For the last five years, Dizzee Rascal has been the face of grime, one of the bigger new trends in hip-hop of the decade — and one of the more notable new trends in rock ‘n’ roll, period. Yet his place in the current music scene is still somewhat perplexing. While he’s one of the most well-known faces of hip-hop in Europe, he’s still something of an underground figure in the U.S.
All this has come to a fever pitch of late. He’s begun a major North American tour at the same time as he has topped the charts in the U.K. for the first time in his career. That dynamic is complicated by Dizzee’s own refusal to address the matter. At the same time, his larger ambitions are readily apparent: He speaks with a confidence and bravado that marks his desire to be a true star.
You’re the leader of an authentic hip-hop culture in England. In North America, you’ve drawn more of the upper-class hipster crowd. How do you feel about your presence in America?
Well, there’s more [in America]. The thing is that I make my music, I put on good shows. When I walk in front of you, you either have a good time and you feel it [or you don’t]. That’s it.
How do you see what you’re doing as compared to what’s happening in America, such as with Kanye and the Cool Kids?
Well, I feel "rap" is a term made up by journalists, personally. But whatever, I like fashion, I like nice clothes, if you’re talking about all that. But it’s different — there’s a bigger industry to work in America. There’s that, and that no matter what happens, I rap with an English accent.
On Maths and English, you seemed to be more focused on songwriting and experimentation; your first two albums seemed more focused on establishing an attitude. Was this a choice?
With that album, I wanted to get back to where I started. I wanted to get a bigger audience, get more people involved, try to make more people happy, and make more people move to the music. I try to do something new with every song I do.
You’re the biggest name in grime, but in America, you’re often treated as the only name. Have you tried to use your succeess to promote some artists in the scene.
I think I’m one of the bigger names in hip-hop, period.
Okay, but in the U.S., Pitchfork runs a monthly column on grime, and that’s pretty much all the prominent coverage it gets. Have you tried to use your name and influence to promote the material more globally?
Well, I’ve got people I’m working with all the time. I’ve got the work I’m doing with Dirtee Stank. Right now I’ve got the number-one song in the U.K., which I did with Calvin Harris. It’s the first song on an indie label to top the charts in 40 years. And it’s not a grime record.
But do you see that success ever translating to the U.S.?
I had the single “Where’s Da G’s.” I think that went over pretty well.
And you did the B.P.A. video.
Obviously the U.S. has been dominated by election coverage, even in the music community. How has the current race and the rise of Obama resonated in London?
There are some groups where he’s popular. Black people are more aware of him, or the younger black people are. A lot of rappers have come out and endorsed him. I guess it’s pretty much the shame shit that’s gone over [in the the U.S.]. But I don’t give a shit about all that.