Dizzee Rascal provided the soundtrack to the summer with his superhit Bonkers. Happy to take the benefits of floating in the mainstream, the former Mercury prize winner is bringing the underground overground. He tells Jim Carroll how he got on the right t
THE TICKET has some form when it comes to interviewing Dizzee Rascal. The first time we encountered him, he was truly something of a rascal. It was 2004 and the then 19-year-old was hawking his second album, Showtime.
After we had spent a couple of days trying to track him down, Dizzee finally picked up the phone. It quickly became obvious that he’d answered the call thinking it was someone else other than another bloody journalist.
The chat lasted all of seven-and-half excruciating minutes before both parties made their excuses. The most interesting takeaway from that interview: Dizzee muttering about the need to get a second mobile phone.
Three years later, the action switched to the south London offices of XL Records, the label that released his first three albums. On this occasion, Dizzee was friendly, smart and funny. One moment, he was showing me videos on his phone of young lads rhyming in an east London park. The next, he was explaining how he picks up all the news on the streets in his local barbershop: “You can find out a lot sitting in a chair at the barbers”.
As the interview ended, he mentioned that his deal with XL was over and he was moving on to new pastures. “You ain’t heard the last of Dizzee Rascal,” he said defiantly, as he bounded down the stairs and out the door.
Dizzee turned out to be as good as his word. It’s summer 2009 and pop music fans just can’t get enough of the man born Dylan Mills. He’s had three Number One singles in the last year, each one bigger and bolder and cheekier and brighter than the one which came before it. Those three monster hits — Dance Wiv Me, Bonkers and Holidays — are the trailers for his forthcoming fourth album, Tongue N Cheek. The Rascal is on a roll.
Today, our chart-topping superhero is chilling in a swanky room in Belfast’s Malmaison hotel. Later on, he’ll headline the Belsonic festival down the road and send a couple of thousand people bonkers.
Life for Dizzee Rascal version 2.0, then, must be brilliant. Dizzee grins.
“You can say that again. It’s hard to get used to, but in a really good way. My music seems to have definitely reached more people, especially say, people who might not have been into the underground stuff I was doing before. Before this, I was more underground than the underground and never had this kind of fuss. But it’s nice, man, real nice.”
There are some things, though, he’s find- ing hard to take in his stride.
“Sometimes you do want to be left alone, especially when I’m eating my dinner,” he frowns. “I was in an airport the other week and there was a queue of people waiting for me to finish eating so I could sign autographs for them. I don’t get much time to myself anymore so I like to be left alone when I’m eating. But then again, I wouldn’t be eating without those fans so it’s one of those things.”
The reason for this outpouring of mainstream love and affection and need to acquire his signature comes down to Dizzee’s new tunes. While his first couple of records received much acclaim – debut album Boy In Da Corner won the Mercury Music Prize in 2003 – these were Dizzee’s underground years when he was the kingpin of the grime scene.
As the years went by, though, the east Londoner began to turn out tunes which were not as dark or intense as his early work. By the time of the release of Maths & English in 2007, he was even beginning to let himself go and live a little.
Dizzee wanted to party and the bright lights were calling.
“Of course, I had aspirations to do the pop thing,” he says. “I was on tour with people like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake and I’ve seen their set-ups and thought I wanted some of that. I’d go to festivals and see those acts playing up on the main stage or sit at home and watch the music channels and reckon to myself that I could do that, I could be as big as them.”
All he needed was some tunes and Dizzee thought he had that one sorted. In 2007, he played a new track called Dance Wiv Me to the folks at XL Records. It featured some fancy lyrical footwork from Dizzee, a bit of a r’n’b blush from Chrome and some dance grooves from Calvin Harris.
“So I played it to them and they were ‘whatever’ about it and didn’t seem that keen, which was surprising to me. Then, when it came to the actual deal, they weren’t saying what we wanted to hear so we left.”
Dizzee shrugs. It made no difference to him that he would have to go it alone. After all, he’d done that before. “When we had made up our mind to split from XL, my manager Cage said to me that we’ve done this before, we’ve released records ourselves. It’s not new to me to be making these decisions, but this time, it was going to be at a much