Exclusive Interview: D Double E – “You can never get rid of where you’re from.”

Pioneering UK MC, D Double E, discusses independence, originality and British culture...

Grant Brydon

2 months ago

By Grant Brydon

D Double E is perched on a stool in the corner of the Leeds Marriott Hotel. The unassuming business people rushing in and out of the lobby would never suspect that they’re interrupting the gaze of a British music pioneer, as he sips from his glass surveying the settings in front of him.

In a black fleece, the East Londoner is inconspicuous amongst the busy mid-afternoon scene as people carry their phone calls out onto the front steps, and others drag heavy cases towards the check-in desk. He’s an hour away from surprising students with a Red Bull Roadblock pop-up show alongside TQD outside Leeds University Students Union, and is expecting a good reaction following a set in Southampton the previous day – although thanks to his laidback demeanour, you’d never guess it.

A veteran performer, D Double E has been around before the birth of the grime scene, and is one of its most beloved characters. Through radio sets, raves, video clips, features, a handful of solo releases and his work with Footsie as Newham Generals, D Double E has established himself as a true original; your favourite MC’s favourite MC. And yet, with over 15 years in MC culture, he’s only just gearing up to release his debut album Jackuum! this Summer.

Now finding inspiration in his independence, he’s been able to find his way out of a frustrated period of his life as an artist, and is refreshingly forthcoming with the knowledge he’s gained along his journey. During a conversation with D Double E it’s easy to lose track of time, as each talking point spirals off into fascinating meditations on everything from British style, to originality, influence and success.

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It’s still crazy that you haven’t put an album out yet, this is the first one. What was it that made you decide to finally do it?

I’ve been frustrated for years. I’ve been working on projects for the past eight years. I had to make that transition to push myself forward. It’s basically what should have happened years ago. I’m on it now with a passion. I have to get the album out, to give the people the full D Double E.

Nobody really knows my sound: they know what I’m capable of, but they don’t know my sound. You get a whole album, you hear, “Ok, this is where he is.” Getting dribs and drabs, going to little radio sets, hearing me spit bars – you’re not getting my sound. If there’s people out there that are thinking, “Why does everyone say D Double E’s the best?” Then this is going to help them understand.

What urged you to make that transition, pushing yourself to the forefront?

Independence helped me. I used to be in situations where I was always looking for support. I didn’t ever want to do things without the right look. If I wanted to put out an album, I knew I needed the network to make it happen, and I didn’t want to do it myself. I was hollering at labels, I was with Dirtee Stank at the time, and I was getting a bit frustrated because the time wasn’t coming so I had to put pressure on it.

So then just becoming independent and me saying, “Cool, I’m just gonna put out this track on my own label, Bluku Music, and see how it goes.” Now I know that no one is gonna push you like yourself, in terms of your views and how you think. And the more people you’re around the more your views can get changed. So now I’m not caring about what anyone thinks. This is the mentality you’re supposed to have.

When I show people music, it’s not people that necessarily listen to my music. So they latch on to certain tunes, and certain tunes they’re not really sure about. But the tune they’re not sure about, I am sure about! This is your work, this is you. You need to feel it. When you feel it, that’s everything. It’s always in you.

What made you embrace independence, rather than continuing to chase labels?

Because it’s where I’ve come from: the reason why I’m D Double E, the reason why I got the echoes, the reason why I got all my lyrics. It was never ever to do with anyone else’s influence. All my bars are my bars. I can’t be stopped in being myself. So being independent is the way it has to be, with the support. This is what we need. We need the people to support what we do.

You might get signed as you, and somehow you start doing pop, and then you got pressure. Then you’re listening to some UK music and you’re really feeling it and in your heart this is what you wanna be on, but you’re trapped in this other world and you need to come free. You need the support for you. And this is what we’re all appreciating today: being free and not having to go down the way we thought we had to go down.

I’m being me and I’m okaying what I want to do: I’m putting out a track tomorrow if I wanted. And the album is coming and I feel greater than ever.

You’ve obviously been an MC since you were a teenage, but at what point would you say you became an artist?

I would say that I’ve always been an artist. From the year 2000, I was an artist. I would come up with these echoes: when I’m doing all that on the track and you hear it on the track, and it’s sounds all smooth, that’s artist’s work. It’s always been in me from the beginning. It’s just that I wasn’t giving my artistry the time. I was just more interested in doing the raw s**t. This album is gonna show people how diverse I am, within being myself, within being D Double. You can never tell me what my next track is gonna sound like cause it’s always different.

You’ve proven that the way an MC uses their voice can be equally as important as what they’re saying. I wondered how you made that discovery?

I didn’t discover it, that’s just me. Some people say things in a [more concise] way and it’s more serious. Some people have to say a lot, to get their point across. It’s just one of them natural things; what you say, the way you say it. When I’m feeling jokey I might be like, “F**k, look at those skinny jeans over there!” When I’m in that mode, the way I say something it’s just got this ring of exclusivity, the way I talk. It’s not straight forward.

On the intro to the album, you’re interviewing yourself, and the voice you’re putting on is crazy…

That’s another part of me that people don’t know. I’m an actor, I can do different s**t. I think I’ll be a sick actor in a film, with a different role. Not being a comedian, being serious, being a joke, whatever it is. Even a stand up comedian. If I was on all that s**t, I could do a lot of s**t.

Do you see and hear your influence in others?

Yeah I do, I used to just always hear my influence, now I can see my influence. And now it’s not just in the music, it’s what I do, it’s how I do stuff. I can see a lot more. So online I might see someone with a D Double haircut, and it’s like “Ah, I got your haircut, G!” Or some girl will send me a tattoo of ‘Legendary’ but it’s on her arm.

My motto is to not doing anything that anyone else is doing. I try to stay away from that. I can get ideas from ideas, but it’s never the same s**t. I’m the creator of the path, you can’t follow me, you can only be on the trail. I could just go left; you’re not expecting anything that I’m doing.

Is it important to you to be influential, and to inspire the next generation?

That’s something I care about, I care about it a lot. It’s part of the bedding of the UK: it’s where you’re from. You know your roots? You know when you think about where you’ve grown up? You can never get rid of that. You can never get rid of where you’re from. All these artists, they’ve grown up on me, Wiley, Dizzee. They’ve grown up on the UK stem.

It’s the reason why people are here today as artists, we have to respect that. You can’t take away where you’re from. This is why I’m part of the UK, I’m not trying to be American in any way, shape or form. This is what they respect and I respect them for doing their next s**t, whether it’s mumble rap or whatever, this is their s**t. And then Jamaican mandem are doing their ting, that’s their ting.

Our ting is like funky house, drum & bass, dubstep, grime. And then we can add in people like Soul II Soul and Neneh Cherry, Mark Morrison – this is all our s**t and this is not in America, it’s authentic. This is where the respect came from, because we respected that. We’re part of the stem of that real s**t there, UK, different s**t. The UK identity started with jungle, next thing you know we made garage, next thing you know we made dubstep, we made grime.

What are making in terms of sound to school the Jamaican people? To school America? You can’t do what they do and school them. It’s impossible for us as a UK genre to go to America and make everyone in America start spitting grime: they’re f**king trill to their s**t.

So it shouldn’t be possible for anyone to be able to influence us to come away from reality. Because reality is where you’re from, where you live. If I talk to you about being in school, we’re talking about reality. Now you’re back in UK. This is where tracksuits come in, and Stone Island comes in, this is part of our s**t. We didn’t give a f**k what anyone else was wearing. When we looked at Americans they was wearing big baggy [clothes], with two big earrings, mad s**t. We was just on the grizzle – Nike trackies. This is the identity, the real identity. We don’t give a f**k. Our identity is not glossy. Having on all the chains and s**t, but still being in a trackie: that’s our look.

We’ve been setting trends fashion-wise for years. When I was sixteen, I was wearing Moschino, Iceberg, Burberry, all of that s**t, in our way. If I flew to America in ’97 with all of my s**t, I would have just seen big baggy white tees, du-rags, Timbo’s – fashion is not involved. Them man were the gully man them times, we were the guys that had a bit of a look.

Now it’s switched around: if you look at Migos now, you see the fashion, Skepta started saying ‘F**k Gucci’, started dissing fashion. Why do we have to wear all of that to get respect? Respect me in my all black trackie. Respect me in my Sports Direct tee.

What does success look like to you?

Success for me is being able to look after your whole family and make sure everyone around you is living good. Everyone around [me] is contributing to me, for me to contribute to them, because we don’t want to be doing 9 to 5’s. Tell my brother to stop working, tell my mum to stop working; come do this for me. That to me, that’s success. Give your kids houses and s**t.

Music is infinity, there’s no stop. That’s the passion I got. So I’m gonna be dishing out albums, on a mad ting. Once the first one comes, I’m gonna give people my life. Cause giving them your life is like taking two steps at a time, so I can get up the stairs quicker. Doing raves here and there, putting out one track here and one there, is like, “Okay cool. When’s the next one coming?” That could go on forever. When it’s albums, it’s more steady. It can help me to progress and build a lot more [quickly].

What are you most proud of about your career so far?

I’m proud about being independent, but if I was thinking about that question in more depth I would have to say it’s got to be something to do with even being inspired to pick up the pen…

Do you remember when that was?

No! But that must have been the deepest moment. From switching from being like you loving music, to saying “Alright well maybe I can…” That crossover moment, that day when I tried and it went wrong like, ‘Oh I’m s**t.’ I want to know what bully came out of me saying ‘Nah!’ This is why I am who I am. The way I was spitting, the way I was writing, what I’m saying… it’s all certainty. I think the people around me at the time, I think that would have been the time where people around me would have lifted me the most. As a man who got no lyrics or I just got one and I say it – there must have been a man saying “Whoa!”

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Interview by Grant Brydon
Photos by Vicky Grout