Dizzee breaks down his rise from the Manor to pop stardom

Posted on 9 September 2009
By Pierce King, Purple Revolver
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Dizzee Rascal is being accused of many things, critics are aiming for him with the usual attacks… he has either grown up or sold out. Has he fulfilled his potential or gone pop?

His upcoming release Tongue N Cheek will be produced on his own label and due out next week, threatens to knock the Arctic Monkeys off the top of the album chart.

When quizzed on how far he thinks he can go, Diz cracks his winning and well versed Rascal grin, he says: “I’m going to be big. Big like Michael Jackson.”

It’s eight years since Dizzee Rascal first wandered into the studio of his formidable manager, producer and mentor Nick Cage, a self-described ‘fat old bastard,’ aged 38.

But that was way back in the day. The new album, and the new Dizzee, have different concerns. “I want to make some party music,” he explains, slightly defensively, in reference to his new upbeat sound.

“I made hardcore music and that came kind of easy – it was what I knew. But it was a challenge for me to make a big pop tune.

“Parts of me are still the same person as back then,” he says, “but I’m older and my situation’s different.

“A lot of that is through travelling, doing festivals and trying to honestly reflect what I see in front of me.”

Before his first album, Diz had never travelled much past Milton Keynes. The only festival he had ever attended was Sunsplash in Hackney’s Victoria Park, where he climbed over the fence.

When Dizzee was first taken through London to a music studio in Ladbroke Grove in 2000, it was the first time he had seen the Houses of Parliament. The West End was a foreign country.

These days, Dizzee says, he particularly loves the fact that he is big in Australia. He added: “The furthest point on the planet from Bow, and I can’t walk down the street there without getting a bit mobbed. You know, that’s mad to me.”

Rascal is a journalist at heart, a stark recorder of his life and the times we live in. He said: “It’s all reportage.

“I sometimes think I should write a book.

“I’ve seen some things, you know, but it’s all there in the songs.”

What he sees these days is inevitably different to what he once saw. Whereas the original Dizzee was much concerned with day-to-day survival,

Tongue N Cheek witnesses him venting fury about paying the Congestion Charge, the conflicts aren’t about teenage turf wars and suicidal urges, but now feature self analysis of how he can persuade the prettiest girls to join him on VIP trips to Ibiza.

His rap contests now reference the infamous interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. Diz was invited on to talk about Barack Obama.

Paxman addressed him as “Mr Rascal” and, oddly, asked him if he felt himself to be British. “Of course I’m British, man! You know me!” Dizzee replied, properly affronted. “I think it don’t matter what colour you are, it matters what colour your heart is…”

Dizzee reveals that he finds it hard to locate the origis of the anger on his first two albums -‘it was loads of different things’ – though he admits to being born into some of it.

His father, who was from Nigeria, died when Dizzee was two, quite how he has never discovered for certain, or will not disclose. He grew up in a council block with his mother, whose family was originally from Ghana, and who worked all hours.

Dizzee was a constant worry. “There were times when people said that she should send me to Africa, because I was a lost cause, but she stuck with it…

“I was a violent kid for a start,” he says. “A lot of fighting. Probably I had to prove something. There was no man in my house, the classic story.

“It was quite a tough estate. Not the worst. But you needed to look after yourself from primary school on.”

Dizzee won’t dwell himself much on the detail of those days – “it’s in the songs.”

He was wary at first of anything beyond the music; didn’t want to do videos, didn’t want his picture taken; it was only when Cage threatened to sell him as a cartoon character that he relented. “We are like Muhammad Ali and Angelo Dundee,” he says of his manager.

With Cage he runs his own record label, Dirtee Stank, after they took a risk and split from the major-league XL last year – over disagreements about the direction of the music, and the fact, Dizzee says, that he felt he wasn’t getting his fair due as an artist.

With three number one singles since, they haven’t looked back.

Dizzee worked out some of his mortal fears in his quickly made second album, Showtime, a brooding effort, and then came back smiling with Maths + English two years ago, which opened with a confrontation with his past: “There’s a world outside of the manor and I want you to see it.”

The new album takes that break further. Dizzee lives in Kent now, a house in the country. “It’s quiet, it’s cool,” he says. And then, “It’s still just about a London borough, I think.” He’s not sentimental about where he came from or about the advantages of getting out. But he is alive to the dangers of losing touch with the people whose lives he once documented. Does he feel confident that he can still get through to them?

“If you mean ghetto people,” he says, “then I know exactly how to talk to them, exactly what to say.

The way I see it everyone’s looking for a bit of enlightenment, the more outlandish the better. But I want to keep it real with everyone, not just the guys on the estate.

“Uplift, enlightenment, a bit of social commentary, that’s always been there,” he says.

“It’s like if you work hard and really believe in your dream you can be whatever you want. I always try to get that in there somewhere.”

Dizzee Rascal releases his fourth album, Tongue N Cheek on Dirtee Stank on September, 21. His UK tour starts on October, 4.