The restaurant was all out of oysters, so east London MC D Double E settled for fish and chips instead. Then he handed the menu back to the waiter, leaned back in his seat and sipped slowly from his rum and coke. Our interview almost never happened, wobbling over a mix up of schedules and his stage shows. But early that Wednesday morning, the lights turned green. Late afternoon came quickly, we picked a restaurant, and now I am sitting a few feet from an MC who had soundtracked my early adolescence, late teenage years and my current mid-twenties.
In many circles, he is hailed as grime’s greatest vocalist, adored for his nasal tone, obscure adlibs and checkered flow, which when all combined, turn his voice into instrument unto itself, shattering speakers in raves and on the radio. He is responsible for classics like “Streetfighter Riddim” and “Frontlinerz,” “Birds in the Sky” and “Bluku Bluku.” At grime’s essence, (beyond the genre’s second wind of high-charting albums and platinum plaques), where reloads are more important than radio play, D Double E has excelled for 15 years. In this realm he is King, but even kings must evolve or risk being overthrown.
And so, as grime continues to melt into pop culture, his plan, he said, was to cement his grip on the crown that the public have handed to him, as both a live and studio artist. He had an album, Jackuum that was nearly ready for a 2018 release. The snippets that I heard in secret, and that he would eventually play for me over dinner, gave cause for optimism, an assurance that though he felt his output had been slow, it was not for a lack of talent. On single “Better Than the Rest” with fellow east London legend Wiley—which we're premiering below—the two spar back and forth, retaining the energy and sense of excitement of the sets and stage shows that had come to define him.
D Double sipped his alcohol, waited for his fish, and spoke to me about his future plans. He had just returned to the UK from Canada he said, where he had opened up for Cam’ron, and then after-partied with Lennox Lewis. The schedule seemed tiring but if fatigue had set in, you wouldn't know. Peace was his natural frequency. His voice was as soft as cotton. “I’ve always been laid-back,” he said. “That’s how I approach it, until the last moment. That’s just my character. I’m not in character, this is just me.”
Noisey: Has that attitude been a benefit in your career?
D Double E: It’s definitely been a benefit, approaching situations stress-free. But at the same time I feel like there’s been times where I shouldn’t have been laid-back and put a bit more force into the situation. Being laid-back can bleed you out sometimes, if you don’t fight for your right. Sometimes just wait for God to do what’s right and sometimes you just have to do what’s right. But overall being laid-back, I’ll never change that.
If there was one thing about your character you would change, what would it be?
[Pauses] A bit more courage in terms of going in my own direction. I feel like when I was younger I liked company, I liked going back to back with MCs. But I come from solo, I come from doing it by myself, but then when I was MCing with people or going on radio, I liked to be in crews. I just needed to mix more in the solo career I started. That’s the only thing I would change. But that’s another part of the game. It’s exercising, playing football with your peers and then you go from there.
Or maybe that could have been down to situation—maybe if I was around someone that could have directed me… I think that’s what I was waiting for, which isn’t good. You see what I’m saying? Waiting for someone to look after the situation, when really, you’ve got to look after yourself, and then that helps someone look after you. I’ve made that change now but I would’ve made it earlier.
What led you to eventually make that change?
Independence. Having my own time and being able to give the people what I want, when I want. That’s what I’ve always wanted and I’ve it now, with my label Bluku Music. Now I’m delivering my first ever solid project, by myself, which should have happened years ago. Now I’m making things happen—I’m not waiting for someone. That’s how I became who I was when I was writing my bars: nobody was telling if it was good or not. So I’ve gone back to that.
Was there a fear there?
No, I would say other views confused my perspective. Certain things that I have faith in, others didn’t have faith in and it made me start looking at myself. There were tracks others didn’t have much faith and now they’re my biggest tracks. Tunes like “Streetfighter,” tunes like “Brutal” that for me were super. Now I’m in control of all of my shit so that can’t happen.
Do you have any regrets?
I don’t have no regrets. I think everything has been a path that I’ve given myself. You get me?
On this path now, how much do you think streaming has been beneficial for an artist like yourself?
I think streaming is good; I’m trying to get my streaming to artistry levels. When you’re streaming me, I want you to be streaming a song, or a video. I don’t want you to be streaming Boiler Room sets—I want to be an artist. So I’ve got to unleash music and songs to make my streaming look right. So right now the streaming is good with songs like “Streetfighter” but I want to put out more stuff.
You’ve been seen as the MC who tears down radio sets, are you trying to move away from that?
It’s not about moving away, it’s about trying to make that the second thing you look at now. The first thing I want you look at is “Streetfighter,” “Bad 2 tha Bone,” “Dem Man Are Hard,” “Bluku Bluku.” The first thing I want you to think is that. I don’t want it to be the other way around, so I need more music to make it make sense. I’ve already done the graft and the live thing, so now I need to pack it with music.
We’ve entered a stage where grime albums are going to number 1. Do you care about chart success?
I always care about that side of things, but I also care a lot about the music. I’ll be me.
You’re heralded as one of the country’s greatest MC’s, but do you see yourself as successful?
I see myself as that, but I’m not going to give myself that rating if the music is not there to back it up. I respect everyone that has been telling me this, but I haven’t been pulling my weight, and it’s not due to me. It’s due to waiting, thinking, confusion and now that’s all over. So now I’m going to actually give people the music and then I can believe in it more. I haven’t made it make sense yet, for the new generation. You can’t be going back, it’s not a going back ting.
During grime’s lean period, a few years back, what kept you going?
Music was my life before it was popular. I don’t know how to explain it, people do music for different reasons now. I was doing music because I love to do music. I’ve come from that time where if we love music, you just do it. Right now, there’s a lot of people looking at it like a business. It’s just turning it into a money venture. There’s a lot more fashion involved right now but I’m from before the fashion. When there wasn’t fashion I was there, when there was fashion I was there. Whether grime is pumping or not, I’m just going to be there. And that’s because I’m not doing it for no one else. With some people there’s things that can slow you down. I was telling someone earlier, when I was doing music from 16 to 21, I was working.
Where were you working?
I was a security guard at Whitechapel hospital. I was an accountant one time at South Kensington University. So my money was always right, man was always looking good. That’s because I was working. You’ve got to be alive to be able to progress. Some people don’t want to work, they don’t know about doubling up.
Have you ever come close to quitting?
[Pauses]. I’ve come close to slowing down. That’s only because I was with a crew, called 187, and we kind of split up when a radio station I was going to got shut down at the time. Then I just chilled out for a little while. When I look back, I never really quit but there was a time that made me think about chilling out.
What do you think the most recent lesson you’ve learnt is?
Go with your heart. Listen to people and their views but you have to live it yourself. No matter what we do, we always want advice, we always want people to tell us, “good job." But just weigh it all up still and make your own decision. Go against the grain. Just go with your heart man.
Have you got kids?
Three daughters, aged 15, 10, and five.
Do you pass this information down to them?
Yeah, of course man; I’ve always got to keep them up to date with what’s happening. I don’t force nothing upon them. I was never forced to do music, I’m not from a music background, I’m not from coming downstairs and hearing it. I’m just a kid who loved music and I would play music in my room and my mum would ask ‘what am I on?’
Did fatherhood change you?
Fatherhood and music is a hard combination. Somehow, I’ve stayed the same. Some people change, somehow, I managed to not lose out on opportunities. I know people that have met a girlfriend and quit music. There’s different things that can slow man down. I had my first daughter in 2002 and “Pow!" was in 2004. I didn’t make myself unavailable for work, but I’d never make my children lose out.
Do you see yourself MCing forever?
I’m not going to stop spitting. But all the things that come into play when you do spit will be happening, there’s businesses, this and that. But me, I’ve got too many years ahead of me, I’ve got to be 60 or 70 when I start thinking about stopping.