A few years ago, Dizzee Rascal’s single ‘Dance Wiv Me’ signalled a change in the cheeky UK rapper’s music, away from the grime sound of old into the direction of unabashed pop. His new album, The Fifth, sees him embrace the idea of pop even more. Packed with dancefloor-ready beats, it’s his most joyous release to date. As he tells it, he wanted to make an album that would give his live show more punch. “The whole thing with this record is that it’s geared towards live audiences,” he explains. “The earlier stuff didn’t have a lot for the crowd to latch onto in terms of hooks and the rest of it, it was just me rapping away, so this time I really wanted to give people something. I challenged myself to bring those big hooks in and make it work.”
On his newfound musical direction, Rascal has said that if his last record, Tongue N’ Cheek, represented him dipping a toe into the swimming pool of happiness, then The Fifth is him diving in and going for a few laps. He’s simply arrived at a point in life where he appreciates the benefits of happiness and positivity. “I want to see people smiling and jumping around and having the time of their lives at my shows,” he says. “I want music that facilitates that. I mean, the energy that it gives off, people might run around and have a fight to, but I want people to have a good time. I want to make people feel good. I want to make classics. I want people to put my music on when they have a celebration. That’s how I want to be remembered.”
The Fifth was made in Los Angeles, and the atmosphere of the city – itself undergoing something of a hip hop resurgence at the moment – contributed greatly to the sound of the album. “I’ve been coming to LA for years,” Rascal explains. “It’s actually the first place I went when I came to America back in 2003, but I’ve never made music here before this album. It’s always been my favourite American city, even ahead of Miami. This time around, I decided to come out here and do the pop star thing – I worked with some big people in some big studios, and I just had a laugh. It’s funny to be waking up in hotels – every day is sunny, going to the studio all day … There are so many people here. You can go to a studio here and anyone can be next door. You’ll be walking the halls and bump into Tyga or Chris Brown.”
Across a decade-long career Rascal has always determinedly produced his own material, but when making The Fifth he decided to try a new approach, entrusting production duties to his various collaborators so he could focus on songwriting instead. “I’d never done that kind of thing before, because I’d always done it myself from home. It was cool, though, because the calibre of producers and beatmakers I worked with was very high.” Pop heavyweight RedOne contributed, along with R&B star Jean Baptiste and many more. “The production side of me was still there, because I picked the beats, and I worked on the arrangements,” Rascal explains. “The way things fit together on the album isn’t necessarily the way they fit together when I was first presented with the beats. When you have to build a beat then write to it, your thought process is different, so I liked that I started out working with smashing pop hooks for this one.”
Dance and hip hop are changing and evolving all the time, and on that front Rascal considers it a part of his job to be always on top of the newest sounds and the freshest beats. “That’s especially true when it comes to hip hop,” he says. “My heart’s still there, it’s still the core of what I do, so I wake up every morning and look all over the internet for new shit, from the mainstream as well as the underground. That’s my main thing. I also listen to a lot of club music – it’s not necessarily my main thing, but I hear a lot of it about, and I’m always curious about why and how people respond to different beats. I was in Ibiza and went to the clubs there and had an eye-opening experience there. It’s not necessarily what I’m into, but it’s not always about what I’m into, it’s about finding out what stimulates people, and then trying to find a balance, putting that into my own music.”
Rascal puts on a very energetic live show, constantly bouncing from left to right around the stage, and The Fifth will only add more energy to the performance. “I definitely give it my all in the show,” he laughs. “My knees are fucked afterwards! I feel super hyped after I come off. I put everything into the show, but I always find that if you give everything, you’ll get it back. There’s nothing worse than seeing a lazy rapper. Live performance is the most important part of this whole thing for me – when people come to see me, they want to see the music come to life, they want to have the full experience, and it’s very important for me to give them that.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
The Fifthout Friday September 27 through Dirtee Stank/Liberator Music.