24-year-old Dylan Mills, better known to you and I as Dizzee Rascal, is arguably the biggest up-and-coming (some would say already there) musical talent in the UK today. Here he talks to the SPG about his inspirations, his creative methods, and his secret desire for Barbara Windsor.
The Student Pocket Guide | Dizzee Rascal Interview
Hi Dizzee, what are you up to right now? I’m eating tacos and watching Jeremy Kyle.
How’s the States been treating you? Yeah I was other there for a couple of weeks doing a little tour and I went to Ibiza as well for a week. I did the Ibiza Rocks, Radio 1 and Radio 1 Extra show.
What’s been your highlight for the past few months then? I did an under-age festival at Vicky Park; it was really good to do a show for the kids. I don’t get the chance to get to a lot of the fans because they can’t get into the clubs.
You’re only 24 years old and doing so well. Can you tell us how you have managed to get into such a good position at such a young age? I am just relentless with my work. Whenever I reach one level I just go and try to reach the next level straight away. I’ve got good people around me and I just work really hard man.
Do you have a motto behind the way you think or work? My main motto is “Keep it moving”.
“Dance Wiv Me” has smashed it, reaching Number 1 here in the UK singles chart. What’s more important to you, selling records and getting to Number 1 or earning the respect of your fans? I think that to get to Number 1 you’ve already got the respect of the fans, innit. You’re talking about fan base, fan base, fan base but without making the song in the first place there is no fan base. None of that really makes sense, it’s cool to try and maintain a fan base and make tunes for people that have bought the tunes before but the reason that you get them in the first place is by doing something brand new.
That’s very true but what means more to you? Making good music man, everything else is debatable and you could go around in circles forever. Making good music, that’s all I care about.
Could you be considered a Grime artist? I’m an artist, that whole Grime thing is a journalist thing. The music I was making back in the day was really grimy or really edgy but I never personally had no name for it. First up the equipment that I had at the time did have that homemade, sparse, low production sound. I was coming up from doing raves and the pirate radio scene. It was grimy but I had the same principal then as I have now, just trying to keep people moving, dancing and thinking. Obviously I’ve had a record deal (although I’m out of it now) I’m on the TV and different people are hearing my music. I do festivals, I do sh*t all around the world so I’m reaching different audiences and naturally I’m trying to cater for them. You put me in any kind of genre and I’ll make it work. Grime’s a sub genre, it’s an underground thing. In that sense I wouldn’t be a Grime artist because I crossed over ages ago. It’s made its mark and you could say I was one of the people that helped do that.
Why don’t you think it has gone mainstream? The main concern of the MCs and Grime artists isn’t to be commercial. They’re making music for pirate radio, raves and their community. It’s not until people go around doing the bigger raves, start being exposed to those kinds of people and journalists start coming around putting them in magazines. That’s when they start realising.
So is that what inspired you to start your label Dirtee Stank Records? Originally it was just putting out records when I was on the pirate scene. My big single “I Luv You” which got put out by XL Records actually came out on Dirtee Stank first. Now the purpose of Dirtee Stank is to put out other artists music, i.e. artists from the Grime scene or the pirate radio scene. People who might not normally get the opportunity because the labels don’t quite know how to work with them.
Tell us about Newham Generals who are signed to Dirtee Stank… Newham Generals are a group from the London pirate radio scene. You’ve got Footsie who MCs and produces a lot of the music alongside Kage. D Double E is middling a bit in production but he’s a very well known MC in the underground scene and has been for a few years. I originally knew him from listening to Drum n Bass on Rinse FM. We signed them. They’ve got their new album coming out so we’ve just been putting the last bit and bobs together over the past couple of months and they’ll be ready to fly out at the end of this year. They’re shooting their first video in a couple of weeks. I personally compare their sound to a black version of The Prodigy. People know them as Grime or whatever but I think the sound is as big and as universal as The Prodigy. Obviously a bit edgier ‘cause they’re coming from a street angle.
So you’ve got your own label but are you still signed to XL? No, that was the big thing about “Dance Wiv Me” going number one. It happened whilst I was out of my record deal with XL. I’d completed my three album deal. “Dance Wiv Me” was released on Dirtee Stank. It was the first truly independent Number 1 in England for 14 years.
Wow what an achievement. Thank you man.
What are the main differences between a label such as Dirtee Stank and XL? There are less people for a start so you are more likely to get concentrated on. The only thing is you have got a lot more on your shoulders because you have got loads of other things to be thinking about but to be fair a lot of the things you have to think about we were doing at XL anyway.
Can you give us an idea of how you structure your ideas and thoughts into beats and lyrics. Do you have a method behind your work? Sometimes I might write a song to a totally different piece of music. Maybe months down the line I may find a beat that I actually like, that goes well with it and that becomes the song. The lyrics to my first track ‘I Luv You’ I actually wrote on top of a Jay-Z track called ‘Is That Your Chick?’ with a Timbaland beat.
So do you have a lot of pieces that you have written already that you may not have found a beat for yet? Yeah exactly, a lot of my tracks are just written like that where another track will inspire me to write it. Then I’ll find the next rhythm or instrumental to put it on. Sometimes if it’s simple I might build the beat and then the lyrics will come after listening to the beat over and over again. Sometimes someone else might come with the beat. I had the lyrics for ‘Dance Wiv Me’ for a little while before I got Calvin Harris to send me something. The two went well together, we found the hook and got Chrome involved.
What was it like working with Calvin and Chrome? None of the three of us were in the studio at the same time. We did everything through email because Calvin lives in Scotland. The only person I worked with in the studio was Kage who was also involved in the writing and everything. Me and Calvin never saw each other once apart from when we made the video and then afterwards.
You’ve worked with some great artists including Lily Allen, The Arctic Monkeys, Fat Boy Slim and obviously Calvin Harris and Chrome. Who would you most like to collaborate with on future projects? I would love to do something with Timbaland; he’s always been my favourite. Even from back in the day. He’s part of the reason why I made beats in the first place. Or Andre 3000 (from Outkast), that would be good and Amy Winehouse, that would be interesting.
Are there any signs of a fourth album? Yeah I’ve started getting on it now. I’ve got the Newham Generals thing to come and also Chrome is working on the new album but yeah I’ve got a few tracks down so I need to find time to get in the studio and put a good body of work in.
Haven’t you supported Justin Timberlake as well as Nas, Jay-Z, Pharrell, Sean Paul and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Yeah the most recent was The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. When I was 18 or 19 I supported Justin Timberlake but the exposure to Pop was just there, it was ridiculous. That’s when I was a Grime artist if you wanna call it that. I still had the appeal and for some reason I ended up getting on a Justin Timberlake tour.
How did you manage that at 18 or 19? It was mad because at the time it was just me and the DJ. I didn’t have a hype man or nothing. I suppose it was confidence and showmanship but I’ve never seen nothing like it. I remember being backstage waiting for him to come on yeah, it’d be like a minute before he comes on and there would be this roar, it was like an earthquake of girls stamping their feet. It was so scary, it makes you realise how dangerous little girls can be!
In another interview of yours you said you are “Still developing as an artist”. You continue to surprise us with your unique styles and you make it look very easy. What style of music do you feel most comfortable performing? Rap music. I love Hip-Hop that’s my thing. My favourite music after Rap is Drum n Bass. When I was younger I wanted to be a Jungle DJ.
Who did you look up to when you were younger? I liked a lot of rappers like Tupac, Snoop Dogg and Bone Thugs N Harmony. I also liked a lot of the Rock people as well. I also like Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses and Iron Maiden.
What is the purpose behind your broad creativity? Is it because you haven’t found a style which you are happiest with yet? Nah I think I just get bored. I do one thing and I move on straight away. It’s a conquering thing for me man; it’s like Bruce Lee with martial arts.
What was your childhood like growing up in London? Looking back on it now there was a lot mess about it, it was rough and violent. I have had to learn a lot of lessons early. I had a good mum man; she did a lot for me. She showed me and she’s a big part of how I look at life, just working hard no matter what. Do you know what I never saw my mum sit there and just lay about and get benefits or nothing like that. Even when she was ill she would go to work, whenever she could she’d be working, working, working, three jobs if she had to. She’d be the Avon lady or she’d sell clothes on the estate or she’d do the envelope thing, pack envelopes. I went kind of off the rails at a certain age. When you see what’s going on around you, you kind of start taking part in it.
So do think this has played a part in your determination? Yeah definitely, the closest person to me never gave up and it would take a lot to even take a day off. I didn’t see her a lot because I was at a babysitters or she came home and she was tired or whatever. When I got to that age I was independent, I could look after myself early. I used to go and get money myself or if I wanted to do something I’d be determined and I’d go and do it.
I’ve read that as a teenager you were detained for stealing cars, robbing a pizza deliveryman and you were expelled from four different secondary schools. Is it fair to say that music has saved you from living a life of crime? I stole a few cars but it was just a phase I was going through. That pizza man thing, people talk like it was like a career. It wasn’t a career, I just lived on the estate, and it was a normal thing. The pizza man would come and you just go and take the pizza innit – you know out of the box on the bike. To an extent music has saved me because it was the right choice to make. Around 16 – 17 years old I was doing both, doing the usual bullsh*t, but I was still going on pirate radio, I was still trying to do raves and get in the studio whenever I could. It came to a time when it was like what is the point of all this bullsh*t anyway. Then I just stuck solely with the music.
What age did it just trigger? I was deadly serious about it from when I was 12 and I got my first set of turntables. I used to let people in my house and we would make tapes. I was always deadly serious about it but I dunno man it was just boredom. I didn’t have a job and I’d just run around and do sh*t that you see people doing. I dropped out of college when I was 17 and I think from there that’s when it seriously took over and I thought I ain’t going to college no more. I’m gonna be in the studio all of the time and I’m gonna go to all the raves. A year later I got a record deal with XL Records.
What would you say to a young person on the streets that could go either way? You have to make music your life. Everything that you think you have got on the side line is just taking up space. I know guys who are doing whatever on the side and make their money and that. I try to make them understand that of course you’ve got to pay for this and pay for that but you need to make music your sole thing. If you’re the kind of person who is focused and you’ve got that fire and that burn you’ll make a way in music. You’ll find a way to get paid. If you’re thinking about something else that is nothing to do with it, it takes as much mental space and time. It’s conflicting. You’re kind of f*cking yourself up.
Do you still battle other MC’s on an underground level? Nah, not at all. I weren’t even in to it back then. I wasn’t in it for them reasons. I was more interested in being heard with the best MC’s. I thought it sounded good on the tape for other people to hear.
What’s your set up like at home, have you get decks? Nah where I live now I ain’t got nothing set up. Even some of the tracks from my last album I done just on a laptop and hooked it up with an audio wire to a stereo and just built the beats like that. Then I took it to the studio and made it better. When I move again I’ll set up a proper studio. We have got one, I just ain’t got one at home. I ain’t had turntables since I was 14 or 15.
What are your hobbies? I like a bit of martial arts. I like going to the cinema, I like computers and f*cking around on the PlayStation or the PS3 playing Pro Evolution or FIFA. I like arcades, I went Trocadero yesterday but it feels wrong, I felt a bit old being in there innit.
Yeah I know what you mean like in Sega World. Yeah that kind of sh*t, f*cking around on the gun games, yeah man.
Can you translate any London slang words which our readers may not have heard? Er… Nang, if something’s nang it’s really good, it’s proper. Bless means it’s all good innit, it’s cool. Bless means a few things like, hello, goodbye, thank you or it’s like saying I understand.
If you can give our readers one piece of advice, what would it be? Live life to the full and don’t give up on your dreams man.
Picture the scene. You’re lying by the sea on a beach in Barbados. What would you chose to drink? A cocktail, I like a Pina Colada.
If you could choose someone to be with you, dead or alive, who would it be? Pam Grier back in her day or a young Barbara Windsor.
What tune would you be listening to in the background? On the beach I’d probably be listening to Snoop Dogg.
Marmite, love it or hate it? I don’t really care about it to be fair.
To watch a live video interview with Dizzee Rascal (which includes his banging live performance at Beach Break Live) click here