We can understand why you ditched “Dylan Mills”. But why “Dizzee Rascal”?
There was another boy on my street called Dizzy and I liked the name. ?We had to clash for it in the youth club. I don’t even remember if I won or not. I kept the name though, fuck it. Then one day a teacher said to me, “Oh, you’re such a rascal,” so I put the two together. At school I was disruptive, violent and disrespectful, but I was clever. I wasn’t a full-on psychopath. That’s why I got my name, ’cause a rascal’s just being naughty, innit?
What’s the worst trouble you got into as a kid? Probably a bit more than just dropping water bombs off the science block, right?
When I was 13 I was caught selling weed in school. I got the idea of selling parsley and thyme. It looked a bit like weed and kids don’t know no better, you get me? They kept coming back: “That’s the shit, man! You got any more?” So I kept going into my mum’s cupboard and bagging up the herbs. One day I got a bit cocky and I took real weed to school. I forgot I was in a lesson and I pulled a bit out, going, “You want some of the boom ting?” I got expelled.
You were brutally stabbed in Ayia Napa the week your debut album came out in 2003. Do you still have nightmares about the assault?
It weren’t the greatest time of my life but I’ve never had nightmares about it. I’ve never had nightmares about anything. I just want to clear up now that I didn’t get stabbed four times in the chest or dragged off my motorbike. I got stabbed in my chest once, stabbed in my back, stabbed under my armpit, one on my bum, one on my thigh and one in the back of my leg. So there you go, six times. They were well distributed. But I take it in my stride, man. It’s one of many violent things I’ve been through. I ain’t got that much to complain about. My life’s about extremities, always has been.
You’ve never tried to gain kudos from the incident, so does it annoy you when US rappers – 50 Cent, for example – wear their bullet wounds as a badge of honour?
No, because I’ve seen a lot of people die from that shit. Any man who’s been stabbed or shot or beaten up and survived is going to feel good about himself. And if you’re a rapper, you’re going to fucking glorify it. Me personally, I didn’t make a big thing of it because I want people to concentrate on my music. I’m not some fucking big super gangster. It’s something I’ve seen happen around me like normal. I can’t count how many people I know who have been stabbed or shot.
Do you still get upstart MCs trying to clash you?
Yeah, most definitely. It comes with the territory. You’re going to go for the top dog. Okay. Whatever. Fuck ’em. People can try all day long. You concentrate on saying bullshit about me while I’m making hit songs.
You were a teenage metalhead. Did you have a denim jacket with band patches sewn onto the back?
Ha! Nah, man. I loved the music though: Iron Maiden, Nirvana, Korn, Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath. I used to read Kerrang! magazine and all that. People definitely thought I was odd. That’s what made me play it louder. I bought all the tapes and tried to get the other kids to listen but they weren’t having it. The only kids that did were the strange ones. It’s paid off in the end though.
Have you ever stage-dived?
No. I want to, though. The kinds of crowds I was doing when I was coming up through the raves, they probably wouldn’t have caught me. I might try it on my next tour. But if my jewellery goes missing there’s going to be a problem.
Did you party with the Arctic Monkeys or Lily Allen when they came to sing on your album?
No, it was strictly business. I only saw Lily once and Alex [Turner] once. But I’m really glad they took the time out to be a part of my album. Even Joss Stone. I ended up taking her off the tune though, but she made the time, she was cool.
You don’t think that Joss Stone has lost the plot with her new American accent, then?
I couldn’t quite work out why she was talking like that. But underneath she’s a nice girl. And she’s young, people forget that. Plus she’s a girl – girls go through all kinds of emotional, soul-searching shit, you get me? Lily, she’s another one. Kicking photographers and shit. She holds her own. At least you know she means it.
Your new album samples kiddie gangster musical Bugsy Malone. Christ, is nothing sacred?
It’s just about what works. I fucking sampled Captain Sensible! It did alright, got Top 20. It made some adults happy who remembered the original, it made some people cringe. But I’m not thinking about it in the sense of, “What’s cool?” I’m a student of music. It’s my duty to know every piece of music that’s out: rock, jazz, punk, jungle, whatever.
Why don’t you think that more grime artists have followed you into the mainstream?
A lot of grime artists only listen to hip-hop, grime or dancehall. Some of them ain’t about entertaining either, they’re about projecting their ego over a 138-tempo beat, shouting, “I’m the best, I’m the one.” A lot of grime people are coming from the street where it’s a different set of rules. They can be a bit hard to control. People who work at record labels and people in grime are from totally different backgrounds and they wouldn’t meet otherwise so finding that common ground can be difficult.
A new song, Pussy ’ole, seems to take a swipe at your former mentor Wiley for not having your back after the Ayia Napa incident. What’s your relationship with Wiley these days?
We ain’t got one.
What do you think about him scheduling his new album to come out on the same day as yours?
I ain’t got a major problem with it. Personally I don’t give a shit, man. ?I was just a kid who looked up to him. ?I would have done near enough anything for him. But he didn’t recognise that, and that’s just the way it goes. This whole thing between us, it’s hurt him. It ain’t hurt me.
Your song Hard Back (Industry) suggests rappers move away from the ’hood as soon as they make it big. How far do you live from your ’hood now?
Far. But I only say that because people’s mindset is to stay in the ’hood. The mentality is to stay grimey, stay living in hardship, even when you’ve got money. Man wear that thing like a badge. I was the same, I used to say I’d never leave Bow but when it came to it I couldn’t wait to move out. I’m saying it’s okay to live better. All the big gangsters move to nice plush houses in the suburbs.
You designed your own Nike Air Max 180 trainers a couple of a years ago. Any plans to launch a Roc-A-Wear-style clothing empire?
Maybe, if I could be sure the clothes were 100% credible. I’m not that fussed to tell the truth. I ain’t on no entrepreneurial thing.
How many hoodies do you own?
At least 20.
What did you think about David Cameron’s “hug a hoodie” campaign?
It’s a bit condescending. And if you did hug a hoodie, they might shank ya! Banning hoodies from shopping centres was stupid – you’re never going to get me to take my hood off.
Last time you were in FHM you were taking a driving lesson with us. Have you passed your test yet?
No. Ha ha! I’ve got the driving to a tee, I’m just waiting for a test date. I bit the bullet ’cause I could easily be driving round in a nice plush car illegally just for the face, like a lot of people I know. But you don’t want to see me on the news, Dizzee Rascal, another dumb celebrity getting himself arrested.
Original interview by Same Richards in the July 2007 issue of FHM UK magazine