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He's a rascal, but he knows what he's doing, writes Scott Kara
It's not so much a bad attitude that Dizzee Rascal flaunts, more of a hardcore one.
There's the East Londoner's brazen proclamation on his song Suk My Dick that, well, you can all suck his dick, then there's the cheeky disdain of his one-finger salute on the back cover of his latest album, Maths + English, and his quickfire, confrontational vocals are dizzying, especially on the cultural sound clash of the album's first single, Sirens.
In real life, he's similar, spitting out staunch and ego-driven rhetoric in barely understandable slang.
"There's a trickle of Dizzee Rascal around the world, but I want to be major," he says of his musical goals. "I wanna see Jay-Z or Snoop Dogg levels around the world. I want to be Master Music. I want to be up there like Prince and Andre 3000 [from OutKast] and the Beatles. I want to be remembered like that and have that kind of impact. You might as well," he laughs.
Cocky talk. Then again, he admits: "I've always been quite full frontal and that's a major part of my music."
He talks tough, but the 23-year-old is also a likeable rascal with friendly and funny outbursts to match his bravado.
"Awright. Yup. Wee-ked marn," is his greeting on the phone from London ahead of coming to New Zealand for tomorrow's Big Day Out.
And this musical mastermind has the innovative approach and songs - he's released three albums in four years - to back up his hype.
Merging a range of musical styles, including rap, grime, drum'n'bass, two-step, reggae and rock, he comes up with an abrasive yet catchy sound that resonates with life in inner city London.
His first album, Boy In Da Corner, was a noisy masterpiece that, because of its menacing atmosphere and off-kilter beats, was a challenging listen. It won the Mercury Prize, Britain's top music award, when he was 19, making him the youngest person to receive the honour.
He released his second album, Showtime, the year after.
"It was rushed because everything was all pretty new to me and I didn't want to fall into the whole thing of wallowing in my fame and that's easy to get lost in, so I just wanted to bury my head in the music quickly".
With Maths + English, he says, he was ready to have fun again. It's his most accessible album with songs such as the soulful drum'n'bass of Da Feelin' and his duet with Lily Allen on Wanna Be taking the harsh edge off his sound.
Yet, he says, he approaches music-making and recording a new album with a revolutionary outlook.
He still wants to be "brave" with his music, and believes songs like the crass and fiery old school rap of Pussyole and Sirens are appealing but still in-your-face.
"People say you should make more commercial music as you get older. But you know what, f*** that. That ain't what got me here.
"And there's a lot of argument among some people that I don't make rap anymore, and all that bullshit, but they're missing the point. Every Beatles album sounds different, every Prince album sounds different, and that's how I'm seeing it. I've got a platform to do it, and with each record I put out into the world I've got to give people a reason to buy it and give them a reason to give a shit."
Dylan Mills, as he is known to his mum, didn't used to give a shit. He was born in the east London suburb of Bow, and grew up on a council estate. He was no angel, stealing cars, a robbery here and there, and was expelled from four high schools.
Ironically it was one of his music teachers who turned him on to music production and it turned his life around.
Throughout his teens, he listened to tapes, pirate radio, and immersed himself in the rave and grime scenes. Sometimes he would go to house parties where the DJ would let him play an early evening set "as a little joke thing".
"Music has made my life a whole lot better, man. It's the reason I'm living better. Music is freedom."
But he hasn't kept out of trouble entirely since leaving school.
In 2003 he was stabbed five times during a trip to the grime scene stronghold of Aiya Napa in Cyprus. It was rumoured to be a vendetta attack by grime act So Solid Crew, who had been locked in a feud with Rascal. He rates the incident as the lowest point of his life.
"But even then I managed to discharge myself and go raving," he laughs. "My life is full of extremes, it's up or it's down and rarely in-between."
He's changed a lot since his first album. .
"I think a bit more before I do things. Don't get me wrong, I'm a thinker, but I was a bit more fly-off-the-handle when I was a kid. You can definitely tell me a lot more now and I'll listen.
"I'm not as angry. I've got less to prove. I ain't 16 years old, on the street, with a chip on my shoulder and thinking I've got to show face. The peer pressure ain't really the same."
He says he's always had a good business sense. He started issuing his own songs on vinyl in his late teens and sold more than 10,000 copies of I Luv U, a song that appeared on Boy In Da Corner, before he had a record deal.
"You know, just like having them in the boot of the car and taking them round to the shops and getting paid up front. There was a demand, and it was a wicked time because people were still buying vinyl and none of this downloading shit."
Now he's got his own record label, Dirtee Stank, which releases up-and-coming acts; a line of Nikes named after him, and an endorsement deal with Ecko. The boy from Bow is doing very well thank you.
"I've been around the world and seen so much. Now I'm a man and I've done so much to prove I'm a man for myself and to the world and I've got real responsibilities and I just want to entertain people."
Who: Dizzee Rascal
What: Grimy rapper
Where & when: Big Day Out, Mt Smart Stadium, tomorrow. Boiler Room 3.45pm-4.30pm
Albums: Maths + English (2007); Showtime (2004); Boy In Da Corner (2003)