Up the Dubz
Role models? Nah. They don’t think so. Tulisa talks N-Dubz business with Lauren Murphy
IT’S MID-JUNE and I’ve found myself in something of a quandary: N-Dubz’s Irish label rep has just asked me which of the trio I’d prefer to talk to. I think back to March 2009, when I last interviewed the group in Dublin’s Morrison Hotel, and how I was greeted by a flurry of limbs, shiny tracksuits and gold jewellery as the two male members tumbled around the plush suite in a playfight while their female counterpart patiently sat in the corner and rolled her eyes exasperatedly. N-Dubz, you see, are what some might call “characters”. Dappy is the more animated, unintentionally hilarious personality, Fazer the coolest, and Tulisa is the one with the coherent answers – the self-confessed chav with a heart of gold and manicured claws of metal.
But let’s backtrack for a second. Perhaps you’re wondering who the hell these kids with the made-up names actually are. Some of you may already be versed in the music of N-Dubz, particularly those of you in your teens (or well-acquainted with some teenagers), or those of you who have an aversion to music being played aloud from mobile phones on public transport.
The trio’s story begins in Camden, north London, about 10 years ago. Dino “Dappy” Contostavlos is the son of late Mungo Jerry bassist Byron (referred to by the band as Uncle B), who managed the group in their early days. Tula “Tulisa” Contostavlos is his cousin, Richard “Fazer” Rawson their childhood friend. The question is, how do three kids from a council estate become an inadvertent cultural phenomenon, sell 1.5 million combined copies of their two albums, clock up 20 million YouTube views, and earn three MoBo awards and the adulation of swarms of British and Irish kids along the way?
When I eventually speak to Tulisa – after multiple schedule wranglings and postponements – she’s newly arrived in Los Angeles. The 22-year-old has travelled to the US with her band mates to work on new songs for Def Jam Records, with whom they recently signed a US deal.
“At the moment, UK music is really blowing up in America, with people like Taio Cruz and Jay Sean,” she enthuses. “From the first day I came out here, they’ve had these UK dance tunes playing in all the clubs. With us, Max Gousse [Def Jam vice-president] came down for a couple of shows, watched us perform, we had a few meetings, and that was it. We flew to Los Angeles and had a meeting with LA Reid himself, and he felt it. He got it. He was like ‘you guys don’t need to change a thing, you’ve got it how it is. I love you guys.’ By the next morning, they were like: ‘Yeah, we’re gonna
sign them. We’re negotiating contracts now.’ We were like, ‘sick!’”
Although they’ve been making music together since they were 12 years old, the trio’s ascension to urban-music deities has accelerated over the past two years. Their deal with Def Jam epitomises both their place at the apex of the UK scene, along with acts such as