If you’re from Birmingham and you’re into road rap, the name Stardom will ring many bells. A decade deep into penning his lived street tales, it’s only been recently that Stardom’s star has begun to rise outside of his beloved city—which makes sense: the last two years has seen him appear on Fire In The Booth, Tim Westwood’s Crib Sessions and other freestyle platforms, each time sparking a new wave of interest and “Yo! Who’s this?” comments from across the UK.
To put it bluntly, up until recently, Stardom’s music had never been industry-friendly enough to make a big splash; it was streeter-than-street rap, with jaw-dropping results. However, it seems he’s found the perfect balance with his latest tape, Grams & Dreams. A mix of hard-hitting hood heaters and club-worthy bangers, this project marks a well-overdue change for a rapper who has become synonymous with the Birmingham gang scene, throughout his life and within his lyrics.
In his first ever magazine interview, Stardom opens up about the struggle that artists from outside of London face to be successful, why it’s taken so long for Birmingham artists to be recognised, and why he considers himself one of the best in the biz.
“i’m feeling really blessed right now and we’re just properly getting started...”
People in Birmingham will know that you’ve been in this game for a long time, but to people outside of Brum it seems as if you’re only now popping off. Why do you think that is?
From a Brum perspective, you’re right: people know that I’ve been around for ages. It kind of feels like people have got used to my music and my style being very street. I always hear “Stardom’s hard”, but I’ve never really done the more mainstream, radio-friendly kind of material that we did for this latest project. So for those that didn’t know, I’m not new to this—check the back catalogue [laughs].
What, in your opinion, makes Grams & Dreams different to your previous offerings? It feels like you’ve finally found that balance between street rap and appealing to a larger, more mainstream audience.
I’ve been making music for quite a while now and I think I’ve improved a lot as a musician along the way. For Grams & Dreams, I tried to jump on different kind of beats to what I would usually jump on, tried to be a bit more radio-friendly as they say. I would also say that we’ve pushed a lot harder recently and tried to promote and get this new music out there properly, like actually taking things serious now.
Talk us through the content in the songs, and the title Grams & Dreams—where did that come from?
Grams & Dreams comes from an idea one of my friends spoke to me about. Basically, coming from the streets, I’ve always had to hustle. A lot of rappers like to talk about hustling, but we’re really out here doing it—from an early age as well. That doesn’t mean we never had dreams, though. Grams & Dreams represents the hustle, combined with the dream of making a proper living from music. We’re on the path! Everyone has to hustle to fulfill their dreams, whatever they might be.
My personal favourite on the project is “S.T.A.R”—what’s yours?
Yeah, “S.T.A.R” is one of my favourites too, but it changes every week. I love “Fashion Killa” just as much! “Grams & Dreams”, the track, is also very personal to me.
We see a lot of negative press about Birmingham’s gangs and postcode wars, and let’s be honest: we’ve all seen the notorious “B6 Slash” freestyle vids. How has being a part of that culture affected your life and career?
There’s a lot of negativity around gang culture in general, all around the country, but for sure: Brum has always been a focus in the press. Obviously, growing up in and around gang culture and being exposed to certain things has to have a big effect on you, but I’ve used that and turned it into something positive with my music. That’s why I always try to put my life experiences into it. From the outside looking in, it might seem as if we’re glorifying the lifestyle but I feel honestly like I’m just putting my life stories out there on an instrumental—good or bad.
Is it hard not to get sucked back in?
Yeah, of course. There are always difficulties and distractions, but it’s about staying focused and knowing what direction in life I’m heading.
The city seems to be alive right now, with artists like Mist, Lotto Boyzz and Jaykae making big moves. What do you think of the Birmingham scene today?
The music scene in Birmingham is definitely alive and popping right now. People have been sleeping on us for the longest! Birmingham music has been making noise from way back, but London and other cities seem to just be starting to embrace us more now. It’s Birmingham’s time to shine, alongside them.
“The reality is, most artists these days are just saying whatever in songs, saying what they think is cool, but they’re not living that life or doing anything remotely near what they rap.”
Do you think it’s harder to be an artist from Brum or outside of London, in general?
100 percent! I think people down there never used to believe that there was real street shit going on outside of London, so they wouldn’t appreciate the authenticity of our music. The reality is, most artists these days are just saying whatever in songs, saying what they think is cool, but they’re not living that life or doing anything remotely near what they’re rapping about. I think London people, for years, have thought Birmingham people aren’t relevant, but that’s all starting to change.
Where do you see yourself in the UK scene? Who would you compare yourself to musically, if anyone?
As a rapper, I’m definitely one of best in the UK. I’ve been doing this as more of a hobby so now I’m focusing on becoming one of the best musicians, too. I don’t compare myself to anyone else at all. I’ve had to go through a lot of stuff to even have this interview with you now! It’s mad! So nah: I’m my own guy, in my own lane.
“Gucci”, your current single, is currently tearing up the club scene across the UK and it’s a real departure from your usual style. Was there a conscious effort to make music that’s a bit more commercial-sounding?
It’s jumping off, yeah. Someone sent the beat ages ago, I liked it and just rocked to it and came out with “Gucci”. It’s not my normal kind of song, you’re right—it’s got more of a melodic feel to it—but I think it sits with ‘what’s in’ right now.
Were there any local artists in Brum that influenced you, musically, growing up?
Growing up, my musical influences were just American artists, really. I never used to listen to UK stuff but I was a part of the SLASH movement. They were definitely a big influence on how I rap today; Zimbo, Grinch, Odizzle, V1 and them man. My big brother used to spit to garage when I was a lot younger; he used to give me cassette tapes to listen to. That was my first introduction to music: my big bro. So I reckon that’s where it all started.
You speak a lot in your lyrics about how you were on the path to becoming a professional footballer when you were younger. Tell us about that.
I used to play for Derby County when I was young, also Villa and The Blues, but you know how it is: I got caught up with the street stuff, got distracted, and went to prison. That meant the end of football. No point in regrets though, because the music was always there.
Tell us a bit more about Stardom off the mic. Aside from music, what is Rikardo about?
I’m just a good kid from Birmingham, you know. I came from the streets and now I’m trying to do something positive and constructive with my life.
You became a father recently, too. Congratulations! Has becoming a dad changed you as a man?
Becoming a father has made a massive difference to how I see things now; I’ve got someone else depending on me, so I have to make much more responsible choices. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, honestly. She has humbled me and made me focused on making the music work for us both.
Where do you see yourself in ten years—what’s the life goal?
In ten years? Retired, hopefully [laughs]. Nah, I just want to be able to look back and say I’ve achieved everything I set out to: property, business, music, and be able to live comfortably.
What has the next twelve months got in store for Stardom?
We’ve got loads planned. I’m looking to drop the next single and video soon, we have PA’s across the UK and Europe booked in, I want to put on a tour in the next few months and then look at the next album. I’m finally taking the music seriously, so yeah—busy, busy. I’m feeling really blessed right now and we’re just properly getting started.