In 2003, Dizzee Rascal became an overnight name to drop when his debut album, Boy In Da Corner, beat Coldplay, Radiohead and The Darkness to the Mercury Music Prize. Not bad for an 18-year-old from east London.
We collared the workaholic young urban star and found him as relaxed and refreshingly free from attitude as you like.
He’s in a chipper mood, and as he apologises for keeping me waiting all of five minutes, it’s easy to pick up on the energy that’s been responsible for two hugely inventive albums, that Mercury and a string of plaudits in a remarkably short space of time. Even doing promotional work – often the bane of an artist’s life – doesn’t seem to be fazing him.
“No, no, it’s cool, it has to be done! I appreciate what has to go on when you have a new record out (in this case the single Off To Work), and if it helps more people get a piece of me, that’s great!”
Stylistically Dizzee, real name Dylan Mills, has already made leaps between the Mercury winner, Boy In Da Corner, and the follow up, Showtime. On the second record, Dizzee says:
“Sonically it’s bigger. I think it’s a lot more melodic. It’s not as strange either. Whereas on Boy In Da Corner it was mostly chorus-verse-chorus-verse, this one can be chorus-verse-long-straight-hook, or some haven’t got a hook at all – like Imagine. That was something I wanted to try.”
“Sonically it’s bigger. I think it’s a lot more melodic. It’s not as strange either.”
– Dizzee Rascal on how Showtime is better than his Mercury Prize-winning debut album.
He agrees that the album is a product of him listening to a lot of different types of music.
“In the past couple of months I’ve been doing drum & bass, rock, watching loads of stuff like MTV2 and Kerrang! TV, enjoying everything from Korn to rare groove!”
It’s an appealing mixture. However, as diverse as Dizzee’s music is, his lyrics have one place in particular constantly in the foreground:
“I always see London having a place in my music, it’s always gonna be a major part of me… London looks different every time you come back – you appreciate it a lot more. There’s a lot of things you grow up with that you miss when you’re away, things like fat chips! Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the other areas of Britain – I love it up in the North and the Midlands, and Klass A are from Leicester.”
“For me, coming from the underground pirate radio and all that, to be nominated was such a big thing. I’m not bothered by that at all.”
– Dizzee Rascal is not bitter about Joss Stone winning Best Urban Act at The Brits.
Klass A is a new venture for Dizzee – the first group to sign to his new label Dirty Skank. In the short term, although the record label will keep him busy, touring is uppermost in his mind, as he gets ready to embark on a set of American dates at the end of March:
“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s the first time I’ve headlined over there and had an official tour. They’ve been really nice to me about the stuff I’ve been doing.”
He certainly makes a stark contrast to your typical American rapper, although he is at pains to point out that “I think I concentrate more on the actual music than rap at all.”
Nevertheless, one of Dizzee’s biggest inspirations is Tupac, part of a list that includes drum & bass (“which I fell in love with before anything!”), rock, hip hop and happy hardcore, all described by Dizzee as “extreme stuff”. All this while growing up with his mum, in the surrounds of gospel music and church life.
“Maybe it’s my age, or maybe I’ve got something like attention deficit disorder…”
– Dizzee Rascal on the secret behind his phenomenal work rate.
With such an underground backdrop to his career, I wonder if he is not mildly miffed that Joss Stone should scoop Best Urban Act at the Brits?
“Yeah man, she won! For me, coming from the underground pirate radio and all that, to be nominated was such a big thing. I’m not bothered by that at all.”
It seems that little bothers Dizzee ever, but then with two accomplished albums in less than two years, his own record label and now an American tour, it’s fair to say that his work rate is pretty phenomenal. How does he do it?
“Yeah man, it’s what I love doing all the time. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe I’ve got something like attention deficit disorder and just have to keep going and stick with the music! I don’t smoke a lot at the moment either, so I’ve not been sitting around so much!”
And with that his cue to not sit around here either, he goes on his way to wreak more havoc on the airwaves. America better watch out.