D Double E on Kano and Asher D being better known for ‘Top Boy’ than music

D Double E has spoken to NME about the hardship of early grime stars, Jamaica’s influence on the scene and his ‘No Flowers, No Reign’ EP.

The East Londoner became synonymous with the UK grime scene as a part of the Newham Generals alongside Footsie, before having a thriving solo career and releasing grime classics such as ‘Street Fighter Riddim’ and ‘Bad 2 Tha Bone’.

While many grime stars have become household names – such as his longtime friend and frequent collaborator Ghetts as well as the likes of Kano, Asher D (better known as Ashley Waters) and Skepta – the MC and producer, real name Darren Jason Dixon, hailed how the scene had “come a long way”.

“I love when people can and do what they want to do,” said the MOBO Award winner. “When I hear Kano’s album [2019 ‘Hoodies All Summer’] and he’s got the tunes with Popcaan [‘Can’t Hold We Down’], then I’ll hear Skepta with A$AP Rocky [ on 2017 track ‘Praise Da Lord’] or Wizkid [on 2016 ‘Ojuelegba (Remix)’] – I just love it that everyone is free and that’s what I’m trying to do for myself.”

However, when it came to figures from grime becoming more well-known for their successful TV work away from the scene – such as Kano and Asher D playing Sully and Dushane in Top Boy – Dixon said: “I don’t really like that, man, but it adds a little bit more sauce to the person, I guess. We’re in a different era where people just don’t listen to music. They can come across Top Boy and not everyone’s got time to look into stuff – this is what I realised.”

He continued: “People like Big Narstie and all these people that people aren’t realising are artists, they just see them as the TV person. It kind of makes me not want to go into that, man. And I really want to do films and I really want to get into acting and stuff, but I need to be where I want to be musically before I tap in.”

D Double E reminisced on the hardships of MCs in the height of grime in the 2000s, which was during the pirate radio boom. “It was rough,” he explained. “You was not paid much. It was more to do with love and the opportunities we were thankful for and we’d be willing to drive an hour just to show what we do.

“Pirate radio was a big help for us which was another hardship even with the DTI [UK’s Department of Trade and Industry] running up in the building and DJs losing their records because the radio station got raided. I had to kind of be a monster back then. You have to be ruthless, not on a big bad thing, just if you stop someone on the road and they said there was an artist, they would say, ‘I’ll spit a bar for you now on the street,’ and do it.”

D Double E
D Double E at Reading Festival 2023. Credit: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

When asked if pirate radio culture could come back, D Double E said: “There are too many things going on for people to care [about it] and there’s too many other avenues for people to take where before radio was the only avenue. So, to do it now, it seems a little bit backwards unless you’re showing them something that we haven’t got.”

Cyphers are when multiple rappers come together and share a microphone, rapping over randomly selected beats. Before mainstream media aired the underground genre, pirate radio, handmade mixtapes and DIY videos were the only way fans could hear these rhymes. Some of UK rap’s biggest stars, like Skepta and Tinchy Stryder, became chart-topping acts after becoming popular for their freestyles.

Dixon said that he believes that “there’s still space for more” cypher culture in the rap community. Earlier this year, UK rap platforms TravsPresents and Victory Lap went viral on numerous occasions after being praised for bringing back the freestyle culture synonymous with hip-hop and grime.

With this year also marking the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation – when over 1,000 immigrants from the Caribbean travelled overseas aboard the HMT Empire Windrush to the UK to settle and work. Asked about the impact and ongoing legacy of this culture on grime, D Double E said that “the whole grime attitude is really a Jamaican thing”.

“When you watch old Jamaicans [parties] and the performers on stage, the way they come on stage, the way they’re ready to bad up the mic, the DJ will wheel [rewind] the track,” he said. “That’s how we kind of take the stage. It’s very live, no backing track.”

D Double E’s new EP ‘No Reign. No Flowers’ arrives tomorrow (November 10) – his first release since last year’s ‘Bluku Bluku 2’ album and teased by lead single ‘Life Line’.

The EP is produced by TenBillion Dreams, who D Double E met on the set of Ghetts’ music video shoot for the 2021 ’Conflict Of Interest’ single ‘Skengman’. His cousin’s childhood friend, Double took a chance on the producer before he “met [him] one time and he showed me some beats” and made three songs together that night.

“Then we were like, ‘Let’s make a project,’” said D Double E. “We had those three tunes from before but then we just made an extra seven and then we come up with the concept of ‘No Reign, No Flowers’.”

For the project, D Double E wanted to “try and do something different because I wanted to make more mature-sounding music.” He said he wanted his new music to be “more understandable in terms of my lyrics and when people are listening to me.”

The EP is set to feature Detroit-born rapper Danny Brown and other London-based stars such as R&B singer Hamzaa, UK rap star Suspect OTB and the aforementioned Ghetts.

“It was great to work with Danny,” said Dixon. “I’ve been following Danny for a long time and, yeah, he’s a good artist, man. I always wanted to work with him at some point and yeah, I hollered at him at the beginning of this year and he came through.”

D Double E described their track together as “calm” and “something nice to listen to”. The ‘Bluku Bluku’ rapper’s new “mature” sound has him excited for his upcoming live show, which calls into London’s KOKO on November 24.

“When I do my live show, it’s going to be with a live band as well, because I just wanted to just have that feeling,” he said. “I’ve always loved music with this [emotive] feeling, so just wanted to do it myself.”

He continued: “I’ve got to work with live bands in the past, not because I want to but, because I just happen to be on stage with a live band. So I just gave myself an opportunity and made it happen.  I’m gonna be performing the EP live. There will be a certain point where the cloak goes up and then the decks are revealed and it turns into the madness people are waiting for. But I’m doing what I need to do to get [my thoughts] off my chest and then the people are good.”

When asked what’s next for the Newham General, D Double E promised “another video from the EP” and an attempt to find Danny Brown and “get him in a headlock” to make more music while he’s in town next month.

“Next year, I’ve got a few surprises coming up, man,” he added. “I’m going to be slapping the people down with some new music again. I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve that are gonna switch it up again.”

‘No Flowers, No Reign’ will be out on November 10 via Bluku Music. Fans can pre-save and pre-order the project here. Fans can also visit here to buy tickets to D Double E’s upcoming London headline show.

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