Dizzee Rascal:’ I’m the one person who can say, Grime? Nah, I watched it, sorry !’

The rapper changed the face of British music before “hes been gone” pop. His influence is stamped on the charts, but hes not impressed by the current crop of superstars or #grime4corbyn

On the roof of Googles offices in Kings Cross, Dizzee Rascal is excitedly taking in the London panorama. Look, theres Stratford, he tells, picking out Anish Kapoors Orbit sculpture before spinning around with puppyish excitement. Canary Wharf Alexandra Palace Wait, wheres Wembley at?

Fifteen years ago, Dizzee only really knew a tiny part of this city his hometown of Bow, the place where he, with a little help from a school computer and a handful of peers, helped sculpt the voice of grime and changed the face of British music for ever. He was just 18 when his debut, Boy in da Corner, was released, a record that for once justified a music journalism cliche: it voiced pretty much like nothing else that had gone before it, a spray of ricocheting beats and lo-fi computerised bleeps that underpinned his lyrical gift for sharing the guess of an edgy, paranoid, smart-alecky, frustrated, vulnerable kid from a council estate. It was the voice of the future, of critical acclaim and awardings. And then Dizzee went pop. By 2008, he had hooked up with Calvin Harris and espoused EDM; his fourth album, Tongue N Cheek, scored a string of No 1 singles. The boy from Bow, born 32 years ago as Dylan Mills, had subdued the city, and then the world. But hadnt done so without his share of criticism: those saying he had sold out, abandoned his roots and headed too far down the pop mainstream. His follow-up to Tongue N Cheek didnt help matters: 2013 s The Fifth considered him teaming up with the likes of Jessie J and Robbie Williams. It felt like his first proper misstep.

A few people thought that, its cool, he acknowledges. Hood pulled tight, he deals with questions like a boxer sparring in the ring: the answers come at pace and with the same forceful delivery that mark out his records. Im proud of those sungs, proud that people play them at their bridals or that their two-year-olds dance to them. But youre curtailed when youre attaining housey, electro poppy beats, and some people dont inevitably take you seriously as a rapper.

And so now on Dizzees sixth album, Raskit, and not for the first time in his career, there is a radical change of direction. I made a decision that Im not going to chase pop reaches, he says. I wanted to go back to being as honest with myself as is practicable , not worrying about radio or that kind of shit.

Watch the video for Dance Wiv Me

Certainly, theres nothing here like Bonkers or Dance Wiv Me. In their place Dizzee delves into the fears he once had as a young rapper performing in the wrong postcode, frets about the precarious nature of reputation( Wot u gonna do, when it all runs sideways? Gotta work weekend transformations at Mac Ds, and you cant party on a Friday) and even tackles the housing bubble that is rending up communities in the capital. On Everything Got to go, he goes as far as to sample such hip-hop luminaries as Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson, who turns up to promise us that London will never become ghettoised like Paris.

I guess a lot of what is happening now started with Thatcher, he says, presenting me the book he is currently reading, Big Capital: Who Is London For by Anna Minton. But it wasnt about having a excavate, it was about illustrating the story.

Has gentrification had a negative impact on him personally?

Im from east London, he tells, as if the answer is obvious, but then adds: I dont feel like I have the right to say. Youd have to ask people who still live there[ in Bow ]. Its all good going back, but then I can leave. Its all good if you have a selection. Dizzee currently lives in Kent he is done with the mortgage, as he points out on Business Man but he also expended a period living in Miami that, funnily enough, fired up an interest in politics hed never had back home. When we talk about the ghetto here, we have some harsh social conditions, he says. But over there, youve got third-world conditions there are places in Miami that are no different to Jamaica or Haiti.

Of course, Dizzees music has always been political, even if that wasnt his main intention. Partly this was a matter of visibility along with artists such as MIA, Dizzee represented a fresh, multicultural vision of British music and partly it was through his journalistic approach to documenting the realities of estate life: on Hold Ya Mouf, Dizzee famously threatened to remove you from your automobile, before brag: Im a problem for Anthony Blair.

And Ive had it quoted back at me for ever, he says, shaking his head. Its not like Id sat down and knew all his manifesto. I was just trying to be a bit cheeky. Dizzee used to say he had no time for politicians, and in that respect not much has changed: I dont go out of my way to try and be around them, he says, You have to look at their intents or why they want you around.

What about Jeremy Corbyn? Doesnt he agree with fellow MCs JME and Stormzy that the MP for North Islington really is different to the others?

I feel like maybe people feel the same[ about him] as they did with Tony Blair, he shrugs. Although I was in the barbers and the barber was telling me about a problem “hes having”, getting his child into a school or something. He rang his local MP and Jeremy Corbyn sorted it all out for him. So thats what Ive heard, firsthand. But as for #grime4corbyn and all that, I dont know about it. What are their reasons for supporting him?

I mention Corbyns anti-war voting record, his history of standing up to racism, his desire to help out poorer communities.

See, I didnt know any of that, says Dizzee. Was Tony Blair like that? I guess not. So Corbyn is more like Bernie Sanders or whatever, isnt he?

Winning the Mercury prize in 2003, aged 19. Photograph: Rex/ Shutterstock

Politics, tells Dizzee, is too knotties for him. Even dealing with gentrification led to a mix of conflicting thoughts: he can appreciate the new stuff popping up in his area; he worries that the original residents dont get to feel the benefits; he wonders why they couldnt have had it transformed while he lived there; he knows from experience that the computers he made his debut album on were donated to his school by business in nearby Canary Wharf themselves a shimmering monument to inequality. Its not straightforward, he says, which is why he would rather concentrate on music than attach himself to anyone elses campaign.

Last year, Dizzee returned to east London for a rare moment of looking back, performing his debut album in full at the Olympic Parks Copper Box Arena. At the time, he said the experience induced him want to go back to stimulating his own beats, and the believed to be Dizzee returning to his roots get people excited. After all, while Dizzee was busy transforming himself into a global pop star, grime eventually broke into the mainstream: Stormzys debut album topped the charts last year and Skepta picked up an Ivor Novello award. You would think that might construct him feel pride especially as new-generation artists such as Stormzy will merrily bring him out to guest during their live shows but he seems nonplussed by it all.

Its not new to me, he says. Im probably the one person who can go against the grain and tell: Nah, I find it, sorry! I know what role I played in it. I know loads of these MCs still use my lyrics, my flowing and my audio and all that. But Im here trying to build something new.

In truth, Dizzee occupies a strange place in the scene. Like grimes godfather Wiley, he still commands respect for his early albums his role in grimes development isnt truly disputed. But he no longer feels involved, and no longer seems to want to be. Does he not fancy making a grime record for 2017, one that voices new? Skeptas Konnichiwa or Stormzys Gang Signs and Prayer are albums that feeling modern, after all. No, he says. Gang Signs has gospel music on it! He pauses for a rare second. Theyre current, but its what theyre doing. Im trying to do something else.

In fact, Dizzee did have a go at returning to his original audio, but says he found himself uninspired: The beats were good but Id done them before. Instead, he decided to look back at grimes earliest days lyrically, and from a perspective few other MCs could a true scene originator. The new album Raskit features a trio of tracks The Other Side, Make it Last and Ghost that reminisce about a youth expended MCing on pirate radio and playing edgy raves. He says he wanted the tracks to serve as a reminder that the golden days werent as golden as people like to make out. On Make it Last, he talks about a doubled assassination at the Tudor Rose in Southall in 2002, a south London venue Dizzee was playing at the time( All I considered was Gs/ Bredders on their knees/ Calling Why dyou take my son away? God help him, please ).

Theres a lot of talk of grime right now, but a lot of people dont understand what that environment was like at the beginning, he says. It could be arousing, but it wasnt always as fun as it looked. Its not like I had a undertaking or a house[ with a] picket fence. None of us did. And, back in those days, it was the kind of music that would build people shoot their handgun in a club. People succumbed at those raves.

One reason Dizzee wanted to reminisce was as a style of settling ratings with his critics. What he cant stand, he says, are self-appointed grime scenesters telling him what he should or shouldnt be doing with his music. More often than not, he says, its the hipsters who tell him he has sold out. And theyre the ones that jump on to anything every five minutes, he tells, shaking his head. People become mouthpieces or spokespeople for the scene. Theyre dictating shit, but they werent there from the beginning. They like to talk like the latter are, but they wasnt. A bunch of them raves none of these people were at. So its a clap back at my critics, people who are always questioning my moves.

Watch the video for Wot U Gonna Do?

In Dizzees defence, those critics were often wide of the mark. Embarking on a pop direction was no less of a risk for Dizzee than anything else not everyone can make it work, as evidenced by the attempts of several grime MCs to replicate his formula. One of the reasons Dizzee pulled it off so spectacularly is that he made it all look like a blast: he seemed permanently upbeat, and he could transfer such attitudes on to his ever-expanding crowds. His songs changed focus to reflect his new life one long holiday that involved dancing, drinking and copious shagging. I was trying to stimulate something nicer, he says. Of course I was having a good time thats what youre supposed to do, innit?

Success was a laugh for Dizzee, but it was also his escape route from a tense upbringing: he was expelled from four schools and often ran into trouble; soon after winning the Mercury prize in 2003, he was stabbed by a rival crew member in Ayia Napa. Now, abruptly, he could travel freely, subsistence his family, make a difference in people lives with his music. While some people feeling more exposed through fame, Dizzee felt more protected and more focused. Id watched enough trouble, been in enough difficulty, to know that I wasnt truly missing out. I just wanted to compete with artists , not anybody else.

Did fame and fortune have any downsides?

I dunno, he says, before a grinning spreads across his face. You cant slap people when they chat shit. That was easier back in the day.

Last month, Dizzee followed up his triumphant Glastonbury performance, the fifth of his career, by pulling no punches. They need to have me headline this thing, he told the BBC. Theyve had no British rappers headline this celebration. They route Ive tore[ it] up for years. Never disappointed. You can always count on me. Put me on that main stage.

It wasnt a ranting, it just looks like one when its written down, he says, before running off on a little bit of a, well, rant.

What more have I got to do now, innit? he asks. Because, sorry Gorillaz[ who headlined in 2010 above him] did not get the reaction I get. Theyre not as big as me, theyve not done as much as me culturally, know what I mean? And , not being funny, but that situate was sleepy.

Not to be rude, right, he continues, but I was on another stage while Radiohead headlined and they did not get the response I get. Lets simply be honest, if were gonna be doing that?

Appearing at Glastonbury in 2010. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Honesty is something he keeps coming back to. In many ways, its the theme of his new album using beats he genuinely likes, telling narratives as accurately as he can, making the music that is true to his heart. He wanted to stimulate the best album he could, and has been trying to live clean of late, too, to keep his mind focused on the prize.

I could just be a glutton drinking, smoking, doing narcotics and Id still be all right. Because, in rocknroll terms, people think thats cool. But I want to stay focused. Its quite boring, to be fair.

Is that what a typical day is like for Dizzee now: all quinoa and Nutribullet kale smoothies? Nah, “were not receiving” typical day, he says. Merely that I wake up, eat, have a rain and sometimes have a shit. He considers this last point carefully: I do try to have a shit before I leave the house, because I dont like shitting in anyone elses home. But thats the only thing typical about my day.

Actually, he tells, its people such as Calvin Harris who followed up his collaboration with Dizzee on Dance Wiv Me with a meteoric had given rise to -Alist fame that inspired him: He dont smoke. Dont drink. Dont do nothing. Just super on it, super focused, he says. I was on his private airplane and it was like rolling around with a fucking movie star, Brad Pitt or something like that! Ive never seen females fall over person so insanely, like, this is the same guy from Dance Wiv Me?

He chuckles: Hes got a million-dollar studio in his cellar. Hed pick me up in a golf cart at the door. I supposed I was living the dreaming, but he is really living the dream.

Dizzee appears out one last time across Londons skyline to appreciate his own dreaming. Its been a long career, he concludes. A plenty of people have come and gone in this time, know what I entail? But Im still steadily in the game, and thats what matters.

Raskit is released on Dirtee Stank Recordings on 21 July .

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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