Tuesday, 21 September 2004

Dizzee Rascal - A blast from the past

The summer heatwave is definitely on.

In the backyard of London’s Cargo bar and nightclub, it’s somewhat picturesque. We sit at an eloquently crafted wooden table, olives, mezzanine and chilled drinks the order of the day, the green leafed trees dancing oh-so slightly in the rare but warm Mediterranean-like breeze. Laughter fills the air as friends share a joke, a pleasant looking young man opposite us turns, his dancing, inviting eyes meeting ours as he reveals his recently stitched stab wounds to the chest and back…

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Dizzee Rascal.

On Monday 7th July 2003, Dylan Mills aka Dizzee Rascal, was the victim of a supposedly unprovoked attack in the holiday resort of Ayia Napa. Pulled from his bike, he was stabbed a number of times, wounds also inflicted on his legs alongside what he describes as ‘a little poke in the bottom.’ After emergency surgery and a few days recuperation in a Cyprus hospital, Mills was discharged.

Many people won’t have forgotten the initial hype. Within hours of the incident taking place the media were in a frenzy looking for the big scoop. Rumours flew across the internet, So Solid’s name thrown into the equation. Megaman soon assisted police in their enquiries and was subsequently eliminated. They say no smoke without fire but who knows?

With no celebrity suspect named, talk of retaliations between east and south London back in the UK became the new headline.

“…Even if I had beef with them it wouldn’t be an east thing…” an exasperated Dizzee rants “I ain’t got beef with them, none of that bullshit. I hear a lot of that but If you have a problem with someone from a particular area it doesn’t make it an area thing. I’m from London, I represent London and hopefully next I will represent England.”

The attack is supposed to be a pretty much closed subject area as far as today’s interview goes. Partly due to legalities, but also Dizzee’s own penchant to keep it ‘road’, to keep ‘the streets on the streets.’

Chewing the remaining flesh from his satay, discarding the stick with care while deciding what he fancies next, Dizzee looks up. “You know I’m not in Roll Deep anymore?” This is the same infamous ‘gat chatting’ crew from Bow E3 that Dizzee cites on his album, the most in demand crew in London that he was drafted into as a teen by XL Recordings label mate, Wiley. The news will no doubt devastate the original fanbase who have religiously collected tapepacks and pirate radio recordings.

“I left in Napa. They’re all blessed and that but I’m just Dizzee Rascal…It’s not a bad thing, I’m just not with them, as you get deeper in your thing some people go separate ways innit? I’ve been through a lot, I mean I keep saying ‘I’m from road, I’ve lived a violent life, I’ve been through shit,’ but this is more serious, it’s public…But I’m still here…”

Dizzee continues but with caution.

“I never thought I’d die (when I was stabbed), basically ‘I’ve gotta live it.’ It wasn’t an ambulance job where I was laying on the floor in a pool of blood like people are saying, someone took me to hospital on a moped! There was a chance I could have or should have died, the doctors told me that, I didn’t realise until then…”

Regardless of background and social status, an incident of this degree is going to have lasting effects, Dizzee playing no exception to the rule; having previously interviewed him on three occasions, this is one boy who’s fast having to grow into a man.

“I am appreciating life more, don’t get me wrong I was laying in that hospital coughing blood all night. That’s real” he laughs “You understand?”

“I don’t care if the media do or don’t leave it alone, cause I’ve said what I’m gonna say about it. My moral is road is road, music is music. I ain’t ever gonna speak.”

Some people may view this somewhat blasé take on crime as immoral. But this is another reflection of real life in the ‘ghettos’ and working class extremes of the UK, a reflection of the divisions that lie between communities and the law. It’s also this whole attitude that is part of what’s winning Dizzee the critical acclaim he can now boast.

Dizzee’s music career began back at school in Langdon Park, his music teacher Mr Smith, who’s also taught members of the Pay As U Go Cartel, spotting the evident talent.

“He did things differently, stylishly and with a real feeling…” Smith told Blues and Soul. “He had a wow factor and made such logical, musical sense. I loved it, adored it. He’d create tracks at school then take it to the studio and add vocals. Not everyone I play his stuff to likes it, but musically they can appreciate it. He’s pushed back barriers. I’d love to collaborate with him one day” Smith laughs.

At only 16 years old Dizzee produced and penned ‘I Luv U’, now a definitive street anthem dealing with teenage pregnancy which despite the tracks age only charted at no. 29 this year. The album that followed had critics snapping their pencils in excitement and confusion with a sudden urgency to understand these highly original street sounds they’ve been ignorant to for so long.

Likewise radio stations are gradually waking up but treading as warily as ever when it comes to playlisting the music that is the mouthpiece and rocking the stereos, raves and pirate radios of a new generation fed up with highly manufactured pop fodder.

Where the music is concerned Dizzee has an on-point conscious hip hop-influenced lyricism, laced with poignant tales of life in the London ghetto, and the struggles of being Dizzee Rascal. Minimal underground beats form in a style without a name, more down-tempo than Dizzee’s underground releases like Go and Ho, they are from the womb of a new genre of music, a progression of the UK garage of yesteryear, subconsciously drawing heavily from the Detroit and Miami bass scenes, as well as the more typically ‘urban’ genres.

“This whole underground thing isn’t garage, it’s coming from garage. Turn on the radio and you’ll know what time it is.” Dizzee explains. “There’s good emcees out there like Wiley, Doogz, Gift, Riko, It’ll be heavy when the next lot come through, I can’t wait. I say some positive things but I don’t think I’m a role model, I like to think I’m an inspiration to keep doing what you’re doing. I like the tempos of jungle and garage but I’ve also always wanted to do rap…It’s not just about breaking America, it’s about the world. We’ve sat back for too long like we’ve got nothing to say.”

Slightly surprising then that of all the people he could work with at the moment he’d love to hook up with Mario.

“I don’t know whether I’ll win the Mercury, there’s some big names nominated but I’d bet £150 on me.” He says through more laughter.

“It’s nice all this but I’m trying to be real to myself as well as make people relate. I’m spending my money on things that are going to last. Sometimes you have to go through extreme things to learn lessons, it takes a lot of little things to build up… Sometimes I feel depressed to tell you the truth, fuck all this, fuck everyone but other times I go to bed smiling.”

While Dizzee is fighting his own smiles and tears, at the time of going to press, police in Cyprus, working in close contact with The Met Police in London, still have out arrest warrants for two unnamed British men who fled the country soon after the incident, and who could, if found guilty, be charged with attempted murder.

Whether or not retribution is sought, he wins the Mercury, captures the hearts of America or his future releases catch a glimpse of the top ten doesn’t seem to be the be all and end all. Dizzee and his tales are like a sledge hammer knocking the establishment for six, the loudest of wake up calls to a government and society quick to ignore problems away from their own doorstep.

Anthony Blair fix up, look sharp, the ghetto’s need a hug.

Words: Chantelle Fiddy

A version of this article appeared in Blues and Soul Magazine, 2003.

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