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 starrings or #grime4corbyn
On the roof of Googles offices in Kings Cross, Dizzee Rascal is excitedly taking in the London panorama. Look, theres Stratford, he says, 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 thoughts of an edgy, paranoid, smart-alecky, frustrated, vulnerable kid from the human rights council estate. It was the sound of the future, of critical acclaim and awards. And then Dizzee went pop. By 2008, he had hooked up with Calvin Harris and embraced EDM; his fourth album, Tongue N Cheek, scored a string of No 1 singles. The son from Bow, born 32 years ago as Dylan Mills, had conquered 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 assistance 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 anthems, proud that people play them at their bridals or that their two-year-olds dance to them. But youre restricted 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 hits, he says. I wanted to go back to being as honest with myself as possible , not worrying about radio or that kind of shit.