Dizzee Rascal: interview
Are indie guitar-slingers grime‘s way out of the cult ghetto? Dizzee Rascal and Lethal Bizzle think so, and have the multicultural mosh pits to prove it.
It’s quarter to eleven on Thursday June 7 at Proud Galleries’ Another Music = Another Kitchen night and Dizzee Rascal, just three days after the release of his jaw-dropping third album ‘Maths & English’ (which entered the charts at Number Seven), spits the last verse of his second and final song. It’s been the shortest, most tantalising of sets but the crowded room in front of him – comprised, in the main, of the club’s usual clientele (well-dressed, mid-20s indie yoof) – are in no way disappointed. Most of them are ecstatic at their proximity to, in Dizzee’s words, ‘the biggest selling artist in UK rap history’. They may not look how you might – say, five years ago – have imagined Dizzee’s audience to look (they’re 95 per cent white, fringe-wearing hipsters). But, man, do they act like his crowd.
‘I’m used to playing in front of indie crowds,’ enthuses Dizzee, Dylan Mills to his mum, and now more than accustomed to scenes such as those Time Out has just witnessed. ‘My fans are lunatics. I encourage mosh pits, I encourage lunacy, I make music to let go to. When I started, I was making music for the ’hood but even back then I was still always into broadening out, into making music for everyone. I’ve accepted them as part of my fan base. And besides,’ he adds, ‘they know how to mosh!’
Such cross-genre appreciation, as evidenced by the hundreds of broadsheet features hailing ‘the trashing of musical boundaries’, are nothing new. From the rock dynamics of ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ in 2003, through the Captain Sensible-referencing ‘Happy Talk’ (off second album ‘Showtime’), and right up to today’s Arctic Monkeys-featuring ‘Temptation’, Dizzee has demonstrated a zest for broadening his horizons (‘I want to learn,’ he says, ‘and I learn more from different artists’).
Truth is, Dizzee and a few others aside, this cross-genre love-in isn’t blooming as much as some would have you believe. Ninety-nine percent of indie bands stick with the small pools of influence that have informed their genre for three decades, while some of grime’s practitioners continue to view other scenes with suspicion. Take, for example, Dizzee’s now estranged mentor Wiley. He released his latest album, ‘Playtime Is Over’, on the same day as Dizzee’s, and says: ‘The fans said, “Stay grime, everyone else changes.” So I said. “OK, I’ll stick as close to it as I can.”’
‘That shit is bollocks!’ says Lethal Bizzle, one of the few other grime stars to share Dizzee’s desire to see what’s over the hill. He’s recorded with Pete Doherty and on Wednesday (June 13) plays a show at London’s capital of punk, the 100 Club, the day before Dizzee appears at another guitar haven, KOKO. ‘It’s about getting your music out there to people who haven’t necessarily heard of you. I did Trafalgar Square’s ‘Love Music… Hate Racism’ – it made me smile: black kids and white kids moshing together, singing together. It’s good to see folk united through my music.’
‘People classify things and that’s fair enough,’ says Dizzee. ‘But if somebody wants to make something different, that doesn’t make them any less of an artist. In each genre, I’ve been around the biggest. In pop I toured with Justin Timberlake, with reggae it was Sean Paul; I toured with Jay-Z and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s all an education for me, to see how they do it. People who criticise me are just jealous.’
They’re right, of course, and the sooner the attitudes of Dizzee and Lethal becomes the norm, the better. Consider for a moment why US hip hop – where it’s perfectly normal for Jay-Z to record with Fall Out Boy – continues to dwarf its British cousin. Hip hop is what it is today because its pioneers heard Kraftwerk or Gary Numan or – with reluctance, maybe – Phil Collins’s drum fills, and heard something they could use. True, in its rawest form, grime is as exciting a British music as you’ll find, and to lose that character would be awful. But if it’s to escape the cultish confines that hemmed in drum ’n’ bass and UK garage, then it must take on board other ideas.
Dizzee’s ‘Maths & English’ shows the way forward. Besides Alex Turner, Lily Allen and Dizzee’s drum ’n’ bass hero Shy FX are also onboard, helping the album ping-pong between club banger and chart stormer. Lethal’s soon-to-be released ‘Back To Bizznizz’ (out July 23) does a similar job, but neither were recorded as ‘crossover’ records. They’re both the work of men who know where they come from, but also know that there are other places to explore.
‘There’s never been someone like me,’ concludes Dizzee. ‘People are almost embarrassed by UK hip hop and instead listen to so much American hip hop that they say, “Don’t compete, stay away from it.” It’s not a new thing: it happened to soul and reggae. People are almost embarrassed of themselves, when things are so close to home, coming from just down the road. It might take a while, but that’s why it’s important to branch out. So hopefully the next generation, who might not have seen me come up through raves or whatever, will have less politics about their music.’
Lethal Bizzle plays the 100 Club on Wed, Dizzee Rascal plays KOKO on Thursday.
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