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Publication: Touch, July 20004

Dizzee Rascal presents ‘Showtime’

Dizzee Rascal, on the whole, doesn’t answer his phone. He doesn’t really need to when the world wants him more than he wants the world. He has said as much in the past. ‘These days I don’t answer my phone’,’ he squawked back in those days, 2002, when his debut track ‘I Luv U’ rocketed out of the pirate underground and smashed right into So Solid Crew’s post-coital glow. On ‘Face’ from his incendiary new album ‘Showtime,’ he asserts his principles again: ‘Bwoy, I don’t answer the phone/20 missed calls in total, and bwoy dasabaht 14 text messages/And the message is leave me alone.’

But today in wet Copenhagen, well into lunchtime on the day after Roskilde – the Danish Glastonbury, but muddier – Dizzee Rascal, the human panic-button, answers the phone for TOUCH, all the way from the other side of sleep up in his hotel room. In a hot minute he materializes in the lobby, awake, happy, funny, fresh and full of insight on the past 12 months: hundreds of shows, supports and respect from Pharrell, Justin and Jigga, 250,000 albums sold, a Mercury Prize won, several pints of blood lost after being knifed in Napa six times (including once in the bum, without even realising), and acres of print, most of it justifiably adulatory. A year so scrambled, colourful and demented you wonder whether ‘Disney Rascal’ doesn’t seem a better name. You can appreciate why he needs the space.

Today, in more ways than one Dizzee ‘Dylan Mills’ Rascal - the damn-right-grime-pays underground overlord - is a man in transit: leaping from pirate dominance to chart fixture, to the US, to a position among the stars and deep in the affections and self-reflection of Young UK, 2K4.

At the age of 19.

Also today, ‘Showtime’ is in the can. It’s a set of self-produced, panic-button ‘grime’ (we’ll come to that) more confident, adrenalised, hype and hooky than his debut, ‘Boy In Da Corner’. Dizzee’s life, however, is a work in progress - it could hardly be anything else. In the beginning, he was unique, probably a one-off. Not other MC has achieved the matchless singularity of Raskit: his hyperbolic delivery expresses the thrill, corrosion and menace of 2004 street life

He still is. Few apart from his obvious counterpart Mike ‘The Streets’ Skinner – two halves of the same KFC-nourished brain, identical in every respect bar skin tone - can match either Dizzee’s ingenuity and productivity in what remains an emergent strand of music. Nor really his position as the brutally honest mouthpiece for the common British life you won’t read about in Heat or see on Big Brother. In person Diz looks like he sounds: more street than Tarmac. He wears a cap, diamond earclip, fresh Ecko and Nikes none the worse for the goo of Roskilde. And in conversation he speaks like he rhymes: in short sentences. Containing big, succinct ideas. And forceful opinions. That often sounds angry. But aren’t necessarily.

‘I’m walking at a ridiculous place,’ he tells me, practically before he’s sat down. ‘Last week I flew to Boston, did a show. Drove to NYC, did two shows. Drove to DC, did a show, drove to Philadelphia, did a show, came to Denmark, did a show. That’s what it’s been like the last year. From not doing much the year before, just doing raves, being on the estate. It was bafflin’! From being on Rinse and Déjà vu, I was surprised, you know? I didn’t think it would have that impact. When I was building it, I was just straight from gutter. I was from street, pirate radio. I was raw, and that played a part in the music. Cos I was just giving it whatever. Just music, No rules.’

‘That’s why I jumped straight back into the album,’ he continues.’ ‘After I got stabbed, I was straight back into the studio. I was stitched up. That’s my [Kanye West’s] ‘Through the wire’. I realised there was so much coming. Music’s always been something that kept me in my zone.’

Music kept Dizzee in ‘the zone’ through the past 12 months to the extent that it kept everything else out. Rather that attempting to reinvent British urban music, it develops on what ‘Boy In Da Corner’ started. The themes remains the same: aggro, teenage angst, girls, ‘face’, respect, the hustle, politics and the streets where all those thing live.

The music, meanwhile, evolves to the compulsively abrasive. His beats still sound like council estates collapsing and beatboxes malfunctioning while his rhymes come across like a shouting match on the night bus to Stabwound Central. Thus…

‘…“Showtime” was the most necessary name for it,’ Dizzee says. ‘It’s showing my capabilities, a glimpse of what I’m trying to blow through. The beats are complicated, the lyrics are complicated, but my delivery is all out. Totally all out. It’s a straight progression - sonically, lyrically, vocally. Yet every song on this album doesn’t sounds like any other song.’

Which can certainly be said of his cover of Captain Sensible’s ‘Happy Talk’, an irritatingly endearing ditty he tuned into during a late-night viewing of Top Of The Pops 2. ‘It caught me,’ he recalls. ‘I thought, maybe I can use that, so we put a beat over it. It’s a mad tune, sounds like The Magic Roundabout or something. That’s the one that’s gonna get talked about.’

What’s certain is that it will hardly silence the ongoing and, for Dizzee, tedious debate over a suitable name for the new sound of the inner city. In just 12 months ‘grime’ has been established as something you slaps on you decks rather than rub off your Nikes. Yet still it doesn’t seem to fit the prismatic, constantly mutating sound that the wider public are still trying to get their ears, let alone their feet round.

‘I hate ‘grime’,’ Dizzee concurs. ‘It’s just a lazy term to call something just because it’s grimey. Grimey, there’s grimey hip hop, hardcore and techno. The sublow sound has been around for years. I’ve done my stuff, from back in school – it’s the same sound all the way through. So I don’t what to be called grime. We can come with a better name than that…’

Any ideas?

“No… I might as well just shut up now innit?’

IT PROBABLY comes as little surprise to discover that the key event in Dizzee’s recent life during was when, last summer in Ayia Napa, somebody tried to kill him. He was stabbed six times in all - one gruesomely close to the heart, another whiskers from his spine – and he’s happy to show me the scars. At the time, the vacuum of hard fact amid the drama was filled with speculation; rival MCs were fingered, and conspiracies grew like shadows.

‘I’ve known all along [what happened], but it’s between me and whoever,’ Dizzee says mysteriously. ‘It’s like any beef I had before, but that was in the public eye. I wasn’t stretchered off in a pool of blood or anything. I was just standing round when the motorbike went past me.’

He stayed as unflustered in heat of the event as he does in today’s recollection of it.

‘It’s only a little scratch on the side. See that? There’s one my arse as well, but that don’t count because you can’t see it. I’ve got a black bum innit. I was out and about straight away, on my own riding around Napa and I shouldn’t have been. I went to some clubs and the anaesthetic wore off and I started feeling the effects. It was serious!

Did you think you were going to die?

‘No, I weren’t thinking like that. They were saying (heavy Greek accent). ‘Someone tried to keel you!’’ Bwoy, I didn’t even realise how many times I got stabbed.’

He points to a scar near the heart. ‘I felt that one. But it’s a mad sensation. You don’t feel all of them. It’s only that one that hurts. That could have killed me. My heart’s there.’

Like his collapsed relationship with the once-dear Wiley, a friend whose Top of The Pops performance of ‘Champagne Dance’, back in ‘02 made him cry, the assault was a graphic reminder of his own mortality, a razor-sharp abbreviation on the premature end of his youth. ‘It’s all done,’ he now says of his old Roll Deep <consigliere>. ‘It was just politics man. But one day it could all blow over’.

Dizzee hits the age of 20 in September, having been a teenager ‘before I was 12, man. And I’m looking forward to another twentieth birthday.’  Much of ‘Boy In Da Corner’s power was in its a frighteningly perceptive view on the world the majority of Britain’s teenagers will recognise, wrought in a language most of them speak, and  made with technology they all own or could at least afford: Playstation and PCs.

‘Growing up… It’s not a problem,’ he says philosophically. ‘I was 18 when “Boy In da Corner” came out and there was stuff on there from when I was 17. So I was only happy to bring out some fresher stuff. I got a lot of young views out. It’s been said, it’s been done,

He is painfully aware of the process and the circus surrounding him – ‘the pressures of fame’, to put it tritely - but the pressure of growing up between the soul-eroding forces of success and the streets and the grime of the inner city  that made him who he is. It’s his insight into his world, as much as his genius for rhyming couplets to hooky you could hang your baseball cap on, that makes him a compelling character.

‘The streets…’ he muses, ‘it take over your mind, that mentality. It consumes you. People should stay close to their roots. It’s dangerous and damaging if you don’t. A lot of crazy things that go on as well in the high life. It’s the same as road – people doing things that aren’t legal. But you can’t win either way: you’re called a sell-out if you’re successful, and then you’re never really gonna be part of that world cos you weren’t born into it. All you can be is a hustler, living in between. That’s what I accept it for.’

Even so, these days he never fancies much the idea of staging a guerrilla mission back into gloom of the underground of rave and pirate, even for the sake of a holiday of anonymity of ‘road’. Indeed, he judges that a return to his breeding ground would be ‘against nature’, no less.

‘I’ve set my legacy there. It’s not for me to do that. It would block other people. It would be going against nature, because other people are going to come out of that scene with their own thing because of the effect I might have had on. So if I’m there, I’m making the process harder. There’s nothing I didn’t do on the underground.’

He nevertheless remains the unique poster-boy of a transient moment in British Youth Culture and a paradigm of aspiration and achievement from nothing – from the ‘ghetto’ of the UK’s crumbling council estates, able to move between worlds, by himself $6,000 jackets (believe…) and remain himself throughout.

Deep inside him, however, you sense there shy kid remains – the boy in da corner, the intelligent, answer-back misfit, a sensitive, sideways soul who made profit from his exclusion. Bear in mind he never wanted to be an MC, but a DJ. He never wanted to be the man upfront. What does he love most, right now?

‘I love making albums man,’  he says. ‘I will be there all day watching it come to life. I want to be able to do it as long as I can. Five albums maybe? Who knows…’

We’re in luck. It seems Dizzee’s ‘Showtime’ has only just begun.

I Luv U, U and U:

Dizzee on… The Streets: ‘Mike is deep, man. You only got to listen to his album. It’s simply complicated.’

Dizzee on… Pharrell: ‘Pharrell came up to me and said, ‘Thank you man!’ I was proud. I always knew they weren’t arseholes or nothing. I was proper chatting to Timberlake when were onstage, he was cool . You realise people at the top are just down to earth. Timberlake’s a bit different to me - he did the whole Disney thing. I never did Disney!’

Dizzee on… his secret life as a Bros fan: ‘I met Luke Goss out in LA – his movie career is taking off. He’s a genuine character man. I was born in ‘84, and I still remember Bros singing ‘When Will I be Famous. They had an impact on me in dem times. Bros were massive!’

© Kevin Braddock 2004

All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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