Interview: Dizzee Rascal
16-01-06 Suggested by: Don Load
Story by Mark Pytlik
Two hours before he's due onstage, Dizzee Rascal is in a downtown Toronto audiophile shop, where he's surrounded by a small nation's GNP worth of imported speakers, pricey turntables and pre-amps that, by some miracle of engineering, are powered exclusively by the fumes of burning hundred dollar bills. He is sitting opposite a pair of cameraman who are preparing to film him for an interview with a national music television station. He handles the interview expertly (sample questions: "What is grime?", "Do you think you can tell us some British slang?" and "Do you feel like its Showtime for you?") and once it concludes, quietly asks to see the playback. With the cameraman kneeling beside him, Dizzee watches himself on a 2x2 inch monitor, transfixed despite the lack of accompanying audio.
Scheduling misfires and a sudden pre-show emergency lead us to do this interview in a label rep's car on the way to a downtown department store, where Rascal is heading to pick up some unnamed last-minute supplies. Riding out the final week of his first-ever North American tour, the 20-year old Brit registers as charming, excitable and possibly a little bit drained. Here he is on Three Six Mafia, grunge and, um, Internet messageboards.
Pitchfork: Tell me a little bit about this first North American tour.
Dizzee: The shows have just been so live and so energetic. That's been the main thing that's been surprising-- I didn't expect it to be this good. I've enjoyed it all. Five weeks is a long time to be away. I've never been away from home this long.
Pitchfork: What kinds of kids are you seeing at the shows?
Dizzee: Everything from indie to hip-hop, there's been some metalheads there. One of them came up to me and said "I'm not into hip-hop-- I'm a metalhead-- but you rock man!"
Pitchfork: Do you get grime kids at all?
Dizzee: Yeah, definitely. There are kids that are into it. It's funny to see how far grime's come. I guess it's through the Internet or whatever, people listening to Semtex or stuff like that.
Pitchfork: Have you had much of an opportunity to hook up with any of the American hip-hop guys at all?
Dizzee: Yeah, when I was out in Houston, I hooked up with Bun-B, from UGK, we did a track together. And also, the Grit Boys, they're from Houston as well, some underground up and comers. I did a remix for Beck, but you heard about that already. That's been the main thing so far.
Pitchfork: Someone told me you're into a lot of the Dirty South stuff.
Dizzee: Yeah, I like Three Six Mafia and stuff like that. And Crime Mob! "Knuck if you buck!"
Pitchfork: Do you have a real interest in working with the American guys? Do you think about crossing over?
Dizzee: Most definitely. It's not something that's definitely gonna happen, though. I like to work with the best artists, full stop, around the world, and just make things happen man.
Pitchfork: Do you feel like American hip-hop guys get what you do?
Dizzee: Yeah, they really do. They understand it.
Pitchfork: You mentioned the Beck remix. You've also worked with Basement Jaxx, participated in Band Aid, and designed a shoe for Nike. You've broken out from grime into the mainstream, but there's nobody else there with you. Do you ever feel caught between those two worlds?
Dizzee: Definitely. There was no name for what I was making when I was making it. It came out the way it did cause of how open-minded I was about music. [It was] because of everything I was listening to-- drum and bass, garage, hip-hop, grunge or whatever. So when I was making music, I wasn't afraid to use other things. So I think that's what, in a way, got so many other people listening to me-- I wasn't stuck in a genre or a loop, I was beyond pirate radio and raves and things like that.
Pitchfork: You made Boy In Da Corner pretty much knowing that it would be the first grime record, but by the time you made Showtime, other MCs were already starting to come out with full-lengths of their own. Did the knowledge of the fact that people were nipping at your heels change how you approached the second record?
Dizzee: Yeah. Now I'm aware of an audience beyond where I came from-- I've got the space and the freedom to do more. I have other people in mind to make music for. I've kept in touch with the whole underground thing by bringing people like Youngstar and Wonder in to produce my album, you know what I'm saying. Other than that, I was really thinking [more] about the world, cause I've been able to see a lot more of it, and now I know that the world was listening.
Pitchfork: Did you have a lot of difficulties with your crew after Boy In Da Corner first broke?
Dizzee: By the time it came out, I wasn't with Roll Deep and that...
Pitchfork: But even with your friends...? Being the one to break out must have changed a lot of your relationships.
Dizzee: Yeah, but at the same time a lot of my friends were in and out of prison or in bad situations or whatever, and five minutes ago, I was the same. I made it clear to people that I was on my own thing. No one could say that I didn't work hard, so from there, if people didn't like me, it was just whatever. Maybe it's not even about jealousy, it's just more about, at my age where everyone's finding themselves and everyone's on their own thing, so I don't take it like that.
Pitchfork: Where do you live in London now?
Dizzee: East London.
Pitchfork: Have you moved at all in the last couple of years?
Dizzee: Yeah I moved. I'll be where I need to be, all the time.
Pitchfork: Are you still tight with the people you came up with?
Dizzee: Some of them. Some things that some people are doing make me not able to be [friends] with them. Conflict of interest or whatever.
Pitchfork: Are there any grime MCs that you're really feeling right now?
Dizzee: D Double E. I signed him to Dirtee Stank! What's good about him is that he's from my area, and when I was little I listened to him. He was into drum and bass then, and I grew up with his brother. One of the people you're talking about in Bow is his brother. Also, I signed a group called Class A. They're from the Midlands, from a place called Leicester, it's like the countryside, but they're on a hip-hop tip. That's who I'm feeling, D Double E and Klass A.
Pitchfork: When's the D Double E record coming out?
Dizzee: Later on this year I think. Newham General's one's gonna come out, that's his group, it's D Double E, Footsie and Monkey.
Pitchfork: So who distributes Dirtee Stank? Who's the label deal with?
Dizzee: Everything's still being set up and that, so I can't tell you yet. Nothing's actually been signed yet.
Pitchfork: Are you currently A&Ring for more additions to the label right now?
Dizzee: I'm satisfied right now. If something came up, maybe I'd take it, but I'm really happy with what we've got. I've got the next step figured out anyway-- I've got two of the best in the country.
Pitchfork: What was the impetus for releasing "Off to Work" so soon after the record?
Dizzee: Yeah, I just wanted to put out something different. I know the beat is kinda awkward for some people, but I wanted to go that step further again.
Pitchfork: What do you make your music in?
Dizzee: Logic, most of the time. There was that whole rumor about using a Playstation and all that, but naw. Both albums were done in a studio on Logic.
Pitchfork: What happens when the tour is finished and you go home?
Dizzee: Me and the Dirtee Stank team are working on a soundtrack for a film called Rollin' With The Nines. It's like the first black British gangster film, it's like Snatch or Lock Stock or something, but on a bit more of a serious tip.
Pitchfork: Do you have any thoughts about a third record yet?
Dizzee: Yeah. I'm writing little bits and pieces, hopefully I'll be able to put something out by next week.
Pitchfork: You tend to work pretty quickly, huh?
Dizzee: Sometimes I feel that if I stop, I'll have trouble starting up again, I'll lose the incentive. Music's something that I really wasn't pushed into, it was something I just kinda chose, I just kept pushing myself, and it was all down to me. There are so many things to divert my attention that if I don't keep my head stuck in it...it's like anything, do you know what I mean. Especially cause this all started out as a hobby.
Pitchfork: Do you remember what you did with the first big check that you got?
Dizzee: I don't think I was that reckless with it. When I started coming to America I started buying a lot of those big jackets with all the patches and stuff like that, you get me, cause I was fascinated. This was the shit that I never found in England, like clothes and trainers and stuff like that, but as far and jewelry and cars and all that, I didn't really get into it. I got my first big chain about two months ago or something, a gold one. I didn't really do the typical hip-hop thing.
Pitchfork: What kind of music would people be surprised to know that you listen to?
Dizzee: Grunge, like Nirvana and all that. Heavy metal, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Guns and Roses, drum and bass. I like to listen to it and try and break down what makes a fan of that music say 'Ah fuck that other music', do you get me? Trying to figure out what makes them tick, I always try and break that down with every piece of music. But the energy in that music, I love it.
Pitchfork: Do you have favorite producers?
Dizzee: Timbaland, The Neptunes, Outkast-- they never cease to amaze me. Even their most poppy records, where at first I don't like them, later on I end up thinking, "No one else could've done that."
Pitchfork: What about grime producers?
Dizzee: Wonder! I like Youngstar's stuff as well. Plasticman's got a few new things too that are like yeah yeah yeah.
Pitchfork: Do you get the sense that grime could take off in America?
Dizzee: Yeah! I think, for it even to have reached here, coming where I'm coming from and seeing how underground it really was, underground in the sense of underground hip-hop clubs where people get on stage...most of the raves got shut down for shootings and stabbings. To see it come this far has been wow. If certain individuals keep working on it and being open-minded and trying to progress, I think it could. It's already a recognized genre. If you'd seen it come from where I've seen it come from, you would've never have thought that.
Pitchfork: You mentioned the Internet earlier; are you conscious of what people are saying about grime on the Internet?
Dizzee: I'm aware of it. Sometimes people chat loosely. Sometimes people just speak their minds and what's on their mind ain't necessarily real or facts, so I don't take it too serious. I'm more interested in making the music, I don't really play that. Sometimes I check that Rewind forum, but it's only when people tell me something's on there that I'll go check it, I don't really surf the Internet a lot.
Pitchfork: Tell me how the stabbing incident at Ayia Napa changed your life?
Dizzee: It's just another near death experience. Another near-death experience. So I dunno. The main thing was that it made me stronger. What don't kill you only makes you stronger. I've seen people get stabbed and shot, so it wasn't new. It hurt! Like, physically. But it mostly just made me stronger.
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