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February 4, 2019Feature

An MC who was once touted as the greatest of all time by Skepta and noted as the man who made Dizzee Rascal pick up the mic, D Double E is one of the most influential names in grime. For the cover of January's GUIDE Cóilí Collins got some phone time with the influential artist, featuring a shoot by Thomas Chatt.

We’ve heard the freestyles, we know all of the ad libs and we’d recognise that flat top anywhere, but do we know the real D Double E?

 

For years the MC has been at the top of the grime game. Openly praised by his peers, Skepta has gone as far as to say that he’s the greatest MC of all time. He has been a mainstay on Rinse FM, along with a host of other pirate and legitimate radio stations, and lays claim to one of the most distinctive voices and flows in grime. With all that taken into account, it has still taken us the guts of 20 years to discover D Double E the artist, rather than the bar spitter.

Grime has ebbed and flowed since its infancy, emerging from tower block broadcasts and ending up on festival main stages, and even as far as Berghain. Many of its founding fathers and subsequent stars have taken their sounds far beyond 138bpm instrumentals. While some have crept closer to the mainstream and others going far left of field, D Double E has stayed the grime course for better or for worse. He’s now had the chance to show us a side of himself and his sound that we rarely heard in those radio freestyles and feature verses. In ‘Jackuum’, his debut album, we’ve been presented with a 20-track collection that blends his rapid rhythm with an array of beats that conjure up everything from sweaty raves to barbershop conversations.

“It’s something no one knows about me; no one knows what my sound is, no one knows what I really like. I know what I prefer. I know the difference between dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and house music, and that’s not me. When you hear me on a dubstep track, it’s not really me.

“When I link up with people it’s not about me. Normally it’s never about me. If I’m doing a tune with Chipmunk, Skepta, Wiley or Footsie, it’s never about me. [Jackuum] is me telling them, ‘This is what I want to be on’. Cutting out all that ‘maybe, maybe’ and being like, ‘This is what I want, I’m 100’. I want to be certain, this is how every who’s respected rolls.”

Since the announcement of ‘Jackuum’ we’ve been treated to the charismatic side of Double we’ve come to know through his rhymes. There’s always been a tongue in cheek aspect to the Londoner, with the rollout process of the album putting him on full display, not just at the end of an eight-bar.

“Some people might want to go online, pull down their pants, show their arse and do something mad and all of a sudden everyone’s talking about them,” he pauses for an instant, trying not to laugh at what he’s just said.

“I don’t really do no tricks. I’m a funny guy myself so I rely on my natural humour and that’s why I did my ‘love advice’ video. I’ve got my way to get to people, I’m not trying to be a bare comedian as such. I don’t want to always have to MC. I’m more than an MC and that’s what I’m pushing right now; I’m pushing my DJ skills, speaking skills, but it’s only part of the campaign. When I go to North America [on tour] I might go on radio and speak and freestyle, but this is just to raise awareness. All the MCing I’m going right now is just because it’s the season to be about.”

His somewhat analytical approach to maximising his reach is surprising, but looking at the results it’s hard to argue. He’s on the cusp of said tour across the pond, as well as earning features across a multitude of underground publications, as well as the BBC and The Guardian. All the while being about as active as he’s ever been on radio, stopping by Rinse FM not only as an MC, but for a rare DJ set too.

“I’m running a campaign so my job is to be in as many places as possible. Before this, I wasn’t up for popping up on radio and everywhere, but for awareness for ‘Jackuum’ I like to be everywhere, that’s stage one.

“BBC from the beginning has been there, in hand with pirate stations, until pirate kind of faded. For me, it’s more about other things. It’s never so far-fetched that people talk bad about you, so to have people talking good, that’s good. I just like when things are more ‘in your face’.”

Despite possessing one of the most distinguished and pointed voices in the UK, the MC is measured in his discussion, outlining in detail what he considers success, with a clarity that transcends even the weakest phone connection.

“When things happen, I want to feel the vibe,” he pauses briefly for emphasis. “I don’t want to just hear it, I want to feel it. When I put out a song, I know it’s doing well when I step out of my house and the first thing I hear is someone telling me, ‘Bro, I love that song’. Everyone’s just aware of it. I’m proud of all achievements together.”

The positivity in his tone is as clear as the fast-paced punchlines littered throughout ‘Jackuum’. Despite working within such an intense and often moody genre, Double has always been the one to bring out the smiles at the rave. He pairs that same intensity with a lighthearted undertone, something he continues to do as he discusses the freedom he had in putting together his latest project.

“It’s a good time to be independent and I’ve grabbed it by the horns, it’s a nice situation. I’m just happy that I can do what I want to do. There are other situations where I’ve noticed that people aren’t doing what they want to do; even down to this photoshoot today. When I looked at the clothes that they had for me, I was thinking, ‘Rah, this isn’t for me, some of this isn’t me, I don’t wear these shoes or this coat’, and that’s because I’m me. If I wore that outfit I wouldn’t feel like me. If you’re in control of your vision it could be sicker.”

Without being asked, he continues on about his style and clothing and somehow swings it back to music, as only he could.

“No one’s wearing what I wear. I might wear a bright yellow suit… When I’m in the shop I will pick that suit and people will pass realise it’s sick. I know what’s looking sick before it’s looking sick.

“There’s mild looking sick and then there’s bright sick and I’m cool with that mild, I can look suave. I am very experimental. I know what I’m on, we need to know what we’re on.

“I feel like the world today doesn’t know what they’re on, like it’s your job to follow. Like it’s not your job to come up with a new genre of music like we came up with dubstep, funky house, garage and all these genres. It’s not even a UK thing now. For me, Afrobeats is not UK-based in terms of the UK core that you hear and you feel here. When I hear it I feel like I’m in the Caribbean. It’s just a little cycle that we’re going through at the moment; I respect it and I respect everything people are doing, but you can’t give me a new look unless I’ve certi’d it.”

The sound of the UK is one that’s forever changing, but the current move toward to more Caribbean- flavoured tracks is a step away from the more raw, rave-built sounds of the past. Having had such a heavy hand in the foundation of grime, and having MC’d to plenty of the genres that came before it, Double has earned the right to analyse the scene that sits in front of him. Many people are lamenting once again that grime is dead, however, ‘Jackuum’ showcases an old dog that’s biting harder than it ever did before.

“The scene loved it. Some people are not loving grime right now. I think it’s a sick time for grime, and I think people want to hear it. You can put something in and it’s got all the different flavours and it’s 100 pure and colourful. It’s not dark. Some of the tracks give it some nice colours. I wanted to make it something so you don’t have to be into grime to like it.”

Grime can be jarring to those alien to the sound and culture, but Double’s newfound openness to a newer and perhaps more visually creative generation, which before many would have brushed aside, has allowed his music to reach new heights – all the while drawing on the same foundations as those who have before him.

“There are a lot of people listening to music who are searching for the new style. It’s good to search and everyone needs to be themselves, but not everyone is being themselves because everyone is kind of looking similar. Now, I have to respect the maddest guy where one side of his jeans are shorts and the other side is long and then he’s got on some pink shoes… I have to respect him because no one’s doing what he does and he’s a don. I had to start respecting it, at first I thought, ‘Rah, this guy is different…’, now when I see people doing their own thing, I think, ‘This guy could be creative; he could be in a sick job doing some creative work’. I have to respect that, not the guy that looks like everyone else.”

Signing off on that eccentric note, it’s clear that Double is drained after another long day of media obligations. He talks of an upcoming Idris Elba film that himself and Footsie may be working on a track for. He has to watch it when he gets home in order to get a sense of what track to cook up for it.

Having spent so long working to this moment, hearing such a unique and important figure like D Double E clearly content in his output was an uplifting sign for a genre that can often be consumed in its negativity. The real D Double E lies just as much on radio rips from the noughties as he does in strangely constructed clothing comparisons to his music. Even though it took 20 years and 20 tracks for the real D Double to finally emerge, it was worth the wait.

D Double E plays The Sugar Club on February 8.

Words: Cóilí Collins / Photography & Styling: Thomas Chatt 
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