D Double E, aka Darren Dixon, is a veteran of grime. His noughties group Newham Generals were at the tougher end of the genre, but only now – at the age of 38 – is the rapper releasing his debut album ‘Jackuum!’ Marked by his distinctive, lithe delivery and sly humour, it’s an infectious blend of hard grime and smooth slowjams, confirming the versatility that his recent collaborations with Skepta (‘Nang’) and Gorgon City (‘Hear That’) hinted at. Why, though, have we waited so long to hear D Double go it along? And what does he make of the current scene?
You’re a veteran of grime. How come we’re just hearing your debut album?
“When I got signed to Dirtee Stank, to Dizzee, he wanted to put me out as a solo artist. That was an opportunity that I should have lapped up but I was with the Newham Generals at the time. In the meeting, I said, ‘I’m in a crew.’ That was the mindset I was in at the time – I was always looking out for the group. Some people get put this in this position and they realise, ‘I have to take this.’ Whereas I would feel bad. I was thinking about the work we put in as a group.”
Do you regret that decision?
“I just feel like I’ve given enough to other people and collaborations, not putting myself forward. Now I realise I can be better by myself. But I don’t regret anything, man. All I regret is the way that I was thinking. I’m independent now and this has been the best time of my life.”
The album is very diverse sounding…
“With my album, I’ve been able to go back to my roots. Anyone that knows me, my lyrics are diverse and I’m very versatile. I just wanted to slyly get that across on the album. It makes people aware of what I can really do.”
The track ‘Lyrical Hypnosis’ is kind of a slowjam, and seems to come from a similar place to ‘Ladies Hit Squad’, your 2016 collaboration with Skepta
“To be honest with you, man, they’re my favourite types of tunes to do. I like listening to tunes that you can love. Some things are hard and then there’s that song that’s just got something about it – it’s a nice vibe. That’s how I love music. I feel like people think D Double’s always on a crazy thing, but on the album I just kinda give people a different feeling. The album is still hard, though. Newham Generals was sort of dubstep-y, but this is universal.”
‘Hear That’, your single with Gorgon City, was more clubby and poppy than your usual stuff. Was that liberating?
“Yeah, man. You know what it is? Anything to do with the UK, I’m involved, man. All these little areas – house, funky house, dubstep, drum’n’bass – that’s my field. But the difference is. When I’m doing my projects as D Double, [those genres] might not be on there. These things I will do as singles and features, but I don’t think I would have D Double album or project where it’s that sort of sound. On my album, I’d rather keep it all in line and then have an EP of house bangers with Gorgon City. And then we run the streets from that, you know what I mean?”
From your perspective, it must have been fascinating to watch grime’s narrative arc. Where does have grime have left to go?
“I think the genre is gonna keep on building. We’re gonna go through cycles. It gonna change but it’s just about surviving through the weather conditions and having the best quality music with you. The more time that goes by, the more people will respect quality and hard music. What is popping off now is poppier stuff, but you grow out of that stuff real quick. What we want is hard.”
You worked with Skepta on the brilliant ‘Nang’, which features on the new album. He’s been collaborating a lot lately – do you know what he has coming up next?
“Right – he’s getting the levels right. That’s what I realised about collaborations – people get upset and say, ‘He’s done a song with that guy but we haven’t heard from him in 10 years, where’s he been?’, but it makes sense to have some momentum. With Skepta, it could be that he has a project going, or it could be that he’s maintaining the greatness in the meantime.”
AJ Tracey appears, too, on ‘Natural Organic’. He’s becoming a proper star…
“He surprised me. He sent me the verse within two days and it was sounding 100. I didn’t have to say nothing. His career is mad open, man. I still feel like he’s finding his way. He’s not 100 way at the moment. He’s still trying to find where he wants to be. He’s gonna go where the most feedback is.”
The received wisdom is that drill in the next grime. What do you make of it?
“Yeah, drill is the next UK music. But the only good thing I know about drill is that it’s really, really, really UK. When you’re watching some of these music videos, you’re seeing these guys are stunting – guys are kinda trying to look American. Drill is not like that – drill is really the streets here. That’s what I love about drill. The kids don’t give a shit. They’ve got the fucking hoodies, they’re got the string on the hoodies pulled in tight. That’s what I like about the look, you know? But I don’t like what they’re doing and I don’t like that they’re talking about.”
What don’t you like about the lyrical content of drill?
“Music is about spitting about different thing, but when I hear drill, it seems to be the same shit, man. That’s what’s not good and not musical. Then you have Michael Dapaah [aka Big Shaq, whose parody track ‘Man’s Not Hot’ was a hit last year] kinda made the drill people look silly. ‘Cause he’s taking the piss, but they’re being serious. If you’re doing music, you can’t be too serious. That’s fine – talk about some good days in drill. But that seems to be a bit hard for them. That’s when drill will be accepted: when they can get out of the small bubble.”
There’s a tongue-in-cheeck track on Jackuum! called ‘Back Then’, where you talk about what’s changed since you started out. What has changed?
“It’s a little bit more American. The way we sucked up American influence and spat it back out, it was genius. Right now, people are not trying to work as hard to find their genius ways to do what they can do. That makes me feel like we’re not gonna make a new genre – we’ve got UK garage, we’ve got dubstep, we’ve got funky house, but I’m not sure what the next genre is. The closest thing we’ve got is drill. It’s not good what they’re doing, but it’s a product of real UK struggle, without the gloss.”
– Jackuum! is out now on Bluku Music