INTERVIEW

“Question: what do Roni Size, Talvin Singh, Ms Dynamite, Gomez and Badly Drawn Boy have in common? That’s if you’ve not forgotten them, which you probably have. Answer: they’ve all fallen prey to the Nationwide Mercury Music Award Curse. Until 2003 the Mercury Prize and its renowned WASP-y panel, continuously concerned about being branded the […]

“Question: what do Roni Size, Talvin Singh, Ms Dynamite, Gomez and Badly Drawn Boy have in common? That’s if you’ve not forgotten them, which you probably have. Answer: they’ve all fallen prey to the Nationwide Mercury Music Award Curse.

Until 2003 the Mercury Prize and its renowned WASP-y panel, continuously concerned about being branded the white, selective establishment they are, could not shrug off the curse they cast on anyone so unlucky as to win. Champions’ careers were doomed to over exposure, swallowed by their own fabricated brilliance and therefore, unable to live up to expectations, most follow-up albums subsequently failed. That or they were just plain ignored. In his 2006 article ‘Curse of the Mercury’ Independent journalist Andy Gill even went so far as to describe the award as “the Cenotaph at which is mourned the loss of a musical generation.”

But then again, 2003 was the year of the Rascal. The calamity’s wrath showed little sign of relenting until the night one ballsy 18-year-old east Londoner bounded up to receive the award for the best album, his debut ‘Boy In Da Corner’. There were no feelings of apprehension, well, not from Dizzee anyway, who welcomed the award with youthful enthusiasm and to cement his jovial indifference, went back the next year to present it to his Mercury heir, the also still functioning Franz Ferdinand.

And so four years later, Dizzee is on album number three, ‘Maths & English’, and has just been nominated for another Mercury Prize thanks to it, testament to his ability to surmount such trivial blights. “It was bare shock, I felt sick when I heard about it,” says Dizzee hours after he found out the news. “I have been thinking for the past couple of months, ‘Imagine if I won the Mercury twice, that would be massive’ and now it’s actually happening.”
Dizzee Rascal (Dylan Mills to his mum) doesn’t play the role of Mercury philosophiser; he’s more concerned with getting the worldwide recognition he deserves for his craft. “It’s not fazing me, but I don’t quite know what to do other then hope that I win. I’m just thankful I’ve been nominated twice,” he says humbly, clearing his throat to offer in a serious tone, “”I worked long and hard on that album and for it to get this kind of recognition is amazing, seriously.””

Nor is he, for the record, superstitious. The Bow-born rapper was stabbed four times in the chest after being pulled off his moped in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, in the same year as his Mercury scoop – the media-manufactured curse proving the least of his worries. “Everyone was going on about the Mercurys and the ‘curse’ and I was like, ‘What the fuck’s going to happen?’. I don’t give a shit about it, I just wanna get on with my music,” he says. “My worry was not being able to make a good album after my first record and people thinking it was a fluke.”
Lucky for Dizzee, he made not one, but two follow-up masterpieces since, the most recent of which was three years in the making since his second release, 2004’s ‘Showtime’. Unleashed in June of this year, to a wash of critical acclaim, ‘Maths & English’, has already notched up sales of 75,000 and charted at number seven. Wise men say luck comes in threes (third album, three years, you get the picture) and Dizzee sees his chances of winning again quite highly. “It’s a crazy one ‘cos no one’s ever lost twice, so if you look at it like that my chances of losing are probably very slim,” he muses, but is keen to stress that if anything he’ll win on his new album’s merit alone. “If you actually look at the album, it’s really good,” he says, not so much arrogantly, but more with an overwhelming sense of pride.

He also stresses that he’s already had the genius to snap up the best of Britain onto many of his (not so lucky) 13 tracks. “There are elements of some of the best British music on it full stop. You’ve got Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen’s, I’ve got drum’n’bass with Shy FX, that’s British history, so that alone should win it.”

He’s not wrong. ‘Maths & English’ is riddled with rump shakin’ party tunes designed as much to provoke, as they are to fire up the dancefloor. Controversial lyrics on lead off single ‘Sirens’ – Dizzee adopting the part of a mugger – collide head on with hard-hitting nu-metal guitars. In fact, this record so successfully bridges the gap between rock and hip-hop that it does conjure image of his baggy jeans-wearing, backwards cap-touting fore bearers, if it weren’t for that indelible garage and D&B underscore and Dizzee’s trademark MCing. What’s more, new single ‘Pussy’Ole (Old Skool)’ is the summer anthem for 2007 with its Lyn Collins and the Galactic Funk Band-ripped sample, creating an ingenious retro-meets-’90s rave break. Anyone who can’t move to that must have rigor mortis. “There’s loads of different influences there, from indie to D&B or grime to hip hop,” says Dizzee. “I’m into so much different music and since my first album I’ve obviously been on tours [with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pharell, Sean Paul, Nas and Dizzee’s hero Jay-Z] and at festivals travelling the world, so I’m actually getting to see more of everything.”
“I’m trying to cater for them,” he adds, admitting that whereas ‘Showtime’ was an “intricate” record, ‘Maths & English’ is definitely more “accessible.” On the astronomic volume and giant production of the new record he says, “Why can’t we just step up the levels and, you know, like working with Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen, just make it bigger? Ya get me?” However he admits it’s not quite at stadium rock amplitude yet, adding, “that’s probably the next approach, I’m definitely big on that.”

It’s rapidly becoming apparent that Dizzee Rascal knows he’s got skillz of the global variety. He has transcended the E3 grime scene that bore him, risen above the Roll Deeps and the More Fire Crews, and old friends like Wiley are now mere blips on his international radar. He makes no qualms about his intentions for superstardom through his new ‘accessible’ album or his electrifying live performances. Admitting he was the first big star of the grime scene, he continues, “A lot of people feel I’ve abandoned the genre already and I’m like, ‘Sorry, I’m an artist’. I don’t think that each album I do should sound the same.”

“People refer to ‘Boy in Da Corner’, but that came out in 2002 or something. It’s 2007 now. I ain’t 18 no more, and I can’t put aside what I’ve learnt and all my new experiences just to make something that sounds like it did when I was 18. Without me there’s no grime to talk about, but I wasn’t trying to be a grime artist in the first place.”

Rather he’s joined the dots between grime and indie, united different races and class backgrounds, symbolized- if you will – by his performance of ‘Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend’ (a track he and his mentor, manager and producer Cage later reworked, keeping in Alex Turner’s vocals for his new record) at Glastonbury this year. “Glasto was amazing, I’ve never seen what 80, 100,000 people or whatever it was laid out in front of me before,” he declares with disbelief. “They were just all off their face on every drug‚”I was not impressed by the mud though.”

On the oft-asked question of the media’s much-loved expression of ‘trashing genre boundaries’ however, he is a lot more blas√©. “I never saw [the crossover] coming. I’ve never really come across the ‘Hoxton type’ too much, that whole indie thing,” he admits. “I’ve always been aware of indie, but I never thought for a second that music we was making on the underground would crossover. It’s amazing though, I love it.”

To Dizzee it’s more fans, more of which he is going to ensnare at his performance at Get Loaded in the Park in later this month. “I think ‘Sirens’, ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ and ‘Stand Up Tall’ are going to go down well there,” says Dizzee, “but with my set, fucking, everything’s special.”

With enough ego to put out a confident performance on stage, dodge the press, and escape potential smothering by his record label XL during the creative process of ‘Maths & English’, but not enough to challenge Kanye West proportions yet, Dizzee has become a leviathan contender to US hip hop. And so, ego in tow, he’s not about to bow to any Mercury curse repercussions just yet. “I’ve lasted this well and I can’t see it ending,” he finalises. “I didn’t get pushed into this, I’ve done everything I humanly could to get where I am now. I’m in it to win it.””

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