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Here's Dizzee Rascal Giving America a History Lesson on Grime

This is prescribed watching for anyone who hasn't yet learnt about grime's deep historical roots.

by Ryan Bassil
19 January 2016, 12:23pm

As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, grime has been one of music's most predominant cultures for over a decade. Take Dizzee Rascal: he's performed at the Brits, his debut album trumped both Radiohead and Coldplay to win the Mercury Prize in 2003 (the most critically renowned music award in the UK), and he's had several number one singles.

In the States, however, they're only just starting to figure out this grime thing. What is it and how are these people rapping so fast, they're saying. Is there more to this than just Skepta? Who is "peng" and who is "gash"? It's like if people in the United Kingdom were only now coming round to the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem and Ja Rule, ten years after they ruled USA's culture.

While taste is subjective, I guess the one thing the Yanks are missing from grime is the context. When you learn the history behind a genre, the things that make it tick, where it's come from and what it means to the people who make it, it's probable you'll begin to understand it. Maybe even like it. At the least, you won't dismiss it. It's that necessary context that has helped the States come round to Future and Thugga's sound. By having a complicit knowledge of Atlanta, trap-houses, the Dungeon Family, Lil Wayne, the entire back catalogue of US hip hop et al, their music makes much more sense. Suddenly, Thugga and Future aren't a bunch of guys yelling and shrieking. The music has deep meaning and resonates with a certain audience.

As grime continues to move toward the international appraisal that it's long been due, it's perhaps timely that Dizzee Rascal appeared on American radio show Sway in the Morning to give that necessary history lesson. The host, Sway, has lots of questions: like "Who is Wiley?" or "Who is Roll Deep?" or "What is grime?" If you're based in the United Kingdom and weren't old enough to bear witness to grime the first time round or an American just finding out about it, the interview is prescribed watching. By the end, we're also treated to Dizzee's take on the infamous "Five Fingers of Death" challenge, where he freestyles over five different instrumentals. Here are just a few excerpts.

Dizzee on grime and his beginnings: "[Grime is] soundsystem culture. That's basically what it is, yeah. Me personally: I grew up listening to drum'n'bass, UK garage - which originally came from America. I listened to hip-hop. I listened to grunge, too. First off I was a drum'n'bass DJ. I mixed records, then eventually I started MCing. So I learned to rap fast. I learned to rap at like 170bpm first, then I slowed down later. You had the drum'n'bass scene, then the UK garage scene took over, and we were kind of on the back-end of the UK garage scene. When the UK garage scene got a bit bouji and the clubs wouldn't let us in - the hooded kids with the trainers, you know how it is? We were trying to get into the clubs and we couldn't get in, so eventually we did our own thing - making our own music and our own beats. You had people like me, Wiley, Roll Deep, More Fire Crew, N.A.S.T.Y Crew, Ruff Squad - all over London, with different pirate radio stations. It's a pirate radio based scene".

Dizzee on his early influences: "I was really influenced by Three Six Mafia. Tracks like "I Love U" - I had tracks before that were I actually sampled Three Six Mafia - but "I Love U" was my first attempt at doing the whole "I, I, I, love you". That's how they repeated their hooks. So crunk, what ended up becoming trap now, I was on to that then. That's what I was hugely influenced by.

Dizzee on getting stabbed: "It happens, innit. Things boil over. Egos clash. Shit happens".

Dizzee on So Solid Crew: "Before More Fire, before me, before Pay As You Go, So Solid were a garage act. They were from pirate radio too. They won a Brit Award. They kicked down doors basically. Then... err. [Sway: then err - what?"] It's so deep, yeah. People think they know the story. It's so messy. A lot of it was really stupid. Some of the characters involved, it's just something I don't talk about. It's deeper than people know. The police are listening. People were never charged.

Watch both below and hear Dizzee talk on everything from Calvin Harris to British music fans open-mindedness and grime's early white-label pressings below.