After spending years redefining the perception of footballers off the pitch, Daniel Sturridge’s next career move is set to change the game once again. While landing Liverpool their first title in over 20 years is at the forefront of his mind, Sturridge is now beginning to plot his life after Anfield and beyond.
As you’d expect, Daniel Sturridge’s energy is different to your average player. Gliding into the foyer of a central London hotel, the 29-year-old is dressed fairly incognito – but still oozes the cool of an innovator who knows he’s helped change the way footballers are perceived today.
Sturridge wears rose-tinted shades and a Supreme bucket hat to keep him looking low-key, but his vibe instantly has a feeling of familiarity to it – it’s a personality that has shone through in every post-match interview, every goal celebration, and every photoshoot he’s found himself the centrepiece of over the years.
A warm greeting is swiftly followed by a tightly-packed lift ride up to the 18th floor of the hotel with the four members of The.WAV, the latest signees to Sturridge’s Dudley Road Records label. His day one friend and in-house producer Screama is with us too. Sturridge is already cracking jokes with the group as we head upwards, explaining he’s only wearing the bucket hat to cover up his trim, which – after going barber-less during Liverpool’s recent training camp in Dubai – is “looking kinda dead”.
Sturridge has always been someone much bigger – and better – than your average footballer. Renowned for his finesse on the pitch, Sturridge is now taking his knack for delivering heat into the music business. While born into a family rich with football heritage – uncles Simon and Dean were both professional – Sturridge was also raised in a household where records were playing constantly.
“My family, my dad, my mum, they always had a lot of classic R&B playing. Jungle was huge at the time. Garage was massive. Those two were big, then dancehall, reggae…I was into loads of stuff. Garage and jungle were the two most influential things going on at the time in England. I've always loved music, it's the next step in my journey.”
“Everything I do is true to the core, true to what I am.”
Talk of his influences reminds me of one of Sturridge’s favourite artists – Future – who dropped his latest album, ‘The Wizrd’, the Friday before we speak. There’s one track off that album in particular that lyrically resonates with Sturridge and his role as a pioneering footballer, but also a cultural figurehead outside the game. “Krazy but True” finds Future reflecting on his status as a veteran of the game, where he declares himself a father figure of the scene.
When I ask him about his tag as a cultural figurehead who paved the way for modern footballers to express themselves, Sturridge takes in the idea, “I think it’s true. From the early Instagram days, people weren’t caring about how they dress or going to fashion week as young footballers. They weren’t interested in showing off the music that they like either. They weren’t showing off their personalities back then. I definitely was doing that back then, because that’s who I am. Everything I do is true to the core, true to what I am as a person.”
Hector Bellerin is the stand out example. In many respects, Bellerin has taken on Sturridge’s mantle of expression, regularly talking about style, music and social issues in interviews and on social media. When we talk about Bellerin, Sturridge evidently rates what he’s doing with his presence in the modern game, “Yeah yeah, he’s doing it from his heart too. His mum was a designer. Not gonna front though, he wears some crazy stuff! But he really does enjoy it and loves it.”
“There’s a few guys out there that will buy whatever’s on trend and post it. Like ‘oooh Gucci, got to get the whole outfit’…I don’t want to spend three, four grand on an outfit just to post on IG. I wear it once, now everyone’s seen it, now I have to buy a new fit for the same price. That’s mad. Before you know it, you’ve spent crazy money just to look cool on Instagram.”
“I’ve got nothing but love for Raheem. I’m proud of him, people don’t see what players go through behind the scenes.”
While Bellerin is one player who has looked up to Sturridge down the years, Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling have done so on a closer, day-to-day level at early stages in their careers. While both players have moved onto new clubs, Sturridge is still seen as an older brother by both former Liverpool wingers – and he views the pair in a similar light: “Yeah they are both family. Jordon’s always had sauce. Raz is getting there… slowly [laughs]. I’ve seen Raz on GQ and that recently. He’s come a long way, in more ways than just his style.”
I press him more on that topic – of Sterling’s growing social influence – with his former protege challenging the role of the mainstream media by calling them out for their part in perpetuating racism. Sturridge was particularly proud of Sterling doing so, “I’ve got nothing but love for Raz man, he’s my brother. We speak all the time, just in general about everything. I feel like he’s had unfair press over the years, but he’s dealing with it well, and as he’s got older he’s matured, too. When there’s a stigma around someone, it’s a difficult thing to shake. But see Raz, he’s had it, and he’s shaken it. I love that, and I’m proud of that.”
“People don’t necessarily see what players go through behind the scenes too – they only see what’s out there in the mass media. It’s only been through that lens in the past, but now social media is allowing you to decide whether you believe it or not. The best bit about Raz is that he’s performing really well at the moment too.”
“I’m definitely hands on with the label. The.WAV can do anything they imagine.”
Sturridge is a very likeable guy, and has always been held in high regards by teammates for both club and country throughout his career. This same energy is clearly felt with musicians too, with Sturridge having developed friendships with everyone from Drake, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Pharrell, to Dave, DAWN and Krept and Konan. When I ask whether he’s learned anything about the music business from some of most successful artists out of the US and UK, Sturridge is effusive: “I don’t look at those guys as musicians, I look at them as family. It’s never about hitting them up asking them for tips about the business at all. I’ll have banter with them about music, they’ll have banter with me about football. But in terms of getting to the nitty-gritty, I’ll speak to their management every now and again.”
It’s clear that he has a similar knack for music as he does an eye for goal. Interestingly, Sturridge admits that he himself has previously tried his hand at producing down the years. Krept and Konan have even heard beats which he’s worked on in the past, “Yeah, they’ve definitely heard some stuff. They were working on their album at the time, with their in-house producers so I left them to it. I’ve had beats which people have recorded on and stuff, but they haven’t seen the light of day.”
Nowadays, Sturridge leaves the production side of things in the hands of his friend and business partner, Screama. Brought up a “stone’s throw away from one another”, the pair grew up kicking ball together in Birmingham, and now run Dudley Road Records together.
Speaking about his involvement with the running of the label, Sturridge was keen to point out that he’s very hands on with the day-to-day workings of Dudley Road, “I’m involved quite heavily. Screama manages the day-to-day, but I’m definitely involved daily. There’s three of us, which is tight knit, but it’s a good way to be. We’re hands on, we love the business side, as well as the artist side.”
The label’s first signing, The.WAV, are also a fundamental part of label operations: “Their opinions are a big factor in everything we do as much as ours – if we didn’t follow their view, we’d go in the wrong direction.” The four-piece New York creative collective are very much the initial focus of Sturridge’s musical journey, with “the vibes” between the two parties strong from the off.
“Crazy vibes. I actually went to an event that I didn’t want to go to, to be honest. But I went anyway, thought ‘I need to sip a little something just to get me on a vibe’. I was on holiday in LA, and I went to this little event and they were performing…I was like ‘yo… who are these guys?!’ After chopping it up with them, we realised we could be involved in making something happen, taking them to the next level.”
Sonically, the group’s influences resonate with Sturridge’s own – 90’s R&B, hip-hop, garage, house, D&B – and the sign-off for letting tracks out in the world is also a group effort. Sturridge and The.WAV open up on the process, saying “It’s always a hands up and vote system – it’s not like I’m influencing it more than anyone else.” The.WAV agree, “We created a family bond from being in such a close-knit set up, rather than a corporate position.”
The group are all originally from New York. All separate artists doing their own thing in the first instance, the group gravitated towards each other just like they did with Sturridge; through a shared energy and mutual friends. Despite the recent EP being created thousands of miles apart over emails and phone calls, it’s clear that everyone involved in Dudley Road Records are very close from the interview, with the excitement for both the release of the new EP and their ongoing work together etched over everyone’s faces.
The.WAV are firmly Sturridge’s main focus with his label, and he believes their potential is huge, “I think they can do anything that they imagine. They can manifest anything they want”. It’s that kind of backing that’s seen the group want to work with Sturridge on merit, and not because he’s a famous face in the UK who might be able to open up doors easier than others, as The.WAV’s Badi explained.
“We didn’t know him from a football perspective. We’ve come to know him as a genius when it came to understanding music and understanding us as people. We created a family bond from being in such a close-knit set up, rather than a corporate position.”
“I’m gonna start my own fashion brand. I’ll do it because I love it.”
Another avenue Sturridge will head down in the coming years is, unsurprisingly, fashion. Before Gucci and Off-White became the uniform of the modern day footballer, Sturridge brought brands such as Liam Hodges, Nasir Mazhar and Christopher Raeburn into the otherwise diamante, bootcut, and sheux world of football that existed in the early 2010s. Today, he’s decked out in a nautical Alexander Wang coat, Fear of God Nike’s and has one BOSS sock tucked into his tracksuit bottoms, a subtle display of affection for his long-term girlfriend, who gifted him the pair for Christmas.
“Oh for sure, I’m gonna start my own (fashion) brand. I’ll do it because I love it, I’m gonna do it because it’s my passion,” Sturridge asserts. “I think you always need to choose to do what you love. It’s not like you choose to become famous and make a lot of money – you do what you love and with that comes the money, the fame, all that type of stuff. But you have to change as a man at that point. If you stay the same person your whole life, when you move forward, you haven’t learned anything.”
Despite how meticulously he’s put together his style down the years, he seems nonchalant about what he’s wearing today: “It depends day to day man. I’ll just put stuff together and make it work. People can look good in Primark if they’ve got sauce…I’ve got so many clothes, I try and give most of the shoes I own away to friends and family. Screama is luckily the same size as me, so he gets a few creps here and there!”
One man whose sauce instantly connected with Sturridge was Naby Keita. Despite being much maligned by the media of late, Keita is a confidence player who despite only showing glimpses of his outstanding ability will no doubt progress once he accustoms to the pace and pressure of the Premier League. Sturridge agrees with this sentiment, “Yeah man, Naby is swagged out – straight up. I sit next to him in training and on the team bus and he’s always dripped out…we have a sick rapport though, I just hope he gets some more minutes to do his thing. He’s dripping every day!”
While Sturridge’s future lies with Dudley Road Records, The.WAV, and a future fashion label, his present is very much geared to landing Liverpool their first title in nearly thirty years. Sturridge’s career has been one full of setbacks, but he’s now feeling “as healthy as ever”. After showing that his quality remains in pre-season, Sturridge’s cameos this season have, on occasion, been spectacular. A Champions League goal in Liverpool’s victory against PSG and that goal against Chelsea reminded every Liverpool fan of his form in 13/14, where he nearly gunned The Redmen to a title with Luis Suarez. Sturridge sees the similarities between this season and now, but it hopeful that this side can go one further this time around, “The vibes are all good in the squad. My role is different now to what it was back in 13/14 – but I’d say both sides are equally as good.”
His role under Klopp has changed too: “I’m told to drop deep, create from deep. I’ve adapted in order to help the team. I’ve got nothing but love and respect for the Liverpool fans. It’s been a great few years, and again, I’m hoping we get the trophy this season. It’s been a long time.”
Wherever his future lies after life on Merseyside, at 29-years-old, Sturridge still has goals in his locker and years on his side – meaning you’ll be seeing his arms swaying up and down for a few years yet. But wherever he heads, the legacy he’ll leave in the culture will no doubt be as impactful as his time on the pitch. That’s something he’s certain of: “Football’s first at the moment, and music’s second. But soon, music will become the first. Once The.WAV and Screama start dominating, then stuff gets popping. I get busy – and I’m gonna stay busy too!”
The.WAV’s ‘Make More Love’ EP is the latest release from Daniel Sturridge’s Dudley Road Records. Listen to it here.
Photography by Danika Magdelena.