Dizzee Rascal, 20 Years Of Being The Boy In Da Corner

Hiba Hassan

By Hiba Hassan

Hiba Hassan

31 Oct 2022

Editor in Cheif and Journalist – Hiba Hassan 

Photographer and Creative Director: Oliver Buckle

Production: Akeal Iqbal 

When debating the most pivotal moments in the UK scene, there isn’t one discussion that falls short of mentioning Dizzee Rascal and his debut studio album, Boy In Da Corner. 20 years on, Dizzee Rascal has spent the last two decades reaping the rewards of the Mercury award-winning project, and the most acclaimed album of 2003. Since then, Dizzee has released a handful of projects, a magnitude of number 1 singles and can be held reliable for introducing us to a new era of Pop with tracks like Dance Wiv me, Bonkers, and Bass Line Junkie.

We sat down with the rapper to discuss 20 years of being the Boy In Da Corner…

I know in recent years you’ve spent between here and Miami, how was that and not being back since the pandemic?

You can only spend three months at a time in the USA, so I’d split it up like that. With the pandemic I was just at home, I managed to build a studio at home right before the pandemic hit, so I was just doing that. I got really into buying hardware and like old cables and watching stuff on Youtube about everything from synthesisers and getting into all of that.

What were you doing with the hardware?

Buying them, and eventually made music with them because I thought I wanted that warmer sound everyone talks about. Then I ended up getting all the modules as well and loads of different equipment, I’m at the point now where I’ve revamped the whole studio. And it’s good. It’s made the sound nicer, especially when I’m producing my own stuff again.

Have you ever stopped producing?

I did up until about 2017. So, after my third album, I stopped and then started again in 2017.

What got you back into producing again?

I went to pick up one of my friends from America. He’s American, he was in Thailand, and he randomly called me saying he was staying in Shoreditch and had tickets to an Arsenal game. So, I was driving him around and then he was just making a beat in the car on Splice. And at the time I didn’t know what that was, so when I saw what he was doing and how easy it was, I went home, and started getting back into it.

Splice was so easy to use. And it just got me back into it. And since then, I’ve just been doing that. As I’ve gone along, I’ve wanted more than just to use plugins and I’ve gone back to my older hardware.

Why did you stop producing?

So, after the third album, Maths + English, Bonkers, Dance Wiv Me, all of them kinds of songs happened. And that’s not stuff that I would make myself. I guess after that stuff got whenever I was kind of making a beat, it just didn’t that was good enough a lot of time.

Now is it feeling good enough? 

Yeah. Because it’s just that kind of rediscovery. And just enjoying it as I did in the beginning. But knowing I can make something that is totally different from everything that’s out right now. But now, I’ve got the equipment to make it sound big and proper. That’s the main thing.

What comes first for you to beat or the lyrics? 

The beat usually. And then you try and write to it, and then sometimes the lyrics sound better on a different beat. That’s happened with a few songs that I’ve had in the past. Like Dance Wiv Me, I didn’t write it to that beat I wrote it to something else.

And then when the song is done, are you your own critique? Or do you go to other people to help with what sounds good?

It will start off with me but then sometimes, even as I’m doing it now, I’m playing it to people in the car. And a lot of the time, their first reaction is their most honest reaction. Some people might not be giving that reaction you want. So that should just show that it’s not really happening. And being able to deal with that and move on. Improvement or whatever.

Tell me when you first started because I know obviously, you started by making beats, not as an MC, is that correct?

I did both, I started off as a jungle DJ, yeah, but I was like 13

How did you get into that though?

Listening to pirate radio, I was listening to like Rinse FM when I was younger. And I used to listen to them, and I just wanted to be a part of that. I’m lucky I come from an area where DJing was one of the hobbies that a lot of young men did you know. I mean, so it’s a culture that I saw around me.

It was just a case of just getting some turntables and, you know, learning to DJ and make tapes in my bedroom. And other MCs would come, people that you wouldn’t even expect, used to come to my house, eventually, I started MCing and I was the DJ for Stormin from Nasty Crew. And then after that, I started making beats in school, using Cubase and from then I just carried on. I just quite enjoyed it.

You started in a time where YouTube and social media, everything like that was not what it is right now. How have you seen it transform from then and what it is today? Have you had trouble adjusting?

Yeah, I’ve been through a few changes, there was no YouTube when I came out. When I first came out, there was nothing. It was magazines, TV, and radio. So, you learn to use some of this stuff like I’ll do Instagram posts or things like that. Stuff that I enjoy but just knowing that not every trend or not every way of doing things is gonna work for you.

Especially if you’re not comfortable with it, you don’t come across as comfortable to people. And understanding that, try not to compare yourself with what everyone else is doing. Sometimes I won’t even look even though it can be useful to see what people are up to. Sometimes there’s just no point because you’re just gonna be trying to compare yourself.

How have you seen the distribution process of music change as well? 

Do you know what, I want to answer that question but until I put out another proper solid project, I don’t know what’s gonna be different

What about your last project?

Even that feels like a long time ago now, but with that, that was on a major label. So, if you talk about distribution, I’ll be thinking about if I was doing it independently, like Tongue N’ Cheek was. But in this day and age… I don’t know just that’s something I’m gonna have to work out.  

And for making music and trying to get people’s attention. The TikTok thing, I enjoy just for a bit of a laugh at random. But I find the things that pop up for me on Instagram are almost predestined like someone uses my music for something and then I react to it. And that goes off. But trying to force like, Look, here’s my new song. It doesn’t necessarily pop off.

So, I haven’t learned properly how to use all that utilise it. But the problem that you’ve got now is I’ve heard people work with record labels actively say to their artists if you haven’t got a thing for Tiktok don’t even bother. And that’s a problem.

Yeah, that is what they’re saying, so it can pop up on TikTok and stuff like that.

Yeah, but the problem with that is, if you’re an A&R, it’s your job to work your way around that. TikTok is just another platform, I’ve been here long enough in this thing to see things come and go. MySpace was the same, and Vine. We’ve seen all this, so because of your lack of creativity, you’re forcing the actual creative person to fit and if they can’t, they’re supposed to just be pushed out.

I think that’s kind of mad from the perspective that you’ve seen so many things change like you said MySpace, and Vine, and you don’t really remember when YouTube made an appearance specifically to you? But how does that make you feel in a sense of like, now we’re in this era? Are you always looking for what’s next? 

I’ve actually just been focusing more so on trying to perfect my new sound, not the new digital way of getting things in people’s faces. It’s not something to be ignored that part of it, the second part, but for me, it’s the music first.

What is the main difference between being independent and part of a major label for you? And which one do you prefer?

I like the money that a major will fling to you. And even if it doesn’t necessarily go as well as you want it to or how it’s supposed to go. You keep the money in it. You’re good, you’re safe. But I like the speed and the fluidity of being independent. You got an idea? Let’s just do it.

You said that one of the biggest gambles that you’ve ever taken was going commercial. And it paid off with Dance Wiv Me. What was your thought process behind that though, obviously, it could have gone either way, but it worked out for you. 

The gamble was just trying that side of music, which wasn’t a commercial sound at the time. It blew up so well.

That’s not what pop sounded like, so that was a gamble to do it independently. To leave the label that I kind of had safety with and go back to just okay, doing it independently. That was the gamble. I like the challenge of doing it, it was as much that, just by then, as well I toured with different people. supporting Justin Timberlake once or Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Prodigy, Sean Paul, all these different people in the streets and understood that it paid to have songs that people could sing along to if you’re doing massive arenas. As opposed to just having Grime tunes where I’m just spitting all the way through sometimes it’s cool for a crowd. But I needed to kind of adapt.

This might be a silly question, but do you miss Grime? I know Grime is still alive, but do you miss how it used to be? 

I don’t miss Grime, I like this era of Drill. I’m nostalgic about it because remember, I was doing it and making that music before it was called Grime. I went on the radio and paid £20 a month to get on there. Jumping around with different crews, messing around on my computer, trying to make different beats, go to different studios. So that was to me, that’s just like, my life. So, it’s not that I don’t miss Grime, I just don’t necessarily miss every bit of that part of my life. Because I’ve grown up and I’ve done other nicer things since then, whether people have seen or not. I’ve had a lot of good memories since then, because for me. It’s over 20 years ago.

I just want to show you this video. Do you remember this on Deja Vu FM with Stormin…

This was around the corner, them times I just left school, So the first tune I made was ‘Ready For War’ and it had all them man on it, that picture is not from that era, that was after because we didn’t have pictures then. It wasn’t that time when we would take loads of pictures, no camera phones. But I remember that these were the times when I was saying guys would come to my house, I was a DJ… Was I even MCing on that?

You are, there’s one bit where you sound so different…

Yeah squeaky squeaky. Yeah, that’s when Stormin RIP, is where I know them through him.

Did you ever foresee how the trajectory of your career would go from moments like this to now, celebrating 20 years of Boy In Da Corner?

If I’m honest, you just want it so bad that you just stay on it and there are just moments along the way.

What has been the most stick-out moment or favourite moment of your career?

There’ll be a few, like when you talk about that era, I remember those things on the roof, literally around the corner from here on Deja or Rinse FM. Or certain raves. Like, not even things like Sidewinder like the ones like Young Man Standing or Bling, those ones.

Even wireless was different when you performed there in 2008, it was in Hyde Park.

And even South by Southwest, I was the first rapper there.

Taking you back to this video as well. Fix Up Look Sharp, that was your first time in America when you filmed this?

It was my first time anywhere.

Was the video your vision? 

No, remember I was too young, I was like 17. Even to this day, I get video ideas and a list of treatments, and I’ll say I like that one. By this time then I don’t think I would have even understood or really know too much.

What was that like? Being 17, first time out of the country, and shooting a video in America?

The weed was different, and shops were different, I remember the caps walking in and seeing a row of fitted caps, and at the time, it just starting to get popularity, especially where you’re from, Northwest and Hackney had the fitted hat game locked. And trainers were different.

20 years of Boy in Da Corner as well. Congratulations. How have these 20 years been?

I don’t feel like it was that long ago. But I guess it’s never stopped being spoken about, so it doesn’t feel like it’s crazy. That era even feels closer than my memories for a good portion of the years of my adult life. I remember 2006 or seven.

How does it feel to be recognised as someone pivotal in UK music from very early on in your career? Did that put any sort of pressure on the kind of music that you went to put out after Boy In Da Corner? 

Yeah, definitely. What was good though, was that I rolled straight into the second one. And then eventually you just naturally just try and do different stuff? It was probably more pressure after the fourth album did well, after Bonkers, that was more pressure 

because it got so big. And it was like I was in different lights, and I took a gamble and made some more, well what I thought would be commercial music, and it worked. But then you try and replicate that. And to be fair, I don’t think it did as well. Because it didn’t feel as ground-breaking.

What can we expect from the 20th-anniversary show as well? 

Just know the production, that’s gonna be ground-breaking. And that’s important. It can’t be just all right.

You’ve said that the thing that you’re most proud of is that your mum got to see your success. 

I think because I watched her do it on our own. I watched her work a bunch of jobs. And she let me do what I wanted to do, and she believed in me early she didn’t say you need to get educated so you can go there. She supported us. She supported all my musical stuff, the fact that she’d let all those people in my house so we could make tapes. Which led to me going on to Deja FM with the crew so yeah. So, it was good for her to see that worked out very well and then I was able to pay her back and look after her.