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Interview with Dizzee Rascal (2003)

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Martin Clark
London Hyperdub HQ
Abbreviated version published in Vice Magazine

The Streets’ Mike Skinner was recently asked: “what’s the future?” He simply replied: “Dizzee Rascal.” Now 18, mc Dizzee Rascal of the Roll Deep crew stormed London’s garage rap scene in 2002 with ‘I Love You’, a bruising east end ‘lovers tiff’ noise assault which leaves US R&B in the land of Barbie and Ken. If the uk is spawning it’s own grimey, accelerated, sub-low version of hip hop culture, then below is the first in depth interview published with the scene’s most exciting vocalist and producer. (SG)

MC: It’s been over six months since “I Love You” came out, what have you been up to?

DR: I’ve just been living. Working hard, but living at the same time. So that the next set of lyrics will be realer. Some people when they’re deep into their work they shut out the rest of the world. We do that for a bit then we let life back in again, and live. The energy, when we shut everyone out, goes into the music. That’s how it keeps it’s realness.

MC: So what’s “living” then?

DR: Just the usual trouble. My age group are the troublesome teenagers. I know it’s bad but we get into situations, fighting… but we [also] like girls. We definitely like girls. It’s a gyal ting!

MC: After “I Love You” has it been difficult with the number of girls around?

DR: Girls have been about for a bit, before “I Love You.” I dunno, people don’t try and tell me if their attitudes have changed, I can just see it. They try and go “I don’t care” but you can see it has an effect on them. Blatantly.

MC: So how do you deal with it?

DR: You know, sometimes I feel I deal with it wrong. It humbles you. It can make you flash everything because you know you’re popular or it humbles you. You’re just watching, watching, watching, constantly. The more you watch the more you think. So you’ll be about, you’ll see someone and you’ll be thinking so hard you won’t act properly you’ll just be in a daze, just staring. They’ll think you’re being rude, because your face is screwed up and you’re thinking bad things, but you’re not that’s just how it happens. You’re just observing, so it humbles you, and you be quiet.

MC: So then you just withdraw into an inner circle of friends?

DR: That’s exactly it, certain other friends from the manor who’re all on the outside, on the edge. Badness is about. But bwoy…

MC: You talk about “trouble” but if you were to be like, “national newspaper” famous, things would be different for you, right?

DR: The way I see it is the music thing isn’t just to get our thing across, it’s to get out [of the ghetto]. And I know that when I’m out I ain’t really got any excuse to be going around doing dumbness. Everyone’s got the tendency to do bad things, getme, but we’re doing it the legal way as well. We could have easily have chosen the illegal way to get money, but this is our way of getting out of this.

MC: Growing up, what options did you feel you had?

DR: Growing up, there was just crime really. I weren’t good at school. I was a smart, smart boy, that’s why I lasted so long, but I went from school to school. I got kicked out of bare schools. I was troublesome. I couldn’t be told nothing, getme? Rebellious. Disruptive.

MC: So what happened in school?

DR: Fighting. I was always fighting, with the teachers. I had a bit of a temper. I would chuck stuff. Be rude, do madness, weed, weapons, whatever. Dumb things. I was always in trouble. I spent more time in school than out. I went to three schools.

MC: How do you feel now you look back?

DR: Bwoy. Everything has a positive and negative effect, getme? The negative was, right, I had a bad past. I did a lot of stupid things that I might regret if there’s redemption. But that showed that that was my character and if I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be how I am today. And it shows that everyone who listens to us has a bit of us in them.

MC: Despite all the media criticism of garage recently, people forget that making music is actually a positive step, do you agree?

DR: Yeah and the music, no matter how much they say about influence, it’s making people aware of things they already know, they see, like you’re saying it for them. We express what people can’t express, when they ain’t got no way, so they feel like “rah, someone relates.” When they’re listening to the music they’re not out causing trouble, when they’re in the rave they’re getting out their negative energy. If people want to fight, they’re gonna, regardless. They’re gonna meet up regardless – and the music playing could be pop, classical, opera anything – but when they see each other they know “when it’s on, it’s on.”

MC: As an MC there’s two responsibilities. To tell it like it is, where you’re from and to lead people to better lives. How do you do both?

DR: You know what? The whole point is the balance. Some people choose one way that’s the way they go. But if you keep the balance then it’s positive and negative, then there’ll be what ever you’re doing plus the redemption. You have to blend the both to keep it real.

MC: Is that why you’ve got two mixes – one hard, one mellow – of “I Love You” like love and sex?

DR: Yeah one’s grimey, the other’s the more conscious side with more of a message. One’s an explanation saying “this girl did this…” the other is “this is why I can’t…”.

MC: And “I Love You” was made a long time ago wasn’t it?

DR: Yeah, I just built it quickly, ages ago. Bare people were getting pregnant around me in the manor, getme? Bare girls were getting breeded up. I thought it was funny because it could have happened to me. We joke about them mad things.

MC: So do you have a kid?

DR: No no no, that’s why I’m lucky. I slipped out of it. I can talk my way out of things. I twanged – twanged means to try and persuade someone – my way out, make them think maybe they shouldn’t [have a kid], regardless of if they really want it. I, like, twisted their minds around.

MC: It might have caused problems if you were to go on to make a lot of money…

DR: Course. I know that man! I’m double protective now rudeboy! I swear to you. Double protective. My money is my money, getme? And girls would be entitled to half of it. I think that’s fucked up. But where we come from there’s not a lot of ways out. There’s the game [drugs] – like the shotting game, people are turning to music, sports, but rarely to people make it out on sports, bank scams, robbers, jackers. We was jacking before but we stopped it for this. But there’s levels and after street robbing there would have been something else. The real thing is when people are jacking the shotters, the drug dealers.

DR: It’s real boy. Jackers, people who decide they don’t want to shot, are good at taking things. If I was good at taking things I would have probably ended up like that. Real shotters, proper drugs dealers who you can’t really see, go about ninja, and then a couple of idiot ones who are just doing it for the hype. All the real shotters I know don’t like what they have to do, they know have to pretend like it’s glamorous, but there’s the idiot ones who’re just there to be in the hype to say “yeah I’m a shotter” and not really understand what it’s about, seeing some stuff they’re not ready for and they’re the ones who get moved to, getme? There’s jackers out there.

MC: You talk about sports, which isn’t something people usually mention. Why don’t people from your area make it in sports?

DR: There’s just so many talented people but road gets a hold of them, bare people I know could have made it. Footballers, professionals. They start smoking weed, that’s a big habit we all do. They don’t train and get out of the habit and they forget. Most people don’t maintain their composure, they don’t carry on. Armour, who’s a big boy MC, should have been a footballer. But road got us, road got all of us. We’d start doing anything, smoking, jacking pizzas from a pizza delivery man. Start trouble, forget about things. I almost forgot about music, man. If I wasn’t expressing myself in music, I wouldn’t have carried on.

MC: At what age did you realise that music is way more important than anything to you?

DR: When I weren’t allowed in school. The last year of school they started to just let me into music [classes]. Because that was the only teacher that liked me, that believed I had a talent. He really believed in me. Then I realised “fuckitt” and I’d go in the back room every day because all I cared about was music. I kept making tunes: if you hear these tunes [now] they’re just advanced versions of the tunes that are still in the computer in school. It was Mr Smith in Langden Park in Poplar. It was my last school and he believed in me, differently. He knew my mum. It was the only lesson I was allowed in but it paid off. Like I said – the positive, the negative – I weren’t allowed in school, didn’t get the grades I should have got but in the end what I really wanted to do, I ended up doing. And I got an “A” in music.

MC: Do you think more teachers should have believed in you?

DR: You know what, as I got older I could see things from their point of view. Like you’ve got this kid here, you’re trying to deal with the class but this kid is disruptive. He’s rebellious towards you, he ain’t got no respect towards you or whatever. But at the same time they had to realise that I was from road, and I had a stinking attitude, I didn’t want to hear nothing from no one.

MC: It sounds like you had a lot of “rage,” is it that “rage” that your fans relate to?

DR: Everyone’s got a bit of it in them. Like everyone’s got a bit of Wiley in them. Any musician that everyone feels, has a bit of it in them, like Michael Jackson or Elvis, Jimi Hendrix. But school was angry full stop. My background and everything around me weren’t nice, like. It was grimey. Bad attitudes all around me, towards me. It was a struggle as an only child. It felt like me against the world, against everyone. It didn’t feel like I had a lot of friends. I was a different child, angry, differently angry in an area where there weren’t a lot of angry people around me. Not that many. But the music rocketed me out into an angry, angry world. I came back and everyone’s angry from where I’m from as well. It’s just like that now bwoy.

When it feels like the world against you, you forget how many people relate to you. Like 2Pac. He felt like everyone hated the world, but look what he left behind: every single person felt like him, and he didn’t even know it. I’ve come to realise that – rah – there’s people that obviously feel the same as me. That’s how you feel the balance. It’s all good having come from the previous belief that it was me against everyone.

MC: Do you think it might be important to preserve your anger?

DR: Yeah, like the balance, if you lose your anger … you see people that turn soft, water their stuff down and there’s no anger, then there’s no balance and they’re only satisfying one half of themselves. I always keep that anger and that balance. There’s always going to be stuff to make me angry. It’s my personality now, after a certain age you just get a set personality don’t you? The more situations you go through it builds up, it makes you who you are, getme?

MC: What things make you angry at the moment?

DR: Personally I don’t give a shit, but the way people are so quick to judge. People who look at someone’s face and make assumptions, or look at the way people are. And I hate people staring. Everything gets me angry, I’m at that age. Just moods. Just the vibe around me, everyone’s got the same kind of attitude. Everyone talks the same and everyone’s got problems.

MC: So why is it like that, where you’re from?

DR: It feels oppressive. It feels like there’s no way out. If you know there’s a way out … but if you know you’re stuck around people. You’re not trapped, there’s a world out there, but your mind is trapped. So everyone feels trapped, squashed and they feel angry, stuck in the same place. People start snaking each other out, people start setting each other up. It starts getting real. England feels crammed… there’s no space… like, rah, I want to get out, it’s fucked. If you’re in an area where it doesn’t look like there’s a way out, didn’t do well at school, you’re shotting, whatever, seeing the same old cats, same old dealers, same old beef, same old shootings, that goes to your head getme? It makes you a part of it. Regardless of whatever you’re trying to do. So that mentality is always in there.

Everyone can’t relate to that. If someone’s watching the news in say, after Watford, dem kind of areas, decent areas, seeing shootings it’s not going to have the same kind of effect on them. It’s not part of their lives so they’re gonna think “oh look what’s going on over there.” But people who are living inside it where people are being shot, they’re feeling it getme? It’s just standard. So they’ll have that part inside of their spirit.

MC: On January 1st 2003 the media woke up to the state of British gun crime following the double murders in Birmingham. Do you agree?

DR: 2001 was when everything started kicking off. 1999, 2000 was when more people started coming up, different people, different areas, people started mixing. By 2002 there was a lot of beef. A lot of people died. It was war. But this year just looks like a retaliation year. No joke bruv. 2003 my generation are getting older, out into the world, at 18. So they’re stepping into the world with a gully-ier attitude than the ones above us. They’re bad and everything, but when you’re young and that’s just being drummed into you… the ones above us, they must forget they’re doing it, all the badness they do or whatever. And we’re just seeing it. And the yout’s under us they’re seeing what we do. So the level of anger is always going to be more as you go down. So the guns are just gonna keep growing and growing.

MC: Is it really common now to have access to guns in your area?

DR: There’s lot of people who front, who chat shit. Lots of people are buying 8mm rebores, like the ones that are drilled, conversions. But there’s better guns coming in. People want to show off, it’s fashion, it’s just the culture. So it is getting more and more dangerous: Mac 10’s are getting quite common. People who are making g’s need Mac 10’s. Murder rates are going to go up bwoy. Machine guns, people selling them on. There’s mad stuff like war weapons, just on normal roads, and people can’t even see it. It’s about and imagine it’s visible to us and [the generation] underneath can see it as well, and not even understand the way it is. So if you seen something and it’s just standard to you, you’re always gonna recognise it and not even care what it is, and just do it. When they’re going to raves and it’s thugged-out, they’re watching it then it’s already drummed into them that this is what we do all our lives. Everything escalates, getme? It’s just standard. Then underneath them… it’s nuts.

MC: But if we’ve got parts of Britain where gun crime is normal and parts of it where it never happens, how is the country going to function together?

DR: People are getting smarter. Human nature is to branch out, we’re nomadic, innit. So people see that there’s a better life there it spreads. Nothing can’t escape nothing. It’s gonna spread.

MC: In inner cities all different races mix and understand each other, but what about the villages where there’s only one type of culture?

DR: It’s positive and negative. They’ll never understand, but their children will. There’s always going to be interest from children. Whatever is happening over there, children need to know what’s going on. If they just happen to stray in that direction, which is music, the understanding will be there. The youth is the next generation of people and everything will balance out, getme? That’s what I believe.

DR: It’s happening. People are getting more and more aware, people you never expected. Eminem, he opened people’s eyes man. The way people are talking about his film [8 Mile]. He’s gonna make any kids in suburban areas who weren’t really aware, that whole thing will make them understand. Even though they can see struggle, subliminally they can see everything else around him. They will able to identify more that, rah, they’re from that.

MC: Why do so many people relate to the big American rappers when we live differently to them?

DR: Everything’s glamorised. America… the thug life, it looks glamorous. So people take to it more and more, not knowing that they’ve got it already. Bad things are glamorised, big cars, new fashion talk, guns, big guns, films, music videos… they’ve got it here… but it’s like we’re related to them.

MC: But isn’t there’s loads of US jiggy rap culture that’s really superficial?

DR: People are still fooled. Once people expect to see what they expect to see, they can’t see that say a car is just rented for the video. Some people don’t look into things. They look at the telly but don’t look into the telly. Getme? The American rappers are like putting a pot of gold under your face but saying “you can’t touch it.” That’s what they’re doing. But if you show people: “look, I’m from where you’re from, this is where we’re from and this is what we’ve got now. And you know what, you can do it too, everyone can do it.” So anything that was initially bad, you can see it rise into good.

MC: You talk about the TV, but how do you feel about the internet?

DR: Ah, I stay away from that man. It is kind of dangerous: human beings I don’t think they should have that much contact. There’s too much talk on the internet, though it is amazing that people can communicate from different parts of the world. But I personally stay away from it because I’ve seen people lose their identity. I’ve seen people lose their identity in another world. Their minds are not free around them, its channelled into one circuit and it’s all theory. So your minds over there, there, there, talking, talking, talking. You’re forgetting what’s really going on, just gossiping, dat dat dat… everyone talking, chatting shit, whatever. And you get into that habit and it’s not good. I don’t want to be part of that hype. I read a bit of it to see what’s going on, but most of it’s all gossip and shit anyway. But for facts and getting information, it’s heavy.

MC: What’s the best rumour you’ve heard about yourself on the internet?

DR: Oh shit. Dizzee Rascal’s in jail. I’ve been arrested a couple of times but jail, no. It’s all Chinese whisper style, getme? One little thing gets out, gets changed, changed, by the time it goes from two people to bare people. So what else… that I’m [More Fire Crew member] Ozzie B’s cousin. We ain’t related, we’re just safe. Oh yeah I’ve heard bare times that I’ve been shot. I heard I got rushed at Caesars: I’ve never got rushed at a rave, ever. Any time there’s a shooting at a rave my name always comes up.

MC: Have you ever written about your experiences with the police?

DR: I’ve got a couple of tracks saying a few things about the police. You’ve got remember that some lyrics were written at a certain time, but I don’t go out and cause trouble really. I stay out of trouble… I try to. I try to steer clear of them. But growing up they were very unhelpful. They had no sympathy for us at all. As soon as we turned a certain age they just started treating us like we was doing something wrong already. We’d get pulled over in cars looking for draw, looking for guns everything. We get chased all the time by the police, still. Get chased and try not to get caught. We do a couple of naughty things – we’re boys getme? But the police don’t treat us good. But it depends on how you deal with them because at the same time I see from their point of view and what they’re trying to do. Some of them are genuine, they want to clean up things and make things better. But there’s crooked police because everyone’s just human anyway. My thing is music, that’s what I decided to do, but some people, bad people, decided to be policemen. There are people in my area, who saw everything I saw around me, robbed people, maybe stabbed a couple of people, whatever, now they’re being policemen, getme? As I’m going into my music life they’re going into my police life but at a time we were all doing the same thing. So, bwoy, what does that say?

MC: What do you reckon to George Bush?

DR: The way I look at it is I’m just a child, I don’t have a personal opinion on this. I’m just saying what I see, OK? But I see this man on the TV, he just wants to fight, he just wants war, his own personal thing. But when I look around it doesn’t look like the world wants war. Every time he looks so dead set, like: “why don’t you people believe me? Come one, what’s the matter with youse?” Egging them on. He’s like a little white Don King. Like I said I don’t have an opinion, but I’m saying what I see with my eyes. When I turn the [sound on the] TV down and just look at the TV in front of me I just see this man who wants to fight and people, the media control, just ain’t thinking for themselves. We’re talking about guns [in the UK] but I see a man on TV with nuclear weapons and he just wants to fire them about. He’s just picking on everyone and at the end of the day I haven’t seen him in an army suit personally. I know he’s a big man but he’s starting so much arms and just sitting back watching it. He’ll be in his bunker and come out to watch the devastated world, and probably say “oh well.”

MC: What do you make of garage at the moment?

DR: I haven’t heard everything you know because I’ve been cut off, from that world for ages. But from what I see the state of it, people are getting bored. There’s a lot of new talent coming out, everyone’s on it and it’s a culture now. But people are getting bored of raves and tired of the arms. It’s looking like it’s just arms all the time, just beef all the time. People are getting bored.

MC: People are talking about a 4-to-the-floor old school garage revival, how will that sit in the same scene as your music?

DR: It won’t work. It’s two different generations and two different kinds of attitudes. Our generation – and Heartless Crew just slip into it – is the Pay As You Go’s, the So Solids, the More Fire generation. And the generation above is Creed, Unknown MC, Masters Of Ceremony’s and them type of stylee, If you listen to it it’s different type of things, getme? The two sets of beliefs will clash and I don’t think it will work.

MC: Do you feel like a voice of a different generation?

DR: Yeah, much different, because I don’t really know what was going on in their day. I might have about those days but I was doing something down there [makes knee high to a grass hopper gesture] when I was little, when they were doing whatever they were doing when they were my age, getme? I know things are different, definitely different: road wasn’t as grimey when we were younger. It weren’t much of a culture then. It was a new thing. It was something but now garage is a culture. It’s life. Raves, [pirate] radio, it’s people’s lives. It’s going to separate, it’s coming, like garage came from jungle. I think it will have to and in a way it has. People have decided they’re either “that” or “that.”

MC: The stuff that you and Wiley have been doing, putting beats all over the place, don’t fit with 4/4 garage do they?

DR: No they don’t. It’s expression. I respect what they [4/4 producers] are doing, because I respect any musician, getme? But they’re doing what they think they’re supposed to do. But we just don’t give a shit. Put out 138 [bpm - a fast garage speed] things, put out 170, 165’s [bpms - drum n bass speed] do anything, because music is expression. “Still The Same” [with More Fire Crew] was 165. We do that because at the same time the scene has still got a part of jungle in it. Wiley was a jungle MC, and I’ve always liked jungle. I was a little jungle DJ. I think “right I can ride jungle as well, I might as well use that for my benefit.” I can ride fast and people might feel in a fast mood, but they don’t have to go to jungle because we’ve got everything within our own scene. It’s not just one speed, set, there’s gonna be music within music.

MC: If it separates is there gonna be a name for your new style?

DR: You know what they’ve given us a name? “Grimey garage”, that’s what I keep hearing. It’s garage but it ain’t garage because it’s ours. We did what we did. It’s got influences from r’n’b, jungle, soul, hip hop, garage – everything.

MC: Tell me about the r’n’b tune Roll Deep have done called “You Were Always?”

DR: That’s Wiley’s one. We’re into doing r’n’b tunes for the girls or for people to reflect on love. Because love is a big part, there’s a lot of love but there’s a lot of hate as well. So we have to make them tunes because people want to get them feeling out as well. Like I said with the jungle [tempo productions] and people want to jump about, angry when people want to fight, this for boys and girls. Wiley did that tune, sampled an old tune to remind people of dem times, dem days in his own stylee.

MC: What other things are on your album that you’re excited about?

DR: There’s a tune called “Sitting Here” it’s explaining that … we’re known for just sitting on the wall. We chat shit, smoke, start trouble, do whatever yeah… run from the police, chuck things at cars. We’re just sitting here and I realised that when we’re just sitting here I just think. I think about everything. Sitting, just sitting. All though we’re all talking, everyone sits there and just thinks. We’re getting to that age when we’re just thinking “rah” with every thought just going through your mind. And that’s what it’s about. We’re all just sitting there, all thinking our own private thoughts, and eventually we’ll see everyone’s thinking the same kind of thing. There’s another tune “Is This Real?” About how hectic it’s been as we’ve got older in the last couple of years. All across London, all the changes that have been going on. Actions causing reactions… pondering is this real? Look how much has happened. Saying at the end if we stick together we can all get through this. All though it’s negative it’s got a positive message.

MC: Have you signed an album deal?

DR: We’re taking the next step further, we’ve dug deep into it. We’ve been speaking to people for ages but we’re keeping things on a low. We’re moving ninja. Keeping it all gully.

MC: Garage is in a state when no one’s getting big deals, how do you feel you can ask for one?

DR: The way I see it, I don’t represent garage. What garage does, garage does. I’m thinking of my personal pocket, this kid from road, money is around me, I know I want money, I see this Lexus, that Merc… I want it. I’m not limiting myself because garage doesn’t get me. I want what I want, gimme the loot, gimme the dough, I want money.

MC: What’s more important to you being rich or being an original, creative artist?

DR: You know what, honestly: being a creative artist. But I know I like money, I wanna get paid. But being creative of course … that’s why I live as well. Some people when they get paid they cut themselves off, they surround themselves with things that exclude reality from their vision. I make sure I’m seen around certain places, gully areas, so people that I know I’m still here, the same as you. I keep my originality, that’s more important to me. I always try. Sometimes I can’t write because I don’t want to write shit. I could start writing “the jewels, the bling” easily, but it’s not about that. It’s about originality. But who doesn’t want to be rich?

MC: What sort of things make you happy?

DR: Money. I like it when my friends are happy. I like when my friends have dough. I like the unit, I like something organised, even though I’m a messy boy. So when I see other peoples with stuff I think yeah my peoples got stuff, getme? Not just me but everyone, you feel comfortable when everyone around you has got, and you’ve found a way for everyone to have. Y’getme? That makes me happy when I see people with stuff and they’re going somewhere, moving and not letting the hype get them down. Because the hype is big heavy blanket. People pull it over and can’t ever get free. The hype: it’s a net. People get all into it, dig deep deep into it, and do things, they don’t know why they’re doing it, they’re just doing it. The hype. Road: it’s got big hype. Like I said before the shotters, who just shot cos they want to shot. The girls who go for the ones who are doing it for the name, who talk the talk. My name’s in the hype but I’m not in the hype. I’m ninja. I go in and out to see sometimes whats going on, and come back.

MC: What’s the difference between shotters and blotters?

DR: Blotters is just a different word for shotters, innit. Drug dealers. “Bust a shot” can mean to shoot someone, but generally these days it means drug dealing. “Cats” are people that are addicted, like badly addicted. They rob all day to just buy drugs, they all live in crack houses. Crack’s bad. I’ve seen heroin fuck up lives: it’s the devil’s drug. To be honest I don’t know which one’s worse. Some people buy both, two brown, one white. I’ve seen cats who huddle up to the car when people are shotting. They come in groups, they’re like zombie’s I swear to you bruv.

Dizzee Rascal, Wiley Kat and the Roll Deep Entourage are now signed to XL records

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Copyright © Hyperdub 2003 – Reprinted with permission.

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Riddim.ca was founded by DJ/writer paul autonomic (aka Mr. Bump) in February 2005 as a hub for North America's nascent grime and dubstep scenes. Since then we've helped promote events across the continent and made friends around the world. Mostly dormant now, we're host to one of the web's largest collections of writing on the late-Garage dis/continuum as well as a growing collection of rare audio and scans (coming eventually).