Clipper's buzz over lo-fi dub.
"Music is my life. I don't feel like I'm playing a part. I'm not putting on a football kit. It's not draining me out. My energy for it is infinite. I'm gonna be one of the emcees that are spitting when I'm 95… still shelling all of them down."
That was 2018, when Darren Dixon aka D Double E's critically lauded debut album Jackuum had dropped. Mid-trim and about to step out on his first headline tour, the grime veteran waxed lyrical as he told me about his desire to continue putting out more solo projects. What was meant to be a five-minute chat spun out over an hour and several chats to follow that – for one reason or another – never materialised beyond audio clips in my computer called "In the Barbershop with D". Fast forward to 2020 and we’re both outside Forest Gate station, waiting to pick up where we left off.
Riding high off the hype of his punchline-packed, second album D.O.N (Double or Nothing), which he released in October this year, D Double is not only looking fresh for 40, but his pen game is sharper than ever. Since starting out as DJ Dan in the mid-90s, he's torn up the Royal Albert Hall, played live at Berghain and the Barbican and knocked out a surprise hit as the star of Ikea's 2019 Christmas advert. Over his two decade long career, he's become revered as a greatest of all time grime MC. Today, as he takes us on a tour around his local area, he's reflecting on where it all began.
"My earliest memory of making music in Forest Gate happened here. My song ‘Back In The Day’ pays homage,” he says, pulling up outside a youth centre just off the high street. "We played snooker here a lot and listened to hip-hop and reggae. I heard a General Levy record that inspired me to start rapping around 15, just as a friend of mine got a set of decks."
As we weave through the neighbourhood, D Double recounts his come up from the mid-90s and early-00s, as part of east London drum’n’bass collective Reckless Crew, and later N.A.S.T.Y crew alongside Kano, Jammer and Footsie before forming Newham Generals – the respected grime duo behind classics such as “Frontline”.
"Some people actually put themselves around people. They fly to New York hoping to rap for Jay-Z. I never did that. I never threw myself anywhere. I went from rapping at raves to joints like Palace Pavilion. It's only when I saw the reaction I was getting from people that I was like ‘Rah, this is what I was meant to do!’"
Shopkeepers wave from their windows, and we make a stop at one of them to buy bread on our way to Jubilee pond in Wanstead Flats. A white van hits the breaks and spins to a halt in an attempt to snap a pic of the Forest Gate icon. D Double gives a nod while he and the owner exchange greetings.
There's no question that D Double means a lot to the area, and the feeling is mutual. "When people ask me what keeps me coming back I can't answer that, because I've never left. When you're somewhere every day, you're here now. Bricks and mortar might have evolved, but the people who create the vibe around here have stayed the same."
D Double’s affinity to his ends can be heard across many of his projects. There’s “Where do We Come From?” – a collab single with Ghetts that he released in 2019 and shouts out “London, the East London dungeons” – while 2017 track “How I Like It” was penned with D Double’s barbershop in mind. He shot the video for Jackuum’s anthemic grime single “Shenanigans” here too, back in 2018 when the world was a different place. Walking past shuttered up joints in 2020, the days of packing into a pub to get pissed feel like another lifetime, and D Double's lyrics about getting stuck with the bill sound like euphoric bliss.
Positioned across the street from the Holly Tree pub, he lights up. "’Shenanigans’ is a tune that sums up the east end to me. Nowadays I don't get a chance to buy a drink around here. It's always "Bruv, Courvoisier and coke yeah? Non-stop. I like to treat people, especially the ones who treated me.”
His legacy, both here and afar, has been hard won. D Double E was spitting over selectors before the term 'grime' even existed. He's your favourite rappers’, favourite rapper; he’s won plaudits from Skepta and Dizzee and clocked up Prince type levels of clout within grime and beyond for his pulse-racing bars and razor-sharp wit. But when pressed to comment on his legendary status he's humble, to say the least. “I see what people are seeing. I hear what people are hearing, but that's it. When people are calling me that guy? I respect it. But I can't rate something that I want to do better."
He’s quick to reiterate he's only just begun to show us what he's capable of. Double or Nothing – somehow only his second ever full length album – is the next step on that journey, swerving through ominous basslines, dubstep, thumping drill and grime. The guest spots pop – Ms Banks, Skrapz and JME all feature – but it’s the explosive, reload-heavy track “Tell Me A Ting” with Kano that feels destined to go off when it’s first played out live.
For now, that day seems a far cry away. Switching up locations to the nearby pond, D Double riffs about Canadian alien conspiracy theories and tosses bread to a gang of feathered admirers surrounded by swans and seagulls. A perpetual lover, not a fighter, he weighs in on Chip and Stormzy’s recent spat. “There’s ways to approach it, without the darkness, while still getting your message off your chest,” he says, promoting healthy banter. He's never had a proper beef of his own, but he laid out a lyrical attack with 2010's underground hit “Street Fighter Riddim” and sent out a warning he wasn't to be messed with on his notorious Tim and Barry freestyle “No Miming” in 2018.
Parking up outside his aunt's house/the first place he chilled, D Double reveals “Up until now, it's been very rare that you'll hear me rapping on something I like, and it shouldn't be. I might be murking, or doing my ‘Orr Orr’ and the crowd goes mad, but if you asked me, ‘would I use that beat on a song?’ I'll tell you I wouldn't. I've been a machine."
Amid the chaos of this year, D Double's music offers a much-needed escape. Equipped with his arsenal of ad-libs (“bud-a-bup-bup” and “dirtee-tee”) and clever word play, he splashes bars on “Tell Me A Ting” like "Man will rob William and take that". Lately, he’s been in the studio cooking up plenty of projects; including his freshly dropped cold collab “DON” with fellow grime royalty Skepta.
"I played Skepta a beat in the studio, and I liked the beat. He was like ‘Nah.’" D Double laughs. "I did a session with Chipmunk, and I played the same beat. Again he was like ‘nah, nah, nah.’ In the situation with both of them, I was like ‘cool, cool, cool, next one, next one’ but I took it to heart."
It's fucking freezing and getting dark, but D Double's warming up. He runs down his concept for the video “Catch Of The Day”, starting with him dressed up in front of a big platter at a fancy restaurant to him role playing a fisherman kitted out in Birds Eyes style waterproofs.
Back on higher ground and away from the ponds, D Double grabs green tea from a cafe by the station and tells me about his love of singing and wanting to put out a chilled melodic project next. He wants honeyed Aaliyah-like harmonies and link ups with artists like Ashanti. "I wanna be a part of the future, and it's good to be invited on so many projects, but it's also about letting people know I have a lot of different waves."
I ask what wisdom he'd pass on to new-gen rappers coming from Forest Gate before we part ways. "I have so much to say to them man. But If I had to sum it up I'd say be strong as an individual when it comes to what you want to do, or you're just gonna ‘be’. Go to the studio, shoot a video, grind and hustle. It's down to you to make shit happen. You don't need to wait for anyone else. Put your money where your mouth is and get what you deserve."