”Have some peas, man!” Dizzee Rascal is having sushi. Lounging in the comfy headquarters of his record company XL, the garage pioneer from Bow in East London is having lunch Japanese-style. “So, what have you been up to lately?” I ask. “Man, lots of things,” he says. “I’ve been making ‘Off To Work’, my new release. I just came off tour. We’re touring the US soon. I haven’t done a show there since last year, so I’m looking forward to that one! Also, I’ve just been continuing to make music.”
Most of us now know the tale of how Dizzee Rascal, aka Dylan Mills, slammed his way onto the British music scene in 2002. A former member of the Roll Deep Crew, he went solo when he produced the underground smash ‘I Luv U’. It became a huge hit on the rave scene as well as on pirate radio stations, and before you could say ‘Boy In Da Corner’, he had a record deal with XL, albums flying off the shelves, and was being described as the next big urban act to come out of UK.
Being labelled as “urban”, however, didn’t sit well with Dizzee. He’d rather be described as a “grime” artist. For those who don’t know, ‘grime’ is a term used for a music form stemmed from UK garage, which is typified by fast, intense beats sprinkled with forceful, fired up lyrics. “As far as the whole “urban” thing, that was a category I was put in. I didn’t even know what that was before I started making music. I never sat there and made music knowing I was “urban”. I mean, artists make music! I’ve been influenced by all kinds of styles: drum’n’base, rock, Indian music and whatever. The urban thing don’t mean sh*t to me.”
Dizzee Rascal’s raw, honest and streetwise sound quickly gave him a large fan base as well as public acclaim. In 2003, he won the Mercury Music Prize for his debut album, as the youngest artist ever to receive the prestigious award. “Winning the Mercury, it’s a once in a lifetime thing. I was lucky to get that, and I really appreciated it. I was just happy that I was acknowledged. There are millions of artists out there who aren’t.”
2003, however, was not exclusively a good year for Dizzee. During the summer, he was attacked and stabbed five times in the clubland of Ayia Napa. This created huge headlines and lead to widespread speculation on whether other UK garage acts, such as the So Solid Crew, could be involved. “People can always speculate, so you might as well let them,” he says. “One thing I can say, is that I’ve never been short of drama in my life. I’m not even gonna lie, a lot of things have happened. But it hasn’t stopped me from doing what I’m doing – so that’s all good, innit!”
People speculating, however, may not be very surprising considering the violent image garage music has got through the media. “It’s not the music that’s violent,” Dizzee says. “People talk about it that way because they don’t fully understand it. Garage is something that was cultivated and made by people from the streets, the have-nots. Like drum’n’base was. Like punk. When something’s that close to the streets, in the inner-city, people go to clubs and sometimes they don’t get along and sometimes people end up getting hurt. That’s the negative side. With time, as it grows, it will get better. The positive side, though, is that people who might not have had a chance in life have gone out and made something for themselves. And people don’t get shot and stabbed at Dizzee Rascal concerts. I ain’t seen one yet!”
Rising in the face of adversity, Dizzee was back last year stronger than ever with his second album, ‘Showtime’. “It’s a lot more melodic than ‘Boy In Da Corner’,” he says. “Production wise, it’s larger; it’s a bigger sound. Also, the structure of some of the songs are different. In songs like ‘Hat Talk’, for example, where it’s a hook, a long verse and then a hook again; it’s not as straight forward.” What’s his favourite track on the album? “A song called ‘Get By’, that’s my favourite, because it breaks down the situation a lot of kids are living in inner-city UK, as well as around the world.”
The successes of his albums have led Dizzee to meet and work with American hip-hop heavy hitters such as Jay-Z, The Neptunes, Lil’ Jon and most recently, appearing onstage with Nas. Last summer, he got the chance to open for Jay-Z in Wembley Stadium. “I did two shows with The Neptunes, one in London and one in Norway. I got on really well with Pharrell and Chad. They showed me a lot of love. Jay-Z as well, he said he thinks I’m sharp and that he’s feeling it. He’s been a big inspiration for me, and still is. It means a lot, coming from them.”
On the collaboration side, Dizzee Rascal is no stranger to working with big artists. In 2003, he featured on the Basement Jaxx single ‘Lucky Star’. He also recently worked on a track for American Indie artist Beck. “The Beck track was a remix originally, which now might feature on his new album. In the UK, I like working with people in the underground scene. I’ve worked with artists like Wiley, Vanya, God’s Gift and Marga Man. On the international level, I’d like to work with The Neptunes, OutKast or Timbaland. People like that.”
It’s not only with his own projects and collaborations, however, that Dizzee will tear up the UK music scene in years to come. He recently signed his first group, a rap trio from Leicester, to his label Dirtee Stank Productions. “They’re called Klass A,” he says. “Signing a band is a major step for me, I’m really happy. I feel like I’ve found the best next thing to come out of England. They’re coming out around the end of this year.” Their release is already highly anticipated after DJ Semtex started giving the group airtime on his BBC 1Xtra show. So how did Dizzee hook up with them? “I heard some of their music, and production wise it wasn’t big sounding. But I just got the bigger picture as soon as I heard it. I talked to my friend Cage, who I’ve worked with for years and who is an amazing engineer, and was like “Yo, we’ve got something here. Bring it!” And they ended up being introduced to the label. I work with them really well, we get along fine. They are amazing artists, and I really feel what they’re trying to put across in their music. I really believe that a lot of people are gonna feel it.”
People have doubted, though, whether the garage and grime music genres have any future outside of their UK home. “Grime is growing outside the UK with me,” Dizzee says. “I’m the pioneer of grime! Whether it will grow production wise depends on the individual and how far they will take it without restricting themselves. With grime, where it’s really coming from the streets, kids are growing up now and recognising it as their own. They are pushing it forward, and I think it will grow into something big.” In recent years, the garage and grime scene has been taken on also by increasing numbers of female MCs, such as Ms Dynamite, Shystie and Lady Sovereign. “Dynamite, I have a lot of respect for her,” says Dizzee. “I used to go to raves, and I used to watch her emcee. To see a girl getting up there was amazing. It made me happy; Shystie and them as well. I love to see a girl doing that, and I most definitely think there should be more. I love that concept.”
After completing the upcoming U.S. tour, Dizzee will return to the UK to keep pushing his projects, doing promotion and looking for further acts to sign to his label. So watch out for him, 2005 will be a big year for this 20-year-old front-runner in British contemporary music.
And all Dizzee Rascal fans out there, this message is for you: “Big shout-out to everyone who bought the album and everyone supporting. I can’t wait to see you again, in the concert or whatever. It’s a lot of love. Watch out for Klass A. Dirtee Stank. Peace!”
Dizzee Rascal’s new single, ‘Work’, and his latest album, ‘Showtime’, is out now on XL Records.