From N.A.S.T.Y Crew to Newham Generals, D Double E has seen every era of grime. Superfan Fred Macpherson sat down with him to discuss how the genre’s past will influence its future—and you can watch Newham Generals new video "Murkin Yearly," which premiered today on Noisey, here.
Spitting long before grime had a name, D Double E is the best type of British rapper: one whose vernacular and delivery is distinctly un-American (I laughed the first time I saw “Oooooerr, ooooer” written down in the Rap Genius’ entry for ‘Pow!’). Ask Skepta who the greatest is or Dizzee who inspired him to start MCing and the answer will be the same—D Double is king.
Over a glass of apple juice in an empty King’s Cross pub, I ask him why he thinks his peers all look up to his flow. His answer is refreshingly logical: “I can just reference what I grew up to, which was drum and bass, that was the one that made me pick up the pen. I feel like it’s given me the technique to think quick. I could have been the same guy on drum and bass, but now I’m on grime which is slower. It’s still fast to the average guy, but to me I’ve slowed down. So now I'm thinking tooooo deep; it's like I could write books.”
“I’m connected to more gangs than Ross Kemp.”
D Double started out in N.A.S.T.Y Crew (Natural Artistic Sounds Touching You), one of the first big collectives to pioneer the morphing of garage into something deeper and darker, spawning the careers of Kano, Ghetts (né Ghetto), Marcus Nasty, Jammer and Terror Danjah along the way. Much like Meridian, and Slew Dem in its prime, N.A.S.T.Y. Crew has a far bigger legacy than lifespan. Although the lack of traditional output—you’ll find next to nothing on iTunes or Spotify—might seem to belie the significance of crews like these, they leave behind hundreds of radio sets which is where the music really comes alive. (Elijah of Butterz recently re-upped 50 of his favorite sets of all time including loads of D Double, N.A.S.T.Y., and Newham Generals stuff so there’s no excuse not to have at least two days of prime grime audio on your computer).
I ask why he thinks he’s one of the few of that generation who’s still around, and relevant, today. "I'm from the days before money,” he says, arguing that since that halcyon Deja Vu FM era, a lot of people have fallen by the wayside chasing success. “The heart that people put into the game is heart for the moment, and when things are not working out they start to think of other things to do and they can fizzle away from it. They might say ‘yeah I’m writing again, I’m back on it.’ But then two years later they fizzle away again because they're not making money. Back in my day we just did it and there was nothing else to think about.'"
But what about the guys that did make it? Back in those early days did he realise he was spitting alongside the guy who would end up the most successful UK rap act of all time? “Yeah. When we was all fifteen and he was spitting alongside me I realised what was going down. I saw Dizzee in the clubs and the power he had. And I remember when he just started and came up on the radio and he didn’t even have a show—this is before he was with Roll Deep. And he came up and did a few shows with Nasty Crew. He was mates with Sharky Major who was bringing him to our shows when we was doing our thing. He made “I l Luv U” when he was still in college. His first tracks when he was sixteen were hard. I didn't even have a track at sixteen—just bare bars.”
“Man can’t rain on me I’ve got a brolly/ And I’ve got the game in my pocket like Polly”
My earliest memory of D Double is the lyric “If you mess with a Newham General, you’ll get left in Newham General” (from "Frontline") and I wonder if he worries about the violence in his lyrics considering the police’s historic scapegoating of British rap music. He seems relatively non-plussed. “When I listen to myself when I started off, and the roots we took to start off grime, it was a bit hardcore then. But right now I feel like everything that's being seen is getting seen in the right light and you have to search for the darkness." I know what he means. Things have come a long way since Dizzee’s stabbing, Crazy Titch’s life sentence and Prancehall’s visit to Mr.Wong’s mum’s shop.
Nowadays Dizzee is D Double’s label boss at Dirtee Stank, and they share a collaborator in Footsie—the other half of Newham Generals (a trio until Monkstar’s Christian faith became in compatible with his other pursuits in 2007). Footsie is one of the most reliable producer MC’s on the scene (his King Original instrumentals series is definitely worth seeking out). Footsie’s on the beat for both Dizzee’s “Pagans” (premiered here this week) and D Double’s new single “Luvly Jubbly”—a great reminder of how cooperative and family-like grime is. Whether crossover star or underground king, MCs get beats from the guys they’ve known forever, the ones who they’ve written love songs to their favourite strains of weed with. As D Double explains: “Footsie is definitely 1000% one of the best producers in the game. His beats are deep man. Everything he makes is for me—it's like either I want it or I don't because there's so many good tunes. If I pick everything then I've got a hundred tunes because he's building beats everyday. We've got like a psychic link. I don't know how to explain it but his zones are my zones.”
Now that we’ve come out the other side, there’s a pretty clear consensus that the mid-to-late noughties era of major label deals for grime acts was a bit of a stumbling block. Artists lost track of why people liked them in the first place, trying their hands at every sound they could, except the one they were already great at. That’s not to say that tunes like "Wearing My Rolex" or even "Dance Wiv Me" don’t deserve their place in history, but for the most part it was an era of UK rap music that has aged like milk.
At least D Double can laugh about it, “This is what I’m saying. Some people even change games, some people say 'It’s not really popping off, let’s do some house' or 'I’m into dubstep these days' and now you're getting phone calls from the house guy like 'I’m making grime again' and it's like 'Hold on a minute I thought you was doing house bruv!?'. With perfect comic timing D Double’s phone rings and we both clock Chipmunk’s name lit up on the iPhone 5. He puts it on silent and struggles to hide a smirk.
Photo by Marco of Wot Do You Call It
Grime’s current return to form is hard to deny, not just in terms of the tunes being made, but as a reconfirmation of a British musical identity. D Double clocked grime’s fair weather friends, though. “I can see how certain people are like," he said. "Showing love to grime now when before they might have been in their field and not caring.”
The coronation for grime’s year in the spotlight was Boy Better Know’s sound system at the Red Bull Culture Clash at Earl’s Court, which D Double was part of. The atmosphere was transcendental—an infinite field of gurning teens, hard boiled lads and nerdy fanatics. “Yeeeah bruv. Boy, it was one of the best shows, best crowds I’ve ever seen. Definitely. When they told me 20,000 people I was like, ‘Okay’ and when we got there for soundcheck and I saw the stages i was like, ‘Okaaay, this is a bit serious. This is happening’.”
With a guest list that read like the tracklisting for a 2014 version of Run The Road (everyone from Newham Generals and Lethal Bizzle to Tinchy, Krept, Konan, Novelist and Stormzy on top of a Boy Better Know full house—Wiley even turned up), the BBK stage resembled a fantasy Sidewinder set, with a couple of notable exceptions. I ask if everyone’s forgiven Tempa T for unexpectedly turning up to snake the mandem on the side of Rodigan, Shy FX and Chase and Status’ Rebel Sound and D Double laughs, “It’s just competition innit. Obviously BBK know each other a bit closer and there must’ve been a few calls and and someone must’ve just turned up and started lenging down behind the scenes. But for me I know I was on the right stage doing the right thing.”
The icing on the cake would’ve been Dizzee himself turning up, which almost felt like it was going to happen for a second, and I wonder aloud whether him and Wiley will ever be able to put their differences aside. “Ah boy, I’m not sure about that man. I think everyone's just happy getting on with their lives, and if they did see each other they’d probably say cool, but it might not be some get the number stuff.”
A$AP Mob and Stone Love crumbled under grime’s prowess that night and, despite the Rihanna and Pusha T dubs that just won it for Rebel Sound, it felt like the real victory was for grime on an international scale, as hundreds of thousands tuned in all over the world. A week later Kimye were caught on Vine dancing to Oi! at a party in New York.
“Who’s gonna come about pure war talk? Who wants to be outlined in chalk?”
And what of the future? Talk turns to the next generation and it seems D Double’s as excited about MCs like Stormzy and Novelist as we are. It’s odd to think the guys in The Square weren’t even ten when D Double E first started going on radio—this is the first generation who actually grew up with grime and dubstep, rather than having to forge it into existence from the junkyard of garage, jungle, and drum and bass.
What does grime needs to do to continue to grow, as both a business model and an art form? It seems independence is the answer. Whether it’s Dizzee and Dirtee Stank, Jammer and Lord of the Mics, JME and Boy Better Know, or Double and his own Bluku music, the people doing the best right now are the people doing it themselves. “If there was major labels at the Red Bull culture clash they would have seen the effect we've got. We're making money and investing in ourselves because we've got faith in ourselves, even if no one else does. It’s the only thing to do. So let’s do it. If it’s small we’ve got to work it up. We don't need to be moving any faster, we just need to be carrying on doing what we're doing.”
Like Ghetts said at the end of Ewen Spencer’s Open Mic documentary, “the genre’s so young, how can it have a complete identity yet?” With two generations of MC’s now standing side by side and learning from each other, the identity’s is stronger than it ever was, blissfully incomplete as it might be. Maybe the artists just need to be left to their own devices. Labels not knowing how to A&R grime was probably helpful in a weird way, as it meant it could continue to grow while remaining underground. The wheat and the chaff had to go their separate ways, as people who were in it for the wrong reasons moved on. People like D Double E are national treasures precisely because they have so few fucks to give about what the mainstream thinks or what the media’s reporting on. You get the idea that if there was some sort of apocalyptic meltdown and the national grid went offline tomorrow, D Double would still be on road doing what he does best. After all he’s the street fighter guy, the lyrical farda, the supa dupe oooooerr ooooer and he’s “got more bars than the bloody West end.”
As I get up to leave I ask him if E7 Lemon’s still the best weed in London. “Come on mate,” he grins “it's definitely the hiiiiighest.”
"Luvly Jubbly" is available to pre-order now. Watch the video here.
Download the Grimetapes’ classic ‘Best of D Double E Vol.1’ (compiled by @Slackk_) here.
Follow Fred on Twitter: @fredmacpherson