Since emerging from the London underground in the early 00’s, grime has held its own as a harsh, real, and lyrically-dextrous facet of music. It stands as the gateway for expressing the realities in poverty-stricken lifestyles within the boroughs of the capital.
Although the grime sound landed as a muse with no past and (at the time) no future, nobody could have guessed the doors it would open. After developing from a multitude of styles, mainly from the nostalgic sounds of garage, jungle, dancehall, bashment and, drum and bass. So to lazily call this a sub-genre of hip-hop, would discredit a sound that has dominated the British musical landscape in the latter half of the 20th century, and gradually moved on to shape sounds the world over.
Taking it back to the sounds of our pioneers, Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, lyrical stand-offs between the two on Rinse FM would prove to say that this sound is more than just hip-hop. Yes, inspirations must have been drawn from our transatlantic cousins, but the homework wasn’t translated into something lethargic. Hearing the competitive nature of who had the strongest pen-game, packed part-and-parcel with dub battles, a new sport was introduced to the world.
Now we fast forward to 2020, the sound has quickly become one of the most important in British Black music, largely with the same faces that first laid the foundations of the genre still pulling the strings. D Double E, born Darren Dixon, is one prime example of that. D Double is undoubtedly one of the most multi-faceted, important, and a real walking-blueprint of how evolution brings quality with consistency.
Being labeled the “greatest of all time” by Boy Better Know’s commander-in-chief, Skepta, D Double E first touched a mic when he joined Kano, Ghetts and, Stormin in grime group, Nasty Crew. Later, he’d go on to join Dizzee Rascal’s Dirtee Stank label, and form the Newham Generals with Footsie. His debut album, Jackuum, arrived in 2018, a debut that took years longer than expected to arrive.
With his brand-new sophomore album, Double Or Nothing out now: an album that only welcomes one grime record (“Tell Me A Ting” ft. Kano), but as he explains, the world has never been just grime for Double. However, the current coronavirus-induced standstill in the world has allowed the wordsmith to take time to himself, and to really explore his own personal music loves and preferences.
“It’s been a weird one, man. I’ve just stayed active, to be honest, just stayed creative in my mind. I’ve just been coming up with stuff that’s coming out now really. I’ve had more time to create. My job used to be more about playing out and stuff. Now my job is all about music, I do a lot of stuff that doesn’t consist of having to do a live show. The only difference with my life right now is that I’ve not had any live shows, before I used to be just running about and doing so many shows, I never had no albums, nothing. All I wanted to do was just spit on the mic, and now it’s not like that, things are set up properly.
“For example, my next tour is in 2021, so I might have done a few festival runs, then I might have dropped something around Christmas time, then I might have a quiet period. It’s about making the most money, from the least movements: some man might have 58 shows while just trying to accumulate some small ting. But once you get the ball rolling, everything else comes in. But you can make money in so many ways right now, some people are making £500 just off a post. There’s other things, other than the live shows that we’re missing. So my life right now is just having some time to myself.”
But despite the lack of official album releases, it’s common knowledge that D Double E is one of the most treasured emcees to touch the mic. Grime culture is about the radio sets and raves, tracks such as Kano’s D Double and Ghetts-assisted “Class Of Deja” saw the 2019-released grime anthem take us on a nostalgic trip into the past, reminding us of the golden days of real grime culture, technical ability and a musical essence that has influenced a huge chunk of Black British music, all while proving to be one of the most important songs of recent times.
“It’s so important to me, bro,” D Double says when reminiscing on the time of recording the record.
“It reminds me of a forgotten era. It reminds me of the days where we used to go to radio stations, and we used to climb through the window to get in there, and it was all rough and mad. It brings back the memories of the Nasty Crew days and all that. We all go through eras, no matter what it is. You might have been with a woman, but you’re not with that woman no more. So every time someone mentions that woman, like 10 or 15 years later when you haven’t seen them, you might be upset, you see what I’m saying, you know them ones there? So yeah, that tune just reminds me of a time, and it was a special time for me. The times when me and Kano would meet up and do little sets, and just chill, good memories.”
The reuniting of Nasty Crew on “Class Of Deja” came to prove that the OGs in the game are still as prominent in today’s much more saturated music scene. Black music in the UK is now beginning to welcome a fresh batch of fans, fans that may have been introduced to the world of UK rap through the successes of Stormzy’s Number 1-charting Gang Signs And Prayers, or the crazy buzz surrounding summer UK rap anthems that have topped charts over the last few years without knowing about the roots these successes stemmed from.
This could make artists feel a certain way, we have all seen the rants Wiley has been on in the past, and on the flip side, sometimes you can’t blame him. But with star-quality, comes longevity, and D Double E is definitely a part of that. The waves of new talent coming through that are doing huge numbers today isn’t an issue for D Double, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“They know, and if they don’t know then they will. They will never not know.” Double says as he talks about his own stance in today’s scene. “Touch wood, I’m not going to die or anything. For me, I’m still here working as hard as ever. So when the album is out, the surprises I’ve got on there, and the artists that I’m working with are the ones that are killing it today. If they don’t know, then that means they’re not listening to today.”
D Double has always stayed uniquely himself over the span of his career, but he’s not always worked within grime: his drum and bass Gorgon City link-up on “Hear That” took over the club scene. Although the song steered away from the raw sounds we had heard him on before, he still managed to keep it unapologetically him.
Double sets the record straight, on the age old debate whether or not musicians compromised their sound in favour of money-driven pursuits of pop rap that once rose to the forefront of popularity?
“Maybe before, back in the day that was definitely the case. But today, I think that people actually do what they like. I don’t think that people make what they don’t like anymore. They keep it trill to what they do. But when some artists may make a say ‘poppier’ tune, and it gets mad commercial success, I don’t think they’re compromising their sound – I think they like it, man. They’re just trying to win, and they’re liking what they’re doing. They’re not really going below the belt. They’re still trying to keep it cool somehow. But, yeah, man, I still think everyone needs to open up now.
“All this ‘being from one thing’ – music is music. Like, what music do you love? Do you love rap? Do you love grime? Like, do whatever you want. I love what I love, so I make it. I’m not stuck to just one thing, so I’m happy to make what I do. If I could change time, I would still be making the same stuff, and I’d still be doing everything across the board. I’m doing it now! I don’t just make one sound, but then because I’m doing it, it’ll be called the same thing. I’ll do “Ladies Hit Squad” and then people might say it’s grime, on another planet, it’s just a sick hip-hop sort of tune.
“Then I’ll do the Gorgon City track over there, then I’ll do a drum and bass one over there, then I’ll do a drill one over there, then I’ll go and link Big Zeeks and do “Hashtag Happy” over there. This is what it’s about! Wiley’s gonna do “Bonkers” over there, Chipmunk’s gonna do that over there, this is what we should have been doing in the beginning! This is what makes reggae, dancehall, it’s all under the same umbrella, it’s not all called one thing. Then Giggs comes to perform and they’re all saying “grime artist!” Giggs is not grime! Giggs is UK hip-hop, but he can ride any beat. But for me, I’m happy that everyone is doing what they’re doing, nobody is going below the belt. Nines’ one is nice, AJ Tracey, Mostack, they’re just trying to keep it a trill. I rate it, man. I rate it.”
“But I’ve had years on each different thing. Any time you hear me, it’s gonna be me. I’ve touched every tempo, every sort of deck there’s been. I’ve mixed on every single deck and I’ve tested myself. So for me, I just need to hear it, and I’ll know if it’s me. It’s just knowing yourself, and it makes it a lot easier. So, if I pick a beat and I’m like “oh, Mist is always on a beat like this,” and I start listening to Mist, and then I do a Mist flow, and that’s gonna make me feel happy? No way. Be yourself, you know them ones there? Some people are doing too much tracing paper work.”
The latest album, Double Or Nothing, proves that the only paper Double is writing on is his own. The 12-track offering sees him tackle an array of new-age instrumentals: Fanatix’s production on “Bedroom Bully”, assisted by Ms Banks, being a standout track that taps into dancehall with a still-consistent theme of Double-Or-Nothing-crud. This new project is one that is nothing short of a sign of the times, an example that the pioneers in this game can evolve in line with this new generation of Black music that is dominating the country.
“You see this album yeah, I’d say that each individual track has got its own little story, to be honest,” Double explains. “Like “Catch Of The Day”, I really love my seafood, man: lobster, muscles, king prawns, seabass, anything, I’m onto it – except for octopus! I don’t really do the sushi thing. But yeah, I’m just always in a seafood restaurant, so that idea just came to me crazy so I had to jot that one down. There’s one called “24/7”, I produced that one myself, and it’s just a story about one time when I was just mad busy running about, with no time to stop and chill. “Contact”, I like that one. It’s about the flag, like when this finally comes out you’re gonna need to contact man, you get me?”
With this new release standing as another piece of the impressive D Double E legacy, it can be said that his name has been set in stone as one of the UK’s greatest for a long while now. As a musician that hasn’t only blessed the microphone for the last decade, he also played a vital part in being the guy in making things happen for the legendary MCs that have followed a similar path to him.
As he reminisces on the good times before they were put in the spotlight of the national consciousness, Double says he misses the times of pirate radio and the power that had to bring people together no matter where someone may be from. But aside from hindsight dominating the nostalgic time-passing of the closing stages of the conversation, Double always knew he was going to be a legend.
“My love for music at the beginning, it really didn’t matter about anyone else. I was kind of blind, I was the only one doing music the way that I was doing it. I was bringing people together, I was the one who found the guy with decks, I was a driver of it. I didn’t ever think this would happen though. When you’re putting all of your heart into something, there’s only one outcome, even if you’re just playing football every week for the fun of it, but you very rarely miss it, and you’re always on it, you’re not caring about any team or nothing, but you’re just really going in, and everyone that sees you says you’re sick, there’s going to be someone who’s scouting for you, they’re not even going to tell you! They’re going to say “bro, I know this guy,” and you’re going to get sucked up. That’s the energy.”
It’s been a long, and still improving career for D Double E, and it’s more than just the reminiscent memories of past radio sets and wheel-ups that have kept him in the “greatest MC of all time” conversation. Double Or Nothing has only solidified his position further.
“I just wanna be remembered as one of the best, and a good person, and just legendary status, you get me?”
If you missed our latest instalment of The Bricklayers, you can catch our in-depth conversation with UK drill front-runner Headie One here, as he speaks on all things Edna upon its recent release.