First “Wooo,” Then the World: A Conversation With S-X

Image via S-X
Image via S-X
Alex Da Kid, HudMo, and Evian Christ are no longer the only UK-born tune-makers making dents in the US hip-hop market. Born Sam Gumbley, based in the gloomy city of Wolverhampton, England, S-X is hip-hop’s new best-kept secret. An Atlantic-signed producer, he took the British grime, rap, trap scenes by storm in 2010, with the release of his inescapable, dirty south-meets-E3 grime instrumental, “Wooo Riddim.” And what was initially created for his rhyme-throwing friends (StayFresh) to lace on radio sets and the likes, “Wooo Riddim” soon found itself being co-signed via vocal contributions from every top-tier MC in London and surrounding areas.
A couple of grime-influenced EPs followed, but S-X, now 21, leans more towards hip-hop and has since produced album and mixtape material for a large number of Billboard chart-topping clients; Lil Wayne, T.I., Iggy Azalea, Childish Gambino, and Lupe Fiasco being just a few of them. The father of one is still living in Wolves and claims he’s not ready to leave the country in pursuit of the bling lifestyle, just yet—despite the growing success. However, with the demand for his melody-driven, rolling 808 bass work growing by the beat in the States, S-X may have to reconsider sooner than he thinks.

S-X! It’s been the longest. How are things?
I know, JP. It’s good to hear from you, man.

Right, let’s take it back for the people who, perhaps, don’t know how you got to become the super-producer you are now. How does the S-X story begin?
Well, I got into making music around 2000 and… I can’t actually remember what it was. I was definitely in high-school, though, Year 7. Someone gave me Fruity Loops and I started making beats on it. I used to think you needed all that crazy equipment, so I must have been 11, and I’m 21 now so I’ve been in this for a good decade now. I feel old [laughs]. My brother listened to a lot of old school southern hip-hop, like UGK and the Three 6 Mafia, and then I got into drums and stuff, so I listened to a lot of rock music too. It was mostly hip-hop, though. And it’s weird, because 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Trying is my old school—it was the first album I bought.

“Wooo Riddim” pretty much changed your life when it hit the ‘net back in 2010, didn’t it? From dubstep skankers and grime brappers to instrumental trap fans, the underground music scene got fully behind it in a way that hadn’t been seen since, well, Tempa T’s “Next Hype.” Did you ever, in your wildest, imagine it would ever go on to be as impactful and such an anthem as it was/still is?
“Wooo Riddim” was the catapult that shot me on my way. It got so big in grime, dubstep, trap—they were even playing it in UK funky raves—it allowed me to be in contact with everyone and opened so many doors; every door was unlocked to me after that. I made it when I was 15 and it blew up when I was 17, so it was a few years old when it went big. But I’m just glad that I used the hype to my advantage and had the mentality to stay consistent.

To label you a grime producer based on that beat alone wouldn’t be fitting. If anything, “Wooo Riddim” leans more towards trap/dirty south hip-hop, but with a quintessentially British bass underbelly. However, your ties do lie more with the grime scene than any other, especially being linked with StayFresh crew, and your 3000 Followers and 5000 Followers EP releases, etc. As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a bit of a grime versus trap thing going on among producers. What’s your stance on the whole thing? Have you been caught in the fire?
I originally made that track as a hip-hop instrumental. I never actually made grime at the time, and that’s why it was so different. I see it as… it’s just music, man. I’m from the UK and I’ve made grime music, but I hate genre tags. At the end of the day, if it’s a sick tune, it’s a sick tune. To me, it’s just music. Everyone used to tell me it wasn’t grime, and that I was making American music. When I listen to everyone’s mixtapes and albums in the UK now, though, it sounds very similar to what I was making. Personally, I don’t know what grime is anymore. If you listen to a grime music radio show—bar, like five songs—everything is trap! So again, to me, it’s all just music. Garage and house, it’s all coming back now, too. I actually went to my first house rave the other week. At first, I didn’t like house but, when you’re there in the rave, it’s a vibe.

From your “Wooo Riddim” days to now working with the likes of Young Money, Grand Hustle, Childish Gambino, and Lupe Fiasco, you’ve come a mighty long way—and, what’s more is that you’ve been doing it all from your base in Wolverhampton. Talk me through your transition from local bedroom producer to signed Atlantic act working with hip-hop’s elite…
The Young Money link started before “Wooo…,” ‘cos I used to literally hunt the interns and what-not on MySpace, and would just stay consistent. I must’ve been 15, but I sent my music to the interns at the labels all the time. Those people at the bottom are now the head label people and it was the same with Atlantic: I sent my stuff to a couple of people starting out, and now they’re higher up there. It’s just been me staying on it. But, yeah, I’m still in the same bedroom in Wolves [laughs].

Most of your production work can be found on said artist’s albums and mixtapes. But, which tracks mean the most to you, and why?
Probably the new song with Young Money, “We Alright.” I also liked the one I did for Birdman’s “Fly Rich,” which featured Meek Mill, Future, Tyga and Mystikal. It’s sick but I’d definitely say the new one is my fave, because it’s an actual single which has a video on TV. It’s my first real experience of American exposure to having a single. None of it has really hit me yet. I don’t seem to get excited by it, even when I signed my Warner deal; I’m always on to the next thing [laughs]. I always think I’m nowhere compared to where I want to be and what I want to be doing—I’m always looking forward to what’s next.

That’s the best way to be… So, everyone’s waiting for the Drake/S-X hook-up now. I know it’s going to happen, but, when?
No comment [laughs].

You can’t keep the people in suspense like that [laughs].
No comment. No comment. No comment! [Laughs]

Who in hip-hop—in the UK and the States—is ticking your boxes right now?
I rate Krept & Konan and what they’re doing. I’m a big fan of their “Dont Waste My Time” track. Blade Brown’s next, though. He’s the gonna be the next in line, definitely. There’s obviously guys like Skepta and Tinie [Tempah] who are killing it, but I’m excited to see what Blade Brown does. With Cash Money, I’m working with all of them—they’re family now. But, what I really want to do is find people who haven’t yet blown up, people who are under the radar. I want to break people, rather than just working with all the big people.

Okay, so, where will S-X be in five years? Not still living in Wolves, surely? I’m thinking a pad next to Birdman’s crib, or something…
[Laughs] I feel like five years from now, because of everything that’s happening, I’m going to have to move out to the States eventually and capitalize on what I’m doing with the artists over there. Somewhere close to the LA hills would be dope! I want to be a sheik man and get involved in oil companies, too [laughs]. Right now, though, my 2 Days EP is out and I’ll be dropping a new one next month called Broad Street. And, from June through the summer, I’m gonna drop two EPs a month. How I look at is like, if you’re talented and work hard, you will be the best. Hard work beats talent, if talent doesn’t work hard.