Sunday, February 05, 2006

Return of the Raskitt

It’s been a long time since I first interviewed Dizzee Rascal - almost exactly three years. Back then Dizzee was an unsigned member of Roll Deep Crew with the weight of his own hopes and ambition on his shoulders. Mercury Music Prizes, stabbings, hundreds of thousands of records sold: a lot of things have changed since then.

Recently I had the chance to speak to Dizzee again, about many things, including his new label Dirtee Stank – suddenly massively relevant in the no-major-label-deals climate. He’s signed Klass A and D Double E’s Newham Generals and is working on his third album.

In an interesting piece of timing, I recently noticed a cassette sitting in my stereo. It must have been there three years. Pressing play, a pirate set burst into life. It was NASTY Crew featuring D Double E, recorded by someone – I honestly don’t remember doing it if it was me or not – during the Déjà vu glory years (an island in time sandwiched between two Rinse FM dynasties, where Déjà Vu held the grime crown).

The audio is interesting for several reasons. One, it reminds you how fluid dubplate selections are. While you might be familiar with every riddim currently being played by a given crew, sets from that crew a year later will have evolved to include a completely new selection of dubs and almost a whole new sound. Each recording of pirate radio is therefore, a snapshot of an era featuring music that may never be heard again. Because at the rate grime evolves, the eras pass quickly.

The NASTY Crew set dates from when D Double E was still in the camp. Two sets of bars chime with his current situation. You can hear him spit the bars that gave rise to the name of his future crew Newham Generals (following his forced exit) and the old school bars on ‘Give U More’ that reacquainted him with his future label CEO, Dizzee. In a final piece of serendipity, Dizzee himself turns up on the set. Enjoy

· Download NASTY Crew and Dizzee Rascal on Déjà Vu here
· Check also Dizzee back on pirate radio for the first time in years
· Copped Dizzee over “Request Line”?
· And a recent Footsie-produced taster for his album: Wasteman

Dizzee Rascal in 2006

Blackdown: So how did the name for your label come about?

Dizzee Rascal: Dirtee Stank? I just made it up. Dirtee stank and Wiley Kat recordings started off at the same time. The name came from one of the first lyrics I had: “going on dirty/going on stank.” So I thought ‘yeah f**k it, Dirtee Stank.’ And the logo was some shit with flies around it because it was the dirtiest, gulliest think I could think of.

B: So how did you decide to switch to something bigger?

D: Really it was with Klass A, they were the first people we took serious as far as putting an album out. Then D Double E and Newham Generals came along and we went from there and we were on the go ahead, fully. This is all this year, it’s quite recent that we were fully serious about it. It’s emotion. It’s a good way to have a label – fuck it, it’s the way I’ve done everything else.

Newham’s are working on a mixtape, Klass A are working. I think they’ll both compliment each other.

I had Dirtee Stank before I had my record deal. And I’m actually on my last album in my deal. So we’ll be renegotiating and seeing how things go from there but the label seems fine with it. So it’s all good. It’s a fully functioning label. Am I the CEO? I dunno … I’m the founder.

B: I think a lot of MCs in grime are hanging around in grime waiting for a £250,000 deal or nothing…

D: This is basically another thing this is about. The label is about bridging the gap between indies, majors and the street.

B: There’s a massive hole between putting a few white labels in Rhythm Division and getting £100,000 from a major.

D: We add a pinch of both worlds. I have an understanding as to what it’s like to be in the mainstream, not at the Snoop Dogg level, but enough to understand the ins and outs of it. And obviously I’m from the street. I did the whole underground thing and was one of the pioneers when it comes to the grime thing. We were the first to be selling thousands of white labels. I can definitely bridge the gap and make big things happen man.

B: A lot of grime MC seem to want to be given it, not work for it…

D: Everyone’s that part of this label in any way shape or form, from a background where if you don’t go out and get you will have nothing. That drive is automatic. Go getters, yougetme?

Me personally I like edgy music, music that can get you grooving and that can make you bang your head, jump around or whatever. But at the same time I like something that will make you think, or touch you. I definitely look for some depth in music.

The thing with Klass A is that they’re from the midlands. I’ve always had this thing, I’ve always thought that something would come from up there. I’ve always wanted to hear accents like that, that would be taken seriously. My belief is that the more people are in it from wherever, the bigger it gets and the more there is for everyone. Klass A hit me as hard as anyone from London hit me. It’s the same as in America where you have the east coast, west coast, Midwest, dirty south. It did take it’s time, and start with the east but right now dirty south is running shit – lets be serious. You never know man.

B: You were on crunk early…

D: Yeah definitely. Grime, crunk, drum & bass all pushed me. 36 Mafia and that.

B: Talking about accents, what are the crowd’s response to you in places like Leicester?

D: it’s love, man. I’ve reached all over the place, I’m international so obviously you’re gonna reach widespread at home. And before record deals I’d been doing things like Sidewinder, or do the odd little rave in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester, Milton Keynes or wherever. So I had a bit of familiarity with people. I had a good foundation when I got signed.

For me it’s refreshing touring with Newhams and Klass A because you get to kinda see yourself again, from a next perspective. Because obviously I couldn’t see how I was then cos I was right in the centre of it. The whole bigger picture you get to see … understand why people feel, how they feel.

B: What were you up to last year?

D: The tour. I put a couple of music ideas down. I haven’t really completed anything as such but I’ve got a couple of things there still. Not a full album yet but I will be getting on it. it’s ‘Maths & English’ because it’s straight game. That sounds very American, but handling your business, that’s ‘Maths & English.’ It’s what I do as well as far as lyrics, writing, money whatever. Whatever you do, it will be one or the other – if not both.

B: How are you gonna make this album similar or different to the last one? What kind of space are you in at the moment?

D: I’m just trying to do things that I haven’t done before, again. Trying to widen, reach the masses a bit more. Try and make the best music I can.

B: What was amazing that you managed to do was to make experimental stuff that was real to what you were doing but get to a wide audience.

D: I think if you mean it, people will pick up on it. Sincerity. You might not be into soul but you know who Marvin Gaye is, or if you’re not into hip hop but you know who Snoop is – they’ve reached people because they mean it and they’ve established themselves. I’m on that.

B: What countries have you been to this year?

D: Argentina, Chile, Brazil um…was I in America this year? Brazil was interesting. The show was massive but it was quite hard at the beginning.

“Seeing the poverty just shows you how fortunate you are here. I didn’t need to get to the favellas, just seeing kids scuttling about … real poverty, in a place so beautiful – the contrast is very ugly. Poor kids … it’s deep. It’s not nice.”

D: Another thing is I love to hear music in its own environment. That is something I will take away from me forever, that’s priceless. I heard that baille funk – it’s Miami bass with Brazillians chatting over it. it would be grime, if it were here. I could get with that. But the older traditional stuff, like the Bossa Nova, that’s what I was feeling. I bought a couple of CDs, coching in my hotel or on the beach. That’s good music, definitely.

B: A lot of people have made the comparison between grime and baille funk and crunk coming through at the same time.

D: Grime? If you want the first grime tune it’s called “Crime” it sampled 36 Mafia. Grime and crunk are like cousins Who did “Crime?” I did. Way before “I Luv U.”

B: It’s interesting to hear where you draw the line because I always think that when “Eskimo” and “I Luv U” came along, there was nothing that sounded like them before.

D: “I Luv U” came before “Eskimo.” Wiley was making garage, really good vocal garage. The closest think to my thing was crunk but obviously I was influenced by a whole load of other things: industrial, jungle, garage, hardcore whatever.

B: I interviewed your old music teacher Mr Smith from Langdon Park, and he said he wanted to give you your old Cubase files from school. Did you ever get them?

D: Yeah I got them, though I’ve never listened to them. I might go listen to them though. I was doing it even then. I never got taught to use the computer but I got on it from first playing the drums – I used to love playing the drums. And I DJed even before I touched the computer.

B: So where in the States did you go to this year?

D: Whoah… LA, New York, Philly. Did I go Washington this year? Chicago. Portland, Oregon. San Francisco. Texas. Loads.

B: Does it feel like work or fun?

D: It’s definitely work, I take it very seriously. My eye’s always on the ball. The fun part is being on stage. That’s when you can let lose. Everything else you have to keep your eye on. If you don’t treat it like work, like it’s not a business, you slip up. I’m a music lover but I’m in the music business. It’s two different things almost.

B: Do you get a chance to unwind?

D: Dunno cos you have press and then you might go out to a club and that can be like work itself because you end up networking. It don’t really stop but at the same time do you want it to? It’ll stop if you want it. Then you’ll be that person who used to be famous who everyone still recognises but you’re broke. Hahaha fuck all that though, that’s long.

B: Do you get recognised in the States?

D: Yeah but it’s not pandemonium. It’s overwhelming sometimes because you’re that far away. You have to check yourself, like “you serious?” Being famous … I can’t fathom it myself really.

B: Being famous would do my head in.

D: It does my head in, don’t get it twisted. But you get over it, you know the people like your music and what you’re doing. That’s what it’s about.

B: For the album who you planning to work with?

D: I’ve done a few bits with Newhams and Klass A, Mizz Beats, Shy FX…

B: What kind of tempo with Shy FX?

D: A drum & bass tune.

B: I used to like mixing that fast tune you produced on the More Fire Cru album “Still the Same” with drum & bass.

D: The drum & bass influence will always be there. Been doing some stuff on my own too. Footsie produced a tune for me called “Wasteman,” I’ve worked with him most so far. I can’t wait for the album to be done still.

B: What was Band Aid 20 like?

D: To be honest I wasn’t there that long. I went upstairs, they told me ‘two bars,’ I wrote it, said it, recorded it. Did another two bars, did some interviews for 20 minutes and then left. It was always gonna be like that.

B: so it isn’t everyone together there in the same room?

D: maybe it’s because everyone else sings. Mine was the first ever rap. I did meet the lead singer of Travis. Ms Dynamite was there. Sugababes were walking in as I left. Midge Ure, I met him. It was cool man, but everything was all pleasant.

B: it’s cool that you were there because that door isn’t open to most people who grew up where you did.

D: yeah man, that’s why you have to kick it down!

B: do you get a lot of requests to be on grime DVDs?

D: yeah but I normally just do ‘em if people are about and they want a little sumting I rarely say no.

B you mentioned Bossa Nova, but what other music have you heard this year you liked?

D: I actually went to a Korn concert. I aint heard rock music like that, big and loud, for a long time. It was in The Forum, they had a little discreet album party. It was wicked. I’ve always liked stuff like that. As far as new stuff Young Jeezy, I like him. He’s got the best album out now. Quality dirty South. You rarely get albums where every song is good but its one of them ones.

B: do you rate this guy Bun B?

D: [gives funny look] Yeah … that’s my friend. We did a track in Texas, he’s from UGK. He’s like an uncle or something, he just looks after man. He’s really humble, down with it. serious dude. I was introduced to him the first time I was out in Texas by Matt Sonzala. We went on Damage Control and did a set with the Grit Boys.

B: Matt seems like a soulja

D: Matt really safe. He’s with it, very professional. Most people down south are cool, really laid back.

B: Lots of the MCs in NYC and LA are very rich from this massive industry, is it like that down south or is it more of a cottage industry?

D: with them they’ve had to do it for themselves for so long that they’ve got that really independent mind frame. That whole southern hospitality thing is real, they’re quite warm. But at the same time I’ve got to show love for the east coast. Nas, he put me on stage with him when he was at the Forum. It was wicked, an experience to be onstage with him. I done that with Pharrell but Nas, that’s a rap god.

B: were you nervous?

D: no cos I was on stage with him. I’m only nervous because I want to make people happy in the crowd. I want people to bubble. But that’s about it though.

B: I’ve seen footage of you at hip hop summits. Do you think there could ever be a grime one?

D: it’s not quite at that level yet. But Dirtee Stank: that’s the way forwards.

B: I believe that.

D: Me too man.

B: it’s filling that gap, between the road and the unreasonable expectations of getting £200,000 deals.

D: think what those deals were off the back of though. The success of So Solid, Wiley and me. There was a bit of excitement in the scene. But if you look who’s still standing, it aint really a lot is it? As far as urban or street, it’s only really me and The Streets who’s standing about. Kano is doing his thing but other than that there’s no one doing over 100,000 or nothing at an international level. So something like Dirtee Stank, that’s the way it’s done in the south, west coast… it’s progression innit.

B: It looks like Lethal B and Roll Deep’s album situations didn’t work out it’s a shame because those were the ones people were looking to match your sales.

D: Yeah man, come to Dirtee Stank. [in comedy Asian accent] I’ll give you cheaper! [in cockney] I’ll sort it aaat for ya mate.

B: You looking to sign anyone else right now?

D: I’m really really looking for singers, male and female right now. As artists. Me as a producer, I’d love to work with singers. I’ve been on how many r&b remixes? It’s definitely part of me. We’ve not had to look for artists before. Klass A we were close to [through XL Recordings] and I’ve always admired D Double. With him, I grew up with his brother, some of his family are from Bow. I hung around, grew up, did allsorts with his brother so I knew him already. We did radio a lot, cos I used to be on with NASTY Crew and that. I always had him in mind – I listened to him as a kid. He was one of the people who inspired me to MC.

With Give U More, he never would have done those old lyrics but I said I want those lyrics. He brought along Generals. We heard their music and was like ‘rah this is big as well.’ It clicked very quickly.

B: it’s mad ‘cos you were part of Roll Deep, they were part of NASTY. The crews all evolve and some how you’ve ended up in the same place.

D: the world’s kinda small innit? More Fire Crew, Roll Deep, NASTY Crew whatever, people was bouncing in between them, all on pirate radio. And it just shows you we’re all about the same thing, I spose, despite all the politics or whatever.

B: Kano said you really helped him get “Boys Love Girls” to the studio.

D: I’ve actually known Kano since I was about 14 or 15. From pirate radio though we kinda lost touch, I was floating about, I didn’t even know he was MCing so when he came into NASTY Crew I was like ‘rah he’s back again.’

B: the Newhams LP should be exciting because it’s raw, like grime on pirate radio.

D: The first in a long time, first raw crew album since maybe More Fire. It’s definitely genuine and I feel blessed to have it come out because that’s what I’m about.

“The whole thing of me being mainstream, it hasn’t stunted my growth. But it shown people I still know where I’m from – it’s a part of me, so whether I’m doing it physically myself or introducing it myself, people still get to hear it and understand.”

B: do you ever understand how you managed to go through but other people with lots of talent didn’t manage to make that leap?

D: Having good people around you. Patience. I’m quite serious, I’m a thinker … I don’t like following. A lot of the time I’m watching what’s going on. I saw the whole Pay As U Go thing start and unfold and crumble. Same with the More Fire thing. When they were doing the first grime videos, I was about. I analyse. I’m always watching and I’ve always got my eye on the ball. And I’ve got a real genuine love for the music. It’s easy to get caught up in all the extra shit. The money, the girls, the champagne… whatever. It’s easy. I don’t knock it but it’s easy for it to become the sole purpose of why you do it.

B: so how do you stop that happening to you?

D: learnt a few hard lessons. Just appreciating things like crowd responses. Seeing how it affects people. I get a kick out of making people happy. Seeing people happy. Yeah man, genuine. I like getting paid but I like seeing 10,000 people jumping up and down, happy. 10,000 people who don’t know each other necessarily, coming to the same place to jump around, to bubble to what you have, and forget all their bullshit for an hour or sumthin’. Forget all the bullshit in the world for an hour and bubble.

That drives me to keep doing it, more more. For as long as I can. That’s something worth dedicating your life to I think. It weren’t money that drove me to do it in the first place. It impossible, I didn’t have money. Originally weren’t making money with music, getme, I know that [chuckles]! Music was my love, I didn’t love what I was doing then. It was a sideline thing, but then I took it serious, more serious than what I was doing. Thank god for that.

B: ever played to a crowd that’s too big?

D: I supported Jay-Z when I was 18. 35,000 people. That was somethin’. I’ve done V festival, Reading, T in the Park. There’s never a crowd too big. I want that Beatles shit.

B: without being mobbed in the street…

D: it comes hand in hand.

B: so do you really want it?

D: yeah man fuckin give it to me, if I’m making more people happy with it. Just gimme that Virgin Islands money, so I can cut out into the middle of the ocean and then come back

B: wouldn’t you go nuts on an island?

D: if it meant that three quarters of the world listened to your music, then yeah tough. Fuckitt man.

B: So getting to that big an audience, how do you keep the balance with the rawness?

D: just stretch yourself. It’s a mad thing to say. I always look inside myself and think ‘right I’ve done that, lemme try and go that way.’ Go as far and deep inside yourself as you can. There’s so many influences outside to grab onto, but inside what do you really want to say? What do you really want to put across? What is your goal? I’m always looking for that, so that’s where the range comes from, the variety.

B: do you have a favourite of your two albums?
D: it changes. Someone else listening to my album and me listening to my album is two different things. Both of them is times and places for me. Also I’ve heard each song a million times. Sometimes it’s like work, listening to my albums because I’m breaking it down. The albums really come from inside, it’s a projection so I do care how people perceive it though. Definite.

B: people can be thick skinned, pretending not to care what people think.

D: then it’s about acceptance. It’s easy to get into the ’people ain’t feelin my shit, it’s real. Don’t they know it’s real? Getting into that mode, rappers easily do that. Get over it. Work out what it is. You’re trying to reach the masses, do what it takes. Snoop, he did what it took. He hung in there and he did it. He’s a household name. Even if you don’t know hip hop, you know Snoop Dogg.

B: you talk about that ‘real’ attitude. So many grime MCs seem to be trying to out-real each other, so much so that they get so angry that they’re utterly unsignable.

D: yeah but then again it’s the streets. It comes from there directly.

"Garage was nice music really. Grime was for the kids like me who weren’t allowed in the club – because I had my hood or my trainers on. Or I couldn’t afford it, or I looked like the kid you didn’t want in the club, me and my friends, for obvious reasons. And that’s what grime stems from, straight up gutter music. So the MCs minds are in that mindset already. Very hostile."

B: in some ways you’re doing your own kind of music. Do you get bored of answering questions about grime?

D: yeah but then I remember I started this shit, really. I would rather be making music than talking about it, I did used to hate interviews or TV. I didn’t want to do a video or be seen. But it’s all acceptance. It could be worse.

B: so how did you find a way to make videos bearable for you?

D: first I listened. The people around me didn’t want to do the ciche. Mans from the street, 50 men around me, dogs, motorbikes. They wanted the real creative shit and I was down for it. because my music’s like that as well.

B: do you have any desire to make videos as well as produce?

D: I’ve done a film, I’ve got a little part in a film called ‘Rollin’ with the Nines’. It’s the first black British gangsta film. It’s gonna be big, the first Boys n the Hood for this country. Kano’s got a part in it. I think it won an award. I was a drug dealer, it was a good part to start with.

B: have you done acting before?

D: I went Anna Scher for a couple of months. It’s in Angel. Martin from EastEnders, he was in my class. But I chose music in the end. This was 2000, for about five months. I think Asher D went there. And I was lucky I was actually taught by her. But music is my driving force, though I’m down for anything creative.

B: is there any goals you haven’t done yet?

D: I wanna see that Snoop Dogg status, them kind of levels, international. It will take some grind but I’m down for it. what else is there to do? Die. Haha getme. I might as well. The Pope knows Snoop. The Queen knows Snoop Dogg. Everyone know’s Snoop Dogg, household name.


Blackdown said...

yeah he seemed to really look up to Snoop.

the next LP should be interesting because it really could propel him to another level of fame - but how does he do that and keep his current fanbase?

hard to say but in many ways lots of artists face this dilemma, and dizzee is one who has straddled that divide better than almost anyone else, given both the sales and sonic shock of his albums.

Blackdown said...

you know what, i tried to ask him a question about his relationship to grime, but i didnt articulate it well and so quite reaonsably he didn't get my point.

my point was that given grime is as much a scene as a sound, and he's not had as much contact with the scene as he used to, what's the point of me asking questions that constantly reference his music to grime, when maybe he's looking for his own sound?

easy for me to say now, of course...

Blackdown said...

as i said i'm not sure when it's from because i dont remember recording it, but the use of Wookie's Far East and Shy FX's 'Shake Ur Body' (another link to the interview! i hadn't noticed that one!) suggests it's early, possibly 2002. There's no Narrows 'Saved Soul' or any of that hard 4/4 stuff so that makes 2000-01 unlikely. And by 2003 all the early Roll Deep stuff comes through inc Creeper and Eskimo. So lets say 2002?

ps i also found an early Boyz in Da Hood set ft. Titch and Doogz on that tape.

Blackdown said...

I totally know what you mean about the community aspect, but given he's been back on Rinse and now rolls with Newhams, this is the closest he's been to the grime scene for quite some time

dan hancox said...

yeah, seriously big props for that deja set, fantastic find!

and the interview, well - haven't had time to read it yet but looking forward to settling down to it soon! safe.