Cheeky Ras­cal

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 Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

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

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