May 13, 2008

With new U.S. label, Dizzee spins in the states

In the music video for Dizzee Rascal’s song “Where’s Da G’s” from his latest album Maths + English, the British MC cruises around the streets of Texas with Bun B, a rapper best known to audiences for being featured in Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’.” The two cruise around Houston in a green candy-painted convertible, trading verses. For those who are used to a hard and fast line between American and British hip-hop, the collaboration is unusual, but exciting.

It’s the latest step forward in the career of Dizzee Rascal, one of the most popular purveyors of a U.K. variant of rap music called grim. Besides teaming up with UGK, Bun B’s group with the recently deceased Pimp C, Dizzee is branching out into other areas of U.S. hip-hop. He’s on tour to promote his album with El-P, a New York–based MC who runs Def Jux, the independent hip-hop label that released Maths + English in America. I spoke to Dizzee over the phone just before he embarked on the American stretch of the tour. He was in New York City, getting ready for his first show in Washington, D.C.

Seth Mayer: Have you been promoting Maths + English overseas before this?

Dizzee Rascal: Yeah, I’d been doing that in the U.K. before this.

SM: Could you talk about the lag time between the album’s release in the U.K. and here? Were you looking for the right U.S. record label? How did you end up on Def Jux?

DR: It basically came out on iTunes for download here first because in the U.K., for people to be feeling something, I needed to be there. It was just easier to let it come out in the U.K. first, concentrate on the U.K. and Europe and then come to America, which is why it had to come out [in the States] now. And it came out with El-P and that, because they’re a great independent hip-hop label in America making original hip-hop.

SM: I’ve heard you’re working on your fourth record now. What kind of directions are you going in with it?

DR: I’ve made a few tracks. So far they’ve both been pretty exciting. It’s been a good start, but it’s still pretty early. I’ve been concentrating on my record label, Dirtee Stank. I’ve got a group called the Newham Generals. We’re putting out an album.

SM: What else is going on with the label and your work? I know you worked on a movie a year or two ago—are you mostly just concentrating on music?

DR: Well, I’m putting out that album with the Newham Generals. As far as movies, that’s not really my thing. I did that one [Rollin’ with the Nines] or whatever. But yeah, I’m concentrating on that tour over in America and festivals at home. I’ve actually got one track over in the U.K.—it kind of came a little bit after the album. I did the track with Calvin Harris and it’s a song called “Dance With Me.” We just shot a video for that. That should be coming out in about two weeks. The video should start getting played around the U.K. and that. And we’ll kind of see what happens with that as well.

SM: Could you talk a little bit about working with UGK?

DR: That was really good, man. It came about with us both coming out with our albums at the same time. And so Bun asked me if I wanted to come on a track called “Two Types of Bitches” with him and Pimp C. I was, like, honored, so I got on with it and did it. I had already done “Where’s Da G’s.” I had my vocal recorded, I did the beat, and I put the chorus in…and then [Bun] said he could get Pimp C on it and I was like, ‘Fucking hell, sure.’ [Laughs.] And then we got it on the album; it was all pretty simple, man.

SM: Are you expecting to do more transatlantic collaborations in the future? A lot of people were calling your last album your most American-sounding; I don’t know if that’s right, necessarily. Either way, do you see yourself doing more with American artists—

DR: I’m going to cut you off, because American rap music has been such a major part of my life. So to say that I would never do it would be stupid. There’s a lot of people I would want to work with. From Prodigy to Busta Rhymes, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, fuckin’ Three 6 Mafia, Timbaland. All day long—I’d love to, man.

SM: Have you toured the States before? What kind of responses have you gotten?

DR: I toured once in 2004 and fuckin’ it was madness. [Laughs.] You know what I mean, it was fuckin’ lunatic shit. It’s like Run DMC: just me, my hype man, and the DJ, but on some hype, hype shit. I’m trying to take things seriously—you’ll know I rap my lyrics and one song just comes after the next, man.

SM: Who’s your tour DJ in America?

DR: It’s normally DJ Semtex but this time around I’m using Aaron LaCrate.

SM: Is there anything else you’d like to add, or just get out there?

DR: Big up to all the fans; the album’s out. Come check me, I’m on tour across the East Coast, Midwest, and the West Coast. We’re havin’ fun with all of you man, fuckin’ fun.

Along with opening act Busdriver, Dizzee Rascal’s tour reaches Chicago’s Abbey Pub on Thursday, May 15 at 9 p.m.