says, ‘The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right. She’s dead.’ Actually, let me not quote Taylor Swift. Her Swifties are going to come for me too. 

You have known each other for quite some time, if I recall correctly, since around 2012 or 2013 when you met at the Brits, as mentioned by Clara on Jordan’s Red Carpet Treatment podcast. when did you both realise it made sense to collaborate professionally and what do you admire about each other?

CA: Oh my god, this is like therapy. When I was thinking about new projects I wanted to do after Future Sounds, I always thought I still want to have conversations about music. I still want to celebrate music and popular culture because essentially we go off on tangents a lot during this project about all sorts of things, and it’s a celebration of what we currently like, but also stories that we both have. 

I thought I want to do something with someone, I’m not even joking; Jordan was the one person on my list, I want to work with him. I think we can get on. I think we could just do something fun. It really is as simple as that. That’s really how it went down. Then the BBC asked Jordan, and he was like, ‘You know what…’

JS: I took ages to respond because I was like, ‘Ugh, I don’t know. I’m just so booked and busy. It’s crazy. I don’t know if I can squeeze this in.’ [Laughs] No, of course I said yes because I like Clara. I like Clara.

CA: Oh, do you? Oh my god, babe.

JS: Look, I had Clara obviously on the Brits podcast that was fun. Clara’s also been really supportive throughout my newer version of myself. I was releasing some solo music and Clara was really supportive of that. By the way, without me even really trying to backdoor that, some people try to lean on the past. It wasn’t really that at all. There seemed to be a mutual belief in the music and stuff. That was really cool. 

Also, Clara really gets along with my girlfriend, the love of my life, Jade, as well, and that’s helpful. Jade throws these great parties, and Clara’s always at the parties. I make Jade sound way more social than she is there.  Parties for her birthday and for Halloween I mean [laughs].

JS: So it was a no-brainer. I’ve wanted to work with BBC Sounds for a minute because obviously they have gone from strength to strength. This project is a visual thing too, which I love. I’m a big digester of the audio-visual market. When I heard that the whole shebang was going to happen, I was like, yeah, cool. That’d be great.

CA: He basically just loves the camera. That’s why he said yes. No, but in all seriousness, and don’t get too gassed by this, I’m genuinely proud of the person that Jordan has become, truly, as an artist and as a human being.

In a really in a really lovely way, I think we’re still developing our friendship, which is really cool. Because obviously, although we knew each other socially for about 10 years, we’ve only started spending this amount of time with each other, I guess, over the past…

JS: Few months.

CA: Yeah, a few months, really. But we’ve always got on. I don’t like working with people that I don’t rate. Listen, I don’t like working with thick people [Laughs]

JS: You said thick, you know? You can quote that. She doesn’t like working with idiots. I had to do an IQ test [laughs].

CA: No, Jordan’s really bright. We just have a laugh. We share a lot of the same references. I can say something and he’ll get it, and he can say something and I’ll get it. We just have a nice time.

JS: Incidentally, and this is another bit of it, Clara’s also the last DJ to play a Rizzle Kicks song.

CA: Oh, yes, Always Late by Rizzle Kicks.

JS: Before we put it on ice. Yeah. [Laughs] It was actually that interview that made us decide to fuck it up. No, I’m joking.

CA: Yeah, because that was what, 2019?

JS: No, 2016, man.

CA: Oh my god. Wow. Time has flown. Do you know what? I’m just thinking, not me saying I don’t like working with thick people. That’s so mean. [Laughs]

JS: Yeah. I’ve already emailed saying that needs to go in as the headline. Yeah, t’d be amazing. I love it. Cameron, It’s a great quote.

CA: Don’t get me wrong. It’s true, but I could have said that a bit more elegantly because I’m not trying to say that I’m Albert Einstein.

One of the great things about Make Me a Mixtape is that it’s fuelled by your shared passion for music, and the tangents about topics like Black Panther or Little Simz being peerless are just fun to listen to. It’s just refreshing that the tracks you feature haven’t come from an algorithm, which is so common these days. With that in mind, what’s the best song or album a friend has introduced you to that you’ve absolutely loved?

JS: Oh, god…

CA: Ooh! That is a great question. Funnily enough, actually, I was thinking about this the other day. There’s an incredible grunge band, I guess I wouldn’t call it grunge. That’s the wrong phrase because they do all sorts of things. But an incredible band called Pixies. I was listening to one of their albums the other day. I was thinking about the time I used to work in a skate shop, and one of the older employees…

JS: What, Pixies? As in “Where Is My Mind”?

CA: Exactly.

JS: Right, that song is the best. Oh my god.

CA: It’s so good. It’s been covered by so many people. I think for the past five to 10 years, there’s always some cover version of it on some film soundtrack, like in Fight Club. But I found myself listening to the album literally last week, and I was taken back to when my friend Andy introduced me. He was just like, ‘You need to get into this band.’ Andy was one of the cool older boys who worked in the shop. 

He was like, ‘Trust me, C. Listen to this band, Pixies. It’s going to change your life.’ I was like, ‘Don’t lie.’ He’s like, ‘Listen to it.’ I remember thinking, ‘Wow, ‘This is amazing. This is incredible.’ Hearing that song being covered as well up until 2024…

JS: That song is the lead song in one of my favourite series of all time, which is The Leftovers, which is a very niche TV series. “Where is My Mind” is played continuously.

CA: Who’s in that again?

JS: Justin…

Justin Theroux.

JS: Have you seen it, Cameron?!

Yes, it was so good!

JS: Oh, mate, isn’t mad that not more people know about The Leftovers? It’s a proper experience, though. I cried. It was when I was doing a job in Budapest, and I was just sat in this apartment on my own sobbing. It starts off as a normal kind of hmm, what’s going on? Then by season three, you’re like, oh, this is really… yeah, it’s fucking deep. Anyway, my answer…

There’s obviously loads of stuff that my friends did introduce me to, but the one that came to mind is our friend Tiffany Calver, who’s a great DJ. She dates my best friend, one of my oldest friends, and she played a song called “Peach” by this artist called Salute.

CA: Oh, I love salute!

JS: So fucking good. He is just this dope… I guess, it’s house? I don’t know what the genre really is.

CA: Yeah, I’d say mostly he is. That’s one of his big influences. It’s sort of everything really.

JS: Oh, mate, he’s so cool. Yeah, I was going through a phase of listening songs with no lyrics, just vibing out to beats. I’m a massive fan of club, trance, house, which is new. I used to think house was just one continuous song. Now, I really get into just the feeling of the elation and the drop, it’s just wicked. 

Yeah, a big shout-out to Salute. He’s released way more since, but that was a real stand-out.

CA: Oh, yeah, because he’s done some amazing tunes He worked with Empress Of, who’s brilliant. She did that tune, “Kiss Me”, with Rina, and he’s done a tune with her as well. But he’s really special. I like him a lot.

I just wanted to break up the interview with two individual questions. Jordan, for a lot of people, Rizzle Kicks’ Stereo Typical was the sound of 2012, so as an artist how do you prepare to come back with new music or a potential third album after such a long hiatus? And what does Rizzle Kicks sound like in 2024?

JS: Wow. We’ve grown up. A lot of the reason why we wanted to step away, was in an attempt to mature. I think that exposure to fame at a young age can definitely suspend maturation. I was 18, and then I was 24. There was this, ‘what the fuck? ‘And so Harley’s had two kids, I’ve got two dogs… [Laughs]

CA: Both valid.

JS: I remember when Rizzle Kicks first began, we sat opposite each other at Harley’s mum’s house, I think. We were just playing music and being like, ‘Oh, this is a vibe,’ and I think like, a classic vibe, this kind of old school Golden Age hip-hop. We were like, ‘We can do this. We both love this. This is a great sound. It’s a great energy, a great vibe.’ We just started making demos. To be honest, the process hasn’t been that different this time around. We’re actually the closest we’ve ever been. I think because of the nature of where we are in life, we’re more rooted. We’re more grounded, stable and so we’re super close. We talk about music, and we play music, and there’s a clear crossover of the styles and vibes that we like. 

So we just went in the studio and were like, ‘let’s see what comes out’. I honestly had no attachment really to the outcome of those sessions because if isn’t a vibe, it’s not a vibe. But it really is a vibe. I’ve got to say, I don’t know how this will come across, but Harley is so talented as a musician, he’s got such a beautiful voice. He actually did a really quite instantly successful solo stint just after Rizzle Kicks, before I went on mine. What prevented that going any further was the stage anxiety that he got. So the whole thing for us is just more reconnecting as friends musically, creating stuff that showcases our talents, which I guess would be our ear for music. 

I’m definitely a better rapper than I was back then. I don’t even think I was that good back then. But Harley has a great voice and I’m singing a little bit too on this record. Yeah, we want to get on stage, man. We want to get on stage. As his kids grow up, he wants that feeling of being back on stage and not associate that with fear, you know? That’s the immediate goal for us, just to do a couple of wicked gigs, and then keep making music. This isn’t a nostalgia thing, man. We’re here to make some good albums. It’s just what it is.

Honestly, thank you so much for being willing to answer that. It’s going to be so exciting.

CA: I love that.

Clara, during our last chat we briefly touched upon how you want to get into TV production more and I’ve spotted the new production company account you’ve started and lovingly referenced your father in, Manny’s Daughter Productions. What can you share about this new venture?

CA: Oh, gosh, what actually can I share without getting into trouble? Put it this way, for as long as I’ve worked in broadcast, it’s not missed on me that usually, especially with shows I’m leading, I’m probably one of the only few people of colour on set, and definitely one of the only black women on set and I wanted to change that. My whole thing is producing TV, just producing all types of content that is made for everyone but by everyone. 

I think at the start of the pandemic, I did a TV production with a big brand, and it was the first time I’ve ever had a black camerawoman. Obviously, I literally had to stare at her because that’s my job. But I said to her afterwards, ‘I literally couldn’t stop staring at you’ which is wild. I think I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m just like, you know what? I’m not going to use the word complain, because I think that sounds too negative. I think it’s almost a bit reductive to what the issue is. But I think there’s only so much you can say it to the powers that be, ‘Hey, we can change this.’ People can promise that ‘Oh, we’re going to do more D&I, and X, Y and Z’, but I’ve got to be the change that I want to see.

I’m trying to answer this really elegantly without baiting myself up too much. Basically, you’re going to see fictional stories, you’re going to see non-fiction things, factual things that I will be behind. There’ll be camera people, there’ll be writers, there will be make-up people who just come from a range of backgrounds. I will be acquiring things to tell all these types of stories.

Moving back towards the playlist now, each episode has a theme set by the listener or celebrity guest. What are some of the themes that crop up in the series?

CA: One of the last ones we recorded, somebody said they wanted a euphoria playlist, which is so broad. He just wanted to feel euphoria. It’s the sort of thing where you’re like, ‘okay, that can mean a lot of things’. Another guest wanted their end of uni party soundtracks, and they’re a film student. Some people will give us genre contexts, and some people just will give us mood contexts. Then you have to go from there.

JS: By the way, Clara, big up on that production company thing. The beauty of the show is that obviously, like I said at the beginning, Cameron, it’s subjective. Something like euphoria, that’s a fricking subjective thing. So, ultimately, who wins doesn’t mean anything because I obviously have the best.

No, no, some people will think that the songs are good, some people will think the songs are bad. But I think what the beauty of this show is, there’s so much scope for growth in terms of people who have ‘jokier’ themes, certain themes that are a little more surreal, which invite more ridiculousness. 

There’s been a theme where it was specific to genre, which allowed me and Clara to delve back into a particular era of British music, which was really fun, or just general music. It is cool. We also do try and pick songs that tie to a particular story. For me personally and Clara too, but music is so synonymous with memory. There are songs that I literally can’t listen to without being thrown back to a particular time in my life. Any time there’s an opportunity for that, you know… winning.

CA: Exactly.

I think I’m allowed to mention Romesh Ranganathan is one of the guests who gifts a mixtape song. Is there anyone else you can tease that shows up at all?

CA: Okay, so who do you know about so far? Only Romesh?

Yes, correct.

CA: Okay, yeah, why not just go with the names. You’ve got the wonderful Rachel Chinouriri as one of our guests, that was really fun. Then the brilliant Kojey Radical. There’ll be more to come. I think we’ve been talking about our dream lists of celeb guests and stuff. Yeah, anyone’s welcome, I would say.

jS: The contribution you’re talking about is a part of the show where there are two things you can do: you can steal a song or you can get a gift from someone. But we don’t know who the someone is. I’m on the mission to have the initials of the guests put on the envelope, instead of just one letter, because then there’s more chance we can guess who the guest is. 

For example, in the last show, neither of us picked the gift, and it was from Craig Charles, and he picked an absolute banger! Oh my god. I’ve been thinking about that more than anything. More than my song list, more than anything, I’ve been thinking about the fact that… we’re working on how to get it in the show because it’s an unbelievable pick.

CA: That’s the beauty of it all. We’ve got this feature where we can either steal each other’s songs or get gifted a selection from a mystery guest. Now, the stealing has caused a few issues.

JS: Clara gets upset about the stealing. But it’s all right.

CA: I didn’t say I was upset.

JS: We can add more things. There’s a lot of range going in. 

You know what Cameron, It was so cool that you made a comment at the beginning about this being a non-algorithmic approach to song selection. I mean, that is just really cool. [Laughs] I think that’s what excites me about this show, too, and chatting to artists about what they love, which is really cool. Well, not just artists, people.

CA: Anyone. It is really fascinating to understand how certain songs have coloured people’s lives, and if people are aware of certain songs. It’s like just great market research. [Laughs] It really is. 

There have been certain songs I’d assume people would like, and they’ve been like, ‘Oh, yeah. Do you know what? I’m not really into that.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, word. Okay.’ But you know, never assume.

Finally, both of you have worked incredibly hard to reach your current positions in your respective creative fields. The entertainment industry often hides the effort and dedication people put in behind closed doors, the public often doesn’t see the years of grinding. Could you each share a moment from the start of your careers that significantly contributed to your development into the professionals you are today?

JS:  I love that. It’s interesting you say that because that’s actually quite a prominent discussion point with Rizzle Kicks, especially on this record, because we were an overnight success. We literally were performing to 35 people in Brighton, and then we were suddenly at Scala, right? It’s mutually agreed between us, the fans, everyone, the labels, that it’s insane. It’s not supposed to happen like that. It’s supposed to be six or seven years of build up. It was bizarre, right? But for that reason, it was great and scary. I literally had someone the other day ask me when I won X-Factor. It’s crazy.

CA: Are you joking?

JS: They were younger and they didn’t understand we went straight to Radio One. We were the record of the week. It was crazy, the shift. The radio had serious power back then, right? And this was before streaming. We were like Asda’s top five [Laughs]. But as a boy, just to be clear, I would sit at home, and as a young rapper in Brighton, I wasn’t jumping on London’s wave. Even though I’d come from London, I was in Brighton. I was by the beach. I loved it. There was this backpack hip-hop scene where it was all about the use of words and multisyllabic rhyme schemes. I would make these demos using the money that I got from my paper rounds which was £15 a week or something. 

I’d save up, go studio, get the demos. I’d go to this graphic design place by the level in Brighton, print off all these CDs, make these press packs, and go and put these press packs and Jiffy bags through the doors of local labels. I’ve got a vivid memory of me and my mum sat in the room, and I couldn’t get the fucking CD thing on. I had to get the sticker on so they could look professional but that’s not one of my strengths to be able to do that and not have a massive air bubble in it or something. This was all the savings I’d had to get these press back together. 

I’d send it to someone as quick as possible, I’d enter every competition. I just have that vivid memory of sticking the labels on the CDs and really trying to just get me and my mum out of that little mews. That was it.

I’ve got to go now, Cameron big love. Clara, tell me you answer after as I really want to know!

Thanks, Jordan!

CA: I’ll see you soon, babe, bye Jordan!

So when I was working at Kiss FM, I would work Monday to Friday in the office and then go back Saturday and Sunday and do the Breakfast Show. Sometimes if I was out with my mates on the Friday, I would sleep in the office because I’d be out in central London and think, well, hang on, if I’m out in Soho, and the office is on Winsley Street, what’s the point of going home. I’d just stay out. I’d go sleep on the sofa and set an alarm, and then just do the show and carry on about my day. I did that hardcore for about three years. I was knackered, but at the same time, I loved it. 

Those moments are the making of you. The amount of times I had to go to nightclubs and scrape flipping random stickers off walls and stuff, or stand outside Topshop getting vox pops for people and being ignored by a hundred people who walked by. But it’s those moments I truly look back on. Rather than the shiny stuff, those are the moments I really think made me. I have such an appreciation for people who work on street teams, everyone who works behind the scenes, like marketing, events, because I’ve done every single one of those jobs, and you can’t unsee it. 

I think it always just keeps me quite levelled with my approach to work and quite grateful. I’m not trying to sound sanctimonious here, but I am so happy that I’m not an overnight success or that I didn’t come up through any other route that isn’t from me. Do you know what I mean? And if anything, it keeps me feeling charged up.

Sorry, I’m running on three hours of sleep because I’m a trustee of the Royal Academy, and it was our big summer exhibition preview party last night [Laughs]. I legged it out of the hotel this morning. I was like, ‘Shit. I’ve got an interview at 9am,’ and I can’t get my thoughts together, I’m genuinely more articulate than this, but alas.

You’ve been fantastic. Don’t worry.

CA: Oh, bless you. But I think, for me, those are the significant moments. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten to interview incredible artists, travel for work and do some stuff that I’m still ‘oh my god’. But it’s those grassroots moments that make me feel good. I read somewhere the other day, someone made some comment saying, ‘Oh, who did she sleep with?’ I’m thinking, are you joking? Please, no. No way. That’s not been my story at all. At all. If anything, I’ve avoided sleeping my way to the top. [Laughs]. Yeah, I think that’s my answer.

Yeah, honestly, thank you. I appreciate it because I know I dropped that last question on both of you.

CA: It’s all good, thank you!

Listen to Make Me a Mixtape with Clara Amfo and Jordan Stephens every Tuesday on BBC Sounds by clicking here.

Follow Clara Amfo by clicking here and Jordan Stephens by clicking here.

Interview Cameron Poole

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