The UK King of Grime talks to Mark OD
The last time Dizzee Rascal was in Manchester he supported Babyshambles at the Manchester Evening News Arena. He ended up in One Central Street, where Romp resident DJ Xander dropped a remix of his ‘I Love You’ by Manc breakbeat punk, Mr Psik. Once word spread around the club that the Rascal was in the house, people desperately scrambled to catch a glimpse of the star and all eyes were fixed firmly on the VIP.
You may think that a streetwise rapper from East London is an unlikely warm up act for indie darlings Babyshambles - but if you do, you don’t know the real story behind the Mercury Prize Award-winning artist. Dizzee Rascal has become the rapper it is cool to like amongst NME readers and he’s been the unmistakable voice of UK grime ever since he dropped his debut LP ‘Boy In The Corner’. He has supported Red Hot Chilli Peppers and performed on stage at Glastonbury with The Artic Monkeys, as well as doing the more traditional rap support slots with Jay Z, Justin Timberlake and Ludacris, no less. In terms of UK acts on the international stage, Dizzee Rascal is one of the biggest names in the biz.
When Dizzee Rascal, or Dylan Mills as he is known to his mum, arrives for the interview at an office just off Charing Cross Road, central London, he’s rocking his trademark embroidered t-shirt and jeans, off-centre baseball cap and favoured Nike Air trainers. As often is the case when you meet famous people in the flesh, he’s smaller than you’d imagine, although there’s no mistake that beneath the unassuming greeting lies a sharp and astute business brain.
Back in the ‘90s Rascal was a kid growing up in Bow, East London. It is an area that has changed pretty dramatically in recent times. “Down Bethnal Green around Roman Road, Brick Lane, it’s almost a nice area now. There’s still crime there but there’s a lot more to it. It was a sh*thole when I was there,” he says in his unmistakable accent. When he was at school he was often in trouble but he already had designs on becoming a big jungle DJ. “I had some turntables. I had a few different ones. I started off with some sh*tty wooden ones with no pitch control, using elastic bands to make ‘em more like Technics.” Even before he could get into raves he was sneaking into house parties round his area and listening to pirate radio stations like the legendary Kool FM. By the time he started making his own music a teacher at his school gave him the helping hand. “I made beats already and he (teacher) gave me the room before school, lunchtime and after school to use the equipment, so I tried to get in there whenever I could.”
Fast forward a few years and Dizzee was already a hit on the club circuit; winning the Best Newcomer MC at the Sidewinder Garage Awards sealed his rep. It wasn’t until he signed to XL Recordings and dropped his debut LP, ‘Boy In The Corner’ that things started to explode. This was the first album from the grime scene to cross over into the mainstream and it earned him the Mercury Prize that changed his life.
After two more critically acclaimed and chart topping albums – ‘Showtime’ and ‘Maths & English’ - Dizzee Rascal is hot property. In many ways he’s king of brands; in the last few months alone he has performed at Sony Walkman and Nike Supersonic events. You can also add Nokia to his list of corporate sponsors through their new Meet London campaign. When asked about these endorsements he just smiles - who wouldn’t at the thought of all that money?
With so many events to attend, tours to take care of and music to make, does he consider himself a workaholic? “One thing I’ve learnt, nothing comes for free, no one don’t owe you nothing in this world, man. If you don’t go out there and take it, you’ll be sat there longtime waiting.
For Rascal, getting ahead of the competition doesn’t end with making it in the music business. At the Nike Supersonic event, 1000 of the quickest young runners from around London were invited to take part in the final showcase and Dizzee was there with the best of them. On the night footage was shown of Dizzee competing in the heats, where one rapid little contestant showboated his way in front of Dizzee to the finishing line. On mention of the heat he quickly shows his competitive streak. “I had a chicken burger right before and I wasn’t going to run. If I hadn’t had it I might have won. I wasn’t prepared.” But running and the Olympics are not his calling in life. “I’ve got a friend who is training for the Olympics and he trains at all mad hours. He’s out in the cold and sh*t.” So you’d rather be in your bed? “Yeah, man.”
When talk moves onto the people he’s most enjoyed working with, he again throws up something of a curveball by mentioning the likes of The Artic Monkeys and Red Hot Chilli Peppers ahead of Jay Z and Justin Timberlake. Taking to the stage at Glastonbury with Artic Monkeys in front of 80,000 people still burns bright in his memory. “There’s nothing like seeing that many people laid out in front of you.” For someone who prides themselves on looking fresh in their Nike Air bubbles, the moody wellies he had to wear were not part of the game plan. “F*cking hell man, that was sh*t. I was there for hours. I smoked some weed and I was lean, cold, soggy and I was in a cold portacabin.”
If you’ve only ever heard Dizzee through your TV or your stereo then we urge you to see him live. He’s one of the only UK rappers who can play stadium size venues and rock it. At a recent gig in London he controlled the crowd for a good hour and a half and the crowd loved it. His tracks like ‘Flex’, ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ and ‘Sirens’ are powerhouse tunes fusing rock, rave and rap in way that puts his competition in the shade and they provide indisputable proof that Dizzee is one the most versatile and exciting performers in the game.
Dizzee Rascal plays Manchester Academy on 19th February
words: Mark OD
20/02/2008 by Matt
Saw Mr Dizzee Rascal at the academy last night. one word would describe it: AMAZING! If you get the chance, go see this lad hes mint.
Rated 5 out of 5