From his Wolverhampton garden, producer-turned-singer S-X (AKA Sam Gumbley) can survey his kingdom. His dad’s place is round the corner; the high-rise block where his two daughters live with their mum is visible through a gap in the trees.
Gumbley’s gold and silver records from producing for the likes of Childish Gambino and Chance the Rapper line the walls of his modest home studio, but we are a long way from the city skylines where many of his rap-royalty collaborators live. Yet the 28-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way. He might have signed a major record deal during lockdown but this estate, he assures me, is home.
In part, that’s because Gumbley, who sports a baggy jumper, shorts and pink-doughnut Simpsons slippers, is modest by nature, and familiarity helps when juggling fatherhood and fluctuating mental health. And he has been thrown from the fickle industry rodeo before.
After teenage years spent as a CD player’s understudy for the MC-ing kids at school, he started to make beats on his home PC. By 2009, he was making twice-weekly trips to stand outside the BBC Radio 1 studios, desperate to catch Tim Westwood or Ras Kwame in the hope they would play one of his songs on air. When they did, London’s grime MCs started calling.
“This was the end of 2009,” he says, from his home studio, a small extension next to mum’s downstairs loo. “At that point, if your song got played people started listening.” By 18, he’d worked with Chipmunk, Tinie Tempah and Skepta; at 20 the list included Lil Wayne and J Cole.
A few years later, the work dried up and his £80k publishing money disappeared quickly (the Rolex is still upstairs). Gumbley stopped making music, taking a job in the Wolverhampton Wanderers FC warehouse. A breakdown and a breakup later, he wanted to put his voice to work.
Things rebuilt via emotional, self-released singles slathered in his impressive falsetto. Last November, KSI walked out to Down Like That – S-X’s collaboration with the rapping YouTuber, Rick Ross and Lil Baby – at his boxing match with Logan Paul. After a bidding war, S-X was signed by Universal, and new single Dangerous was born.
There’s no reason to not be humble, he says. “People ask how I’m so chill, and a big part is being from Wolverhampton.” After returning from a tour supporting Lily Allen, he’d tell friends stories. “They’d come back in a proper Brummie accent with: ‘So what? Who do you think you are?’ It brings you back to reality.”
Still, S-X has not yet earned his own platinum records: “Come see me when I have,” he says, grinning. “I’ll probably be a dickhead, living in a palace.”
Dangerous is out now