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Dizzee Rascal: Im the one person who can say, Grime? Nah, I seen it, sorry!

The rapper changed the face of British music before he went pop. His influence is stamped on the charts, but hes not impressed by the current crop of stars or #grime4corbyn

On the roof of Googles offices in Kings Cross, Dizzee Rascal is excitedly taking in the London panorama. Look, theres Stratford, he says, picking outAnish Kapoors Orbit sculpture before spinning around with puppyish excitement. Canary Wharf Alexandra Palace Wait, wheres Wembley at?

Fifteen years ago, Dizzee only really knew a tiny part of this city his hometown of Bow, the place where he, with a little help from a school computer and a handful of peers, helped sculpt the sound of grime and changed the face ofBritish music for ever. He was just 18 when his debut, Boy in da Corner, was released, a record that for once justified a music journalism cliche: it sounded pretty much like nothing else that had gone before it, a spray of ricocheting beats and lo-fi computerised bleeps that underpinned his lyrical gift for sharing the thoughts of an edgy, paranoid, smart, frustrated, vulnerable kid from a council estate. It was the sound of the future, of critical acclaim and awards. And then Dizzee went pop. By 2008, hehad hooked up with Calvin Harris and embraced EDM; his fourth album, Tongue N Cheek, scored a string of No 1 singles. The boy from Bow, born 32 years ago as Dylan Mills, had conquered the city, and then the world. But hadnt done so without his share of criticism: those saying he had sold out, abandoned his roots and headed too far down the pop mainstream. His follow-up to Tongue N Cheek didnt help matters: 2013s The Fifth saw him teaming up with the likes of Jessie J and Robbie Williams. It felt like his firstproper misstep.

A few people thought that, its cool, he acknowledges. Hood pulled tight, he deals with questions like a boxer sparring in the ring: the answers come at pace and with the same forceful delivery that mark out his records. Im proud of those songs, proud that people play them at their weddings or that their two-year-olds dance to them. But youre restricted when youre making housey, electro poppy beats, and some people dont necessarily take you seriously as a rapper.

And so now on Dizzees sixth album, Raskit, and not for the first time in his career, there is a radical change of direction. I made a decision that Im not going to chase pop hits, he says. I wanted to go back to being as honest with myself as possible, not worrying about radio or that kind of shit.

Watch the video for Dance Wiv Me

Certainly, theres nothing here like Bonkers or Dance Wiv Me. In their place Dizzee delves into the fears he once had as a young rapper performing in the wrong postcode, frets about the precarious nature of fame (Wot ugonna do, when it all goes sideways? Gotta work weekend shifts at Mac Ds, and you cant partyon a Friday) and even tackles the housing bubble that is ripping up communities in the capital. On Everything Must Go, he goes as far as to sample such hip-hop luminaries asMargaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson, who turns up to promise us that London will never become ghettoised like Paris.

I guess a lot of what is happening now started with Thatcher, he says, showing me the book he is currently reading, Big Capital: Who Is London For by Anna Minton. But it wasnt about having a dig, it was about illustrating the story.

Has gentrification had a negative impact onhim personally?

Im from east London, he says, as if the answer is obvious, but then adds: I dont feel like I have the right to say. Youd have to ask people who still live there [in Bow]. Its all good going back, but then I can leave. Its all good if you have a choice. Dizzee currently lives in Kent he is done with the mortgage, as he points out on Business Man but he also spent a period living in Miami that, funnily enough, fired up an interest in politics hed never had back home. When we talk about the ghetto here, we have some harsh social conditions, he says. But over there, youve got third-world conditions there are places in Miami that are no different to Jamaica orHaiti.

Of course, Dizzees music has always beenpolitical, even if that wasnt his main intention. Partly this was a matter of visibility along with artists such as MIA, Dizzee represented afresh, multicultural vision of British music and partly it was through hisjournalistic approach to documenting therealities of estate life: on Hold Ya Mouf, Dizzee famously threatened to remove youfrom your car, before boasting: Im aproblem for Anthony Blair.

And Ive had it quoted back at me for ever, he says, shaking his head. Its not like Id sat down and knew all his manifesto. I was just trying to be a bit cheeky. Dizzee used to say he had no time for politicians, and in that respect not much has changed: I dont go outof my way to try and be around them, hesays, You have to look at their intentions or why they want you around.

What about Jeremy Corbyn? Doesnt he agree with fellow MCs JME and Stormzy that the MP for North Islington really is different to the others?

I feel like maybe people feel the same [about him] as they did with Tony Blair, he shrugs. Although I was in the barbers and the barber was telling me about a problem he had, getting his kid into a school or something. He rang his local MP and Jeremy Corbyn sorted it all out for him. So thats what Ive heard, firsthand. But as for #grime4corbyn and all that, I dont know about it. What are their reasons for supporting him?

I mention Corbyns anti-war voting record, his history of standing up to racism, his desire to help out poorer communities.

See, I didnt know any of that, says Dizzee.Was Tony Blair like that? I guess not. So Corbyn is more like Bernie Sanders or whatever, isnt he?

Winning
Winning the Mercury prize in 2003, aged 19. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Politics, says Dizzee, is too knotty for him. Even dealing with gentrification led to a mix of conflicting thoughts: he can appreciate the new stuff popping up in his area; he worries that the original residents dont get to feel the benefits; he wonders why they couldnt have had it transformed while he lived there; he knows from experience that the computers hemade his debut album on were donated to his school by businesses in nearby Canary Wharf themselves a shimmering monument to inequality. Its not straightforward, he says, which is why he would rather concentrate on music than attach himself to anyone elsescampaign.

Last year, Dizzee returned to east London for a rare moment of looking back, performing his debut album in full at the Olympic Parks Copper Box Arena. At the time, he said the experience made him want to go back to making his own beats, and the thought of Dizzee returning to his roots got people excited. After all, while Dizzee was busy transforming himself into a global pop star, grime finally broke into the mainstream: Stormzys debut album topped the charts last year and Skepta picked up an Ivor Novello award. You would think that might make him feel pride especially as new-generation artists such as Stormzy will happily bring him out to guest during their live shows but he seems nonplussed by it all.

Its not new to me, he says. Im probably the one person who can go against the grain and say: Nah, I seen it, sorry! I know what role I played in it. I know loads of these MCs still use my lyrics, my flow and my sound andall that. But Im here trying to make something new.

In truth, Dizzee occupies a strange place inthe scene. Like grimes godfather Wiley, hestill commands respect for his early albums his role in grimes development isntreally disputed. But he no longer feels involved, and no longer seems to want to be. Does he not fancy making a grime record for2017, one that sounds new? Skeptas Konnichiwa or Stormzys Gang Signs and Prayer are albums that feel modern, after all. No, he says. Gang Signs has gospel music on it! He pauses for a rare second. Theyre current, but its what theyre doing. Im tryingto do something else.

In fact, Dizzee did have a go at returning tohis original sound, but says he found himself uninspired: The beats were good butId done them before. Instead, he decided to look back at grimes earliest days lyrically, and from a perspective few other MCs could a true scene originator. The new album Raskit features a trio of tracks The Other Side, Make it Last and Ghost that reminisce about a youth spent MCing on pirate radio and playing edgy raves. He says he wanted the tracks to serve as a reminder that the golden days werent as golden as people like to make out. On Make it Last, he talks about a double murder at the Tudor Rosein Southall in 2002, a south London venue Dizzee was playing at the time (All Isaw was Gs/Bredders on their knees/Screaming Why dyou take my boy away? Godhelp him, please).

Theres a lot of talk of grime right now, buta lot of people dont understand what thatenvironment was like at the beginning, he says. It could be exciting, but it wasnt always as fun as it looked. Its not like I had a job or a house [with a] picket fence. None of us did. And, back in those days, it was the kind of music that would make people shoot their gun in a club. People died at those raves.

One reason Dizzee wanted to reminisce was as a way of settling scores with his critics. What he cant stand, he says, are self-appointed grime scenesters telling him what he should or shouldnt be doing with his music. More often than not, he says, its the hipsters who tell him he has sold out. And theyre the ones that jump on to anything every five minutes, he says, shaking his head. People become mouthpieces or spokespeople for the scene. Theyre dictating shit, but they werent there from the beginning. They like to talk like they were, but they wasnt. A bunch of them raves none of these people were at. So its a clap back at my critics, people who are always questioning my moves.

Watch the video for Wot U Gonna Do?

In Dizzees defence, those critics were often wide of the mark. Embarking ona pop direction was no less of a riskfor Dizzee than anything else noteveryone can make it work, as evidenced by the attempts of several grime MCs to replicate his formula. One of the reasons Dizzee pulled it off so spectacularly isthat he made it all look like a blast: he seemed permanently upbeat, and he could transfer that attitude on to his ever-expanding crowds. His songs changed focus to reflect hisnew life one long holiday that involved dancing, drinking and copious shagging. Iwas trying to make something nicer, he says. Of course I was having a good time thats what youre supposed to do, innit?

Success was a laugh for Dizzee, but it was also his escape route from a tense upbringing: he was expelled from four schools and often ran into trouble; shortly after winning the Mercury prize in 2003, he was stabbed by a rival crew member in Ayia Napa. Now, suddenly, he could travel freely, support his family, make a difference in peoples lives with his music. While some people feel more exposed through fame, Dizzee felt more protected and more focused. Id seen enough trouble, been in enough trouble, to know that I wasnt really missing out. I just wanted to compete with artists, not anybody else.

Did fame and fortune have any downsides?

I dunno, he says, before a grin spreads across his face. You cant slap people when they chat shit. That was easier back in the day.

Last month, Dizzee followed up his triumphant Glastonbury performance, the fifth of his career, by pulling no punches. They need to have me headline this thing, he told the BBC. Theyve had no British rappers headline this festival. They way Ive tore [it] up for years. Never disappointed. Youcan always count on me. Put me on that main stage.

It wasnt a rant, it just looks like one when its written down, he says, before going off ona bit of a, well, rant.

What more have I got to do now, innit? he asks. Because, sorry Gorillaz [who headlined in 2010 above him] did not get the reaction I got. Theyre not as big as me, theyve not done as much as me culturally, know what I mean? And, not being funny, butthat set was sleepy.

Not to be rude, right, he continues, butIwas on another stage while Radiohead headlined and they did not get the response Igot. Lets just be honest, if were gonna be doing that?

Appearing
Appearing at Glastonbury in 2010. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Honesty is something he keeps coming back to. In many ways, its the theme of his new album using beats he genuinely likes, telling stories as accurately as he can, making the music that is true to his heart. He wanted to make the best album he could, and has been trying to live clean of late, too, to keep his mind focused on the prize.

I could just be a glutton drinking, smoking, doing drugs and Id still be all right. Because, in rocknroll terms, people think thats cool. But I want to stay focused. Its quite boring, to be fair.

Is that what a typical day is like for Dizzeenow: all quinoa and Nutribullet kalesmoothies? Nah, there is no typical day, he says. Only that I wake up, eat, have a shower and sometimes have a shit. He considers this last point carefully: I do try to have a shit before Ileave the house, because I dont like shitting in anyone elses house. But thats the only thing typical about my day.

Actually, he says, its people such as Calvin Harris who followed up his collaboration with Dizzee on Dance Wiv Me with a meteoric rise to A-list fame that inspired him: He dont smoke. Dont drink. Dont do nothing. Just super on it, super focused, he says. Iwas on his private jet and it was like rollingaround with a fucking movie star, BradPitt or something like that! Ive neverseen women fall over someone so crazily, like, this is the same guy from DanceWiv Me?

He laughs: Hes got a million-dollar studio in his basement. Hed pick me up in a golf cart at the door. I thought I was living the dream, but he is really living the dream.

Dizzee looks out one last time across Londons skyline to appreciate his own dream. Its been a long career, he concludes. A lot of people have come and gone in this time, know what I mean? But Im still steadily in the game, and thats what matters.

Raskit is released on Dirtee Stank Recordings on21 July.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jul/16/dizzee-rascal-grime-nah-seen-it-new-album-raskit

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