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Dizzee Rascal: Uncaged

Tim Ingham
Dizzee Rascal: Uncaged

There are certain overheard phrases that a journalist's brittle ego craves as we exit an artist interview.

"He seemed like a decent bloke." Winner.

"Those were some tough questions." A boost to the frail professional self-assurance. Nice touch.

"Where the fuck did they find him?" Hmm. Let's have a look here... Nope. That's not on the list.

And yet, following eight-and-a-half lively, lewd, alarming minutes with mash-up master Dizzee Rascal, aka Dylan Mills, these are the sour syllables left ringing in my ears.

They're spat by man mountain manager/ producer Nick Detnon, aka Cage - the sharp-witted, wise-cracking guv'nor of Dizzee's fraternal operation. A loose-fit turquoise Ralph Lauren shirt brushing over tree trunk torso and beefy belly, he's a boisterous bruiser with a box-clever tongue; a bantersaurus with a Pulitzer in pinpoint put-downs and prickly piss-takes.

Unsurprisingly, Cage gladly fills the silences whenever Dizzee is unmoved by my enquiries. Enquiries like: what would he change about his life as a UK megastar? "Interviews, because you're all shit cunts and I'm tired of answering these bullshit questions." Ooookay. And to think things started off swimmingly. No, really, they did...

I plonk myself down in front of Dizzee barely an hour after he's bestowed with five Official Charts Company awards to recognise his No.1 singles.

I arrive bearing an additional accolade: Music Week's Paul Williams has informed me that the star was the first person to ever use the 'c' word in our storied publication's history. When I deliver the news, I'm greeted by that fabulous glinting grin, Dizzee's chops proudly creasing into an ivory oblong. He looks properly, sincerely chuffed.

In a moment I'll cherish, he moves in for a celebratory fist bump - an invite I'm pretty sure I fulfill without looking too much of a bell-end. One to tell the grandkids about.

"First person ever to say cunt!?" he exclaims. "Serious? Winning!"

And to think people told me Dizzee Rascal could be a difficult interviewee! I'm on a roll - even when I mess up the chronology of his XL exit, I'm not greeted by grumpiness, but a team-wide jocular assault.

(Dizzee left the label after he created chart-topping track Dance Wiv Me in 2008. XL head honcho Richard Russell didn't like it, and refused to bolt the song onto a reprint of third album Maths + English. The tune was self-released via PIAS - but Dizzee says that XL "also didn't want to up my deal".)

We switch gear into more ponderous territory, and it's here Cage establishes some revelatory parameters.

Roll Deep's 17-year-old Dizzee Rascal became grime's first widely revered album artist - but a decade on, he's better known for bubbly, bouncy hit singles. Does he worry about the death of the LP?

"That won't happen as long as artists still give a shit," he replies. "I know right now things are geared towards singles because that's where the money is, but I want to make a nice body of work.

"I'm not going to front and say I don't care about radio play or number ones. Course I do. I'm going to make the hits, go on TV and make the syncs and that shit. But I want to be able to say shit, cunt, bollocks and all that - talk about obscene stuff. That's what albums are for."

At this point, Cage's perma-mischievous expression snaps slightly into concerned professionalism. Still giggling, he waves his arms like Papa Bear, grabbing the room's attention. (Mine is instantly granted: in 2003 he reportedly threatened to tear an editor "limb from limb" for printing a picture of his key artist near a knife.)

"What Dizzee means is: 'It allows a wider remit of artistic expression,'" he jokingly, forcefully clarifies. He looks at me suspiciously: "Who are we talking to here?"

Ten months into this job, and I have never witnessed the words 'Music Week' cause anywhere near such elation. Cage openly guffaws: "Ha! Say what the fuck you like!"

It quickly dawns on Dizzee that he's speaking to an insular industry newsletter; that he doesn't have to play the promo game, or even plug his "filthy" upcoming fifth album. (We'll do that for him.)

But unfortunately, he doesn't have to pretend to enjoy our company, either. And after a pummeling string of quick-fire interviews with Q, The Guardian, the Official Charts Company and others, he's tired, itching to get back into the studio - and running low on patience.

As a result, there is an uneasy edge to even the chuckle-filled elements of our chat. Dizzee is capable of energetically charming the wholesome 2.4s at Capital FM's Summertime Ball, but he's no desperate media clown. Not so long ago he was just an irascible teenager from Bow with a fuck-the-world demeanour and an extraordinary talent; both traits that still loom large.

It's a minor miracle he's a nationally treasured pop star at all, really; as thrilling as songs like Pussyole, Suk My Dick and Hype Talk are, they're stuffed with lyrical conflict and harsh aggression that would make David Cameron's cultural advisors puke.

Earlier, collecting his awards in front of UK Music's dazzled guests, Dizzee warned: "I've never had any media training in 10 years." Now, with Cage's blessing, the little PR sheen he has memorised has left town - along with his self-censorship. Foolishly, I'm about to make his mood a mega-ton worse.

I ask Dizzee about his business operation, Dirtee Stank. He explains that DirteeTV.com is the current focus: an online TV channel launching this year to show his career 'behind-the-scenes'. He clarifies that it will also help break up-and-coming UK artists.

"Similar to Jamal Edwards' SBTV?"

The laughter stops. The room goes chilly. Cage raises an open palm each side of his face; a physical disclaimer to withdraw responsibility for any explosive reaction. (I have since revisited Cage's accompanying booming, baritone "ooooooh" on my voice recorder. It lasts a full four seconds, sounding uncannily like the sort of cautionary audio theatre that precedes someone getting chinned in a Wetherspoon's.)

Caroline, Dizzee's PR, is the first to speak. She's smiling nervously, but her tone is earnest: "You shouldn't have said that, Tim."

Dizzee refuses to look at me. He directly eyeballs Cage, insinuating there is Jamal-related annoyance not deemed worthy for my ears. "Do you know what's deep?," he asks his manager, eyebrows vexed into an arch. "I'll tell you later."

A few seconds pass, and Dizzee musters enough enthusiasm to state: "We're going to do stuff [Jamal] couldn't get away with." Cage, equally clipped, promises the content will be "a bit more interesting" than the competition.

"It's called Dirtee TV for a reason," says Dizzee. Full. Fucking. Stop.

I feebly, optimistically toss out the "what would you change" question into the stilted atmosphere - and before I know it, Dizzee's referring to me and my professional brethren as "shit cunts". (Which, when all is said and done, surely stakes a claim for another Music Week first.)

"Fucking promo," he continues, possibly not even addressing my enquiry anymore. "It's my biggest problem. No disrespect to my PR woman, but if I could just get away with: 'Look! Here's a record! See you later!' and go on holiday, I would."

Cage kindly makes a couple of stabs at lightening the mood - joshing about Dizzee conducting press Q&As as a Tupac-esque hologram and bringing back "Seventies-style groupies" - but ultimately, when Caroline wraps up the interview, everyone seems a bit relieved.

She offers me a cheery apology as we exit, but there's no need: I've been privy to a rare snapshot of a wildly talented artist behind the pre-pack press politeness - where tolerance for soundbite-seeking berks eating into his studio time wears thin.

Besides, bearing an audience with a coarse, disinterested Dizzee must be a piece of pie compared with keeping his innate spikiness palatable for the chart-loving masses. (Just imagine if he'd saved "shit cunts" for the Capital FM kids.)

In this regard, Team Dizzee do an astonishing job - most particularly chief career protector Nick 'Cage' Detnon.

Wherever the fuck they found him.

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Tags: Talent, Dizzee Rascal, Nick Detnon, Cage, Tim Ingham, Interviews

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