Dizzee Rascal: Still a rascal

10 Feb

UK rapper Dizzee Rascal might have hit the commercial big time in the past 12 months with his brilliant collaborations with American DJ/producer Armand Van Helden on single Bonkers, and of course the partnering with Calvin Harris on Dance Wiv Me. But after talking to him you soon realise that his vibe is still steeped in the gritty London underground.

He’s been pegged as the “best-known grime artist” globally but what has set him apart and ultimately brought him success is his unique blend of rap, electronic, garage, grime and reggae. His quick-talking no-nonsense attitude on the phone is almost as quick and direct as his rapping style.

“Grime to me was just making music that I felt, and just making different music, and that’s what I’m doing now,” Dizzee says early in the morning still tucked up in bed on the outskirts of London. “My music don’t sound like what it did six years ago and it’s not supposed to.”

His fourth album Tongue N’ Cheek, released independently on his own label Dirtee Stank, is a radical departure from the sound of last albums, Maths + Balance, Showtime and Boy in da Corner. He’s moved away from conventional rapping and the harsher sound of grime, and instead focuses on something more commercial, pop-based and smooth.

“I sound less erratic than what I did when I was 16,” he explains. “As far as flow and putting words together and that, I think I’m just as good, if not better.

“I definitely partied a lot more while I was making this album and I tried to gear more towards festivals and clubs – just fun in general. I’ve got everything from trance influences to reggae, hip-hop, R&B and electro-house. There’s still tracks on there that are that Baltimore style of house and hip-hop tracks that most rappers wouldn’t get away with doing.

“The typical thing for a rapper to do to get mainstream is to start doing R&B and I still haven’t done that. I’ve done a track with Tiësto, done electro-house tracks, but they’re still edgy.”

It would be nice to verify what Dizzee is saying, but he’s a tad paranoid about the album leaking, “I just want this one to be cool,” he says, and so no advance copies of the album has been issued to media ahead of his promotional schedule. The album was released last Friday.

But teaming up with Tiësto, the world’s No.1 electronic/trance DJ, for the last track on the album called Bad Behaviour does seem like one viable way of achieving commercial success.

“What I love about that track is its not a track you’d even associate with Tiësto, it doesn’t sound like anything else he’s done,” Dizzee says. “I guess what it’s all about is finding new ways to get your music out there. The bigger I’ve got the more I realise I’ve got more opportunities, and more opportunities means I can get my music out to more people.”

If you imagine his collaborations on the album involved studio time and hanging out with Calvin Harris picking up girls in bars akin to the Dance Wiv Me video clip, you would be mistaken.

You know what the crazy thing is? I’ve still never met Tiësto or spoken to him. I’ve never got in the studio with Calvin Harris, Armand Van Helden or Shy FX – it’s crazy mad. We’ve got all this done over the Internet. I’ve seen Calvin Harris every now and then at festivals, but we’ve never actually sat there in the studio and made the songs. I’m not fussed either way. All the people I work with are busy and I’m really busy as well.”

Lyrically, Dizzee has also kept this latest album tongue-in-cheek, focusing less on social issues and more on recounts of his sexual accomplishments (on Freaky Freaky) and a minor ruckus with the law (Road Rage).

“There’s a few social issues on there, but it doesn’t concentrate so much on the harsh realities. I talk about the recession and the violence, especially in the UK, but I still try and make them tracks you can dance too.

“I’ve got a track called Dirtee Cash, which samples a hit from 1990 by Stevie V,” and Dizzee breaks out singing, “money talks, money talks, sometimes I wanna…

“Another one called Can’t Tek No More has a reggae influence. It’s from the film Babylon staring Aswad.” Dizzee sings: “don’t turn around, ’cause you gonna see me…” from the song Warrior Change. “I think it’s about the soundsystems when black people came to England – the carnival stuff.”

And it seems Australia can’t get enough of Dizzee Rascal, who’s just been announced on the Big Day Out line-up in early 2010.

“My set up hasn’t changed, but obviously there’s a lot more hits since I’ve last been there and the album is going to go down really well, so it’s going to be the best rap performance to come through Perth… I don’t know of a better rap performer.”

[Edited version published in The Wire, The West Australian, Issue 19, 1.10.09]

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