In Conversation With:
D Double E
When you think of UK music, not many artists can boast having as big an impact on the scene as D Double E. From getting reloads off adlibs alone, to dropping some of the most iconic tracks to hit the circuit, the East London native didn’t become your favourite MC’s, favourite MC overnight.
“Oh my word”, “Oeerr, Oeerr”, “It’s me, me” and “Budda Bup Bup” — are just some of the recognisable examples of his laid back flow, signature cadence and illustrious voice. Despite his immense contributions to the genre, Double’s influences and taste palette span a wide range of genres which he subtly channels into all of his projects.
Being the cornerstone of the scene for over two decades, the artist has witnessed trends come and go. With “Legendary” tattooed on his neck, the term is an understatement when describing Double’s career. Coming up in the jungle era, he is cited as one of the key figureheads in the establishment of grime in the early ‘00s.
After several years on the back burner, he’s launched his own label, Bluku Music and is finally able to work on his own terms — riding on the lane he’s been steadily building since the ‘90s. Reflecting on his career and achievements, he’s putting his destiny into his own hands without being held back by categorisations and people’s preconceived notions of what a D Double E track should sound like.
Original Shift caught up with the Newham General to provide an introspective view on his journey, memorable moments from pirate radio as well as what he’s doing differently this time around in his career with his next project, the Bluku Bluku EP part II on the horizon.
Original Shift: You came up from the jungle scene, how did you get into the genre? And what attracted you to the sound?
D Double E: I can’t remember how I first came into it, but my earliest memory of hearing it, I was around 14 or 15. My mum had bought me one of those cassette stereos with an FM dial on it and I soon became aware of all the stations that were out there. But it was on the cable box where I first saw it though. At that time it was just American videos mainly, and one day I saw General Levy’s “Incredible” and I was like “Rah, this is jungle.” I just so happened to be around it. It came to me. Even if I wasn’t in the scene physically, I would’ve gone through that generation knowing what it was about. It was just big in that era.
When did you notice the sound shifting towards grime?
That came a bit later. Really, the link between jungle and grime is radio stations. Before, there were stations like Kool FM that were strictly playing jungle and others playing hip-hop and different genres, it wasn’t all in one place. But where I was on this jungle ting, I was just looking for that. But on listening to these other stations, it made me aware of things like garage and how it has the vocal side as well as a dark side. On these ones, the instrumental used to be rolling out, like “1999” [impersonates the beat] it’s an old-school tune, it’s got the garage step on it and that’s where MCs could do their thing. I wouldn’t have a radio station in 2022 that does one thing only. Mine would be like 1Xtra — one minute Sir Spyro’s on, then a bashment DJ and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s what brings all genres to people. Even in a dance, a proper dance, you’re never hearing one ting. There are dances that are strictly hip-hop or jungle but that’s not my life, my life is not “strictly.” Even if you don’t think I’m there, I’m there. I was in R&B dances, I was in bashment dances.
You have a varied taste palette when it comes to music, but you’re best known for your contribution to grime. How does that feel?
When you do music, you’re supposed to make the music you love. When I see Skepta and Kano today, I hear their music and it’s just music. It’s not strictly grime. ‘Cos we grew up loving everything, we’re supposed to do everything. For me, coming into other sounds is natural. It’s not a myth, it’s already there. It’s just taking two steps to the left and two steps to the right. I do all music. I just do what’s good. But I know that the time of what I’ve done in grime, it was special, I get it. But I don’t just cook chicken. I eat different foods. People say “There’s the chicken god” – I’m not the chicken god, I’m the food god, you know? I do lobster, everything, but people hold onto that.
Coming up around [many different] genres, I know I can kill anything in — I’m just giving my two pence in them all. Now that I'm older, I’m more aware that if I do a hip-hop track, I’m not gonna have them telling me I’m hip-hop, ‘cos it takes a long time. It takes 10 years worth of someone doing it to say “He’s hip hop.” That’s why I get it if people call me grime ‘cos I was around it for so long. But if that’s where the light is, then that’s where the light is.
“Coming up around [many different] genres, I know I can kill anything in — I’m just giving my two pence in them all”
At what point did you realise being a musician was a feasible career choice?
It came from me doing bedroom sets, that’s what made me think I can do this. There wasn’t a moment where I thought I could do this to get famous, I was just fucking around in the bedroom thinking yeah, I could hold the mic, spit, go on radio and just host – I wasn’t thinking I could be 2Pac, you get me? I was already in Nasty Crew doing big stuff when I realised “Rah, I want to actually make music, I don’t just wanna spit on it” but that was another stage in my life. When Kano did “Boys Love Girls” and Dizzee dropped his first grime track early, these times I never even had a tune. I was just the guy that goes on the mic and I thought, nah I wanna make music.
So you began to take it seriously later in your career…
I made “Frontline”, it was one of my first tunes — “Think you’re a big boy ‘cos you got a beard” and “Birds in the Sky” too. These were my first attempts and they’re legendary things. They didn’t come until later though, I had just been on the mic when really I should’ve been making music. That’s one thing I wish I could change. It would’ve stopped me from getting into a genre that just wants me to spit on the mic. The genre wasn’t pushing me to be the real Snoop Dogg and have a real career, right now I should be on my 7th album. I’ve had hits, but all I’ve got is radio tapes of me spittin’ so, in my view, I wasted time. There is a lot of confusion. People give me credit and they respect what I’ve done, but I could’ve been bigger. You’re telling me I’m that guy, and you’re giving me reloads, but when I go to my bank, I can’t see what you’re telling me. I don’t want no more big ups, let me work on my bank. Guys just want me to come on radio and spit, I don’t care about that any more.
Grime was birthed in the dances and underground clashes, it soon went global but then reached a block. How did you feel about the UK scene blowing up again now?
The more you go on a specific station and spit it for 5 years, you get trapped and now that’s what they think you are. You got to stop and make music, the music you love. Do whatever is happening. I’m turning on my radio and I’m hearing [sings “No, No, No” by Dawn Penn] I love that tune, why are you not trying to spit on that instrumental? If I had any artist around me and they’re strictly grime, I’d say “Listen, you gotta have your flow and do what you love. It’s bigger than that, man.” I’m just glad that the UK is actually shedding light and everything is bigger. Now every genre has more to offer, if artists have the same love for music as me each producer should be having bigger collabs. Shy FX needs to have a song with Jorja Smith ‘cos his jungle is sounding more open. You don’t need to be a genre-based MC.
You’ve been part of some of the most iconic crews. How did it come about?
It comes back to radio again — going on radio and mixing with different people. Nasty Crew happened to be on a set before me, I was in a different crew at the time. When I was turning up to Flava FM to do my set, they were finishing theirs and I thought that these guys were alright. We were doing the changeover two or three weeks in a row, and one day I came on their set and from there we had a good energy and vibe. That's how I got to know Sharky, Stormin and Armour. After that, the crew I was in folded and I still had the link for Sharky to go on radio if I wanted to. Next thing, I’ve gone on their set with him and Stormin and I’m spitting with them, then Hyper came, and it was looking like a crew already. We just happened to be on the same station.
Sounds like a natural connection between like-minded individuals.
It was. Sharky went to my school in Forest Gate. We just ended up being local, more local than I thought. I kept the link, that was it. Them days, everyone was chasing DJs, and once you got a DJ, he’s got decks in his yard, and a man that’s got decks makes you feel like you can still exercise. Them days it was about who’s got decks, that's how me and Kano linked up. I had met a guy in East Ham called Ginger, and I used to go to his yard to do sets and Kano was there, I must have been 14 or 15 years young. We used to do bare sets in Ginger’s and look where we are now. It was all connects, local, radio, and DJs, everyone’s got a guy. Before that, it might’ve been times you’d go to youth centres, ‘cos they used to be a little hub. They were trying to build a few studios towards the year 2000, even Sir Spyro came up in Manor Park youth centre.
It’s crazy how many of the iconic musicians of that generation came from East London. Did you guys recognise there’s something special here growing up?
Not really you know. Imagine it as a walkway, a safe passage for civilians. I feel like back then, that’s what it was like. There was only a small window. There weren't options like there is today. The whole world is at your fingertips now. Back then, if you were on a certain ting, it was easier to identify all the people around, somehow it was closer. There’s no phone, so how am I linking up with radio stations in Bow, and this guy all the way in East ham. Sometimes I think about it myself.
How did pirate radio help that?
That’s how radio stations buss. It’s the whole of London and all you had was Déjà vu and Rinse FM, there was one in west and one in north too, but mainly, there was only four stations getting all the attention. Now there are too many options to listen to music, someone can meet me and not even know who I am, someone has to tell them and when they go online they see a mad ting. Even when they tell me who they listen to, I might’ve never heard of them before.
Back in the day, there was a smaller window, things were closer on a natural ting. Even though the world is big, I can stay in contact with people around the world better than I could’ve done then. Back then, the build of the UK was close knit, that’s when we said “You know what, let’s do this thing.” That period there, where the crossover of jungle, grime, garage was happening, the UK had a nice little buildup of talent, and everyone just linked up. Everyone had a link. If I spoke to one guy who’s got a link to a station in North. Once I got on the station, I linked another DJ, and he introduces me to another guy. You had to be good and serious though. When the internet’s come, it kind of broke it into the world again, now the UK is the world. Today you can’t just make a call and go on a set. Back then it was more open but you had to be good.
What were some of your maddest memories from the days of Pirate Radio?
There’s been a few mad days man, things like DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) running up on the radio, being locked off whilst I was on air and I started getting bare calls saying “You’re not on air,” and then when I go to the car to check it’s [white noise sound]. Climbing over walls, buildings…some grimey looking buildings. Being in some really gully areas like Brixton, on the block and we’re there from east, and there’s not even a lock on the door. I’ve been on a radio station where there was a family in there, and I’m in the kitchen bruv, doing a set. Someone put it in their personal crib ‘cos where they had the radio station, the building got licked down. Man didn’t want to go off air, so he took it to his own yard for a couple days and made everyone go there. It was mad bro, but these are the situations.
“I’ve been on a radio station where there was a family in there, and I’m in the kitchen bruv, doing a set...”
Growing up in late-’80s/early ‘90s London, there was a lot of racism and violence. Could you talk about any experiences you’ve had dealing with that?
You know what, back in the day I didn’t go through none of that. I never really had those experiences when I was a teenager, I had them in my 20s and early 30s. Me and Footsie were on the train to Plymouth or Falmouth, one of those places, some football guys came on, and it was all bless but then they just got to drinking and then all of a sudden I could see that they wanted to say something – you know them sly ones. When we got there, we went to Nandos with a promoter, a white guy, and the way everyone was looking at us when we sat down, I just felt sorry for the promoter.
More recently, I went to Philadelphia or New York one time and I was staying at an apartment. The woman that owned it also lived there. I’m in my room and the promoter comes around and he’s like “Bro this woman is asking me if you’re Muslim and she’s asking for your passport.” I saw that she had a Jamaican man working for her, cleaning the building. My boy’s Mrs. is Muslim so he was taking it mad personal. I showed her my British passport and she took a photocopy of it, I told her that my family is from Jamaica and she was just brushing it off. I’ve had it around me, it’s just trying to be aware of these things. When I was younger I wasn’t walking around thinking I’m not gonna be safe, only now that I’m aware of certain atmospheres is when I think that.
When people drink they just get wild.
I know a white guy and he does this thing where he starts bouncing up and down when he sees me, saying “Wagwan, wagwan.” Like why do you keep converting into this next ting? Before that he was fine, it’s only when he sees me. It’s like bro, I don’t know what the feeling is with it.
You’ve got some of the most iconic ad libs, what’s the story behind them?
It just comes from vibes man. Back in the day in the dance, people used to say “Booyakah” or “Habla”, there were just certain words. Some people in the rave people clap to a reload, it’s just a reaction. But basically, when I’m feeling a vibe, I’m that person on the mic not just in the rave ‘cos when I’m on the mic, them vibes come as well. I’ve got a different technique to get them out, “Oh my Word” or “Bluku Bluku” are just another “Brap brap.” Someone one day was like “Let’s make this up,” then they just said “Olly olly olly,” and the next thing someone’s like “How did you come up with it?” it comes from someone not giving a fuck. It’s just a ting that comes out. Speaking in slang, we say things all the time. If you say “You get me” often you can turn it into the crowd if you want to, it just depends on how you speak. If you keep saying that in the rave or on music, you’d be known as that guy, it’s a certain energy. You have to be more free with shit and let go. When I listen to Jamaican music now, there’s an artist that starts a tune with a whole intro, and he says all this stuff so fast, he didn’t even practice that, it’s just natural.
In late 2000s early 2010s, there was a period where a lot of your peers were doing commercial tracks, but you weren’t getting as involved. Was that a conscious decision?
No, it wasn’t. If the opportunities came, it would’ve been good for me, ‘cos at the end of the day, I’m professional now. I know what that would’ve brought in terms of chart success, it’s professional. That would’ve given me a chance to have had more knowledge and I would’ve got somewhere quicker. When you say “commercial” are you talking of tunes like “Dance Wiv Me” or “Bonkers”?
Yeah, those and Wiley’s “Wearing My Rolex” amongst others.
If you’re naming those tunes to me, I would’ve definitely been on them ‘cos for me it’s not “commercial.” When I think of commercial, I go straight to Elton John [laughs]. When I hear “Bonkers”, that bass, I hear jungle, dubstep and that’s close to what I’m on. When I hear “Dance Wiv Me” it’s a nice beat. When I hear “Holiday,” I hear a stripped back, dub-step sort of beat — I can hear all of that. On “Wearing My Rolex,” it’s a part of what man does. I would’ve been on that, so it’s the opportunity. There’s other songs that I definitely wouldn’t have been on, which are too floppy, poppy, ‘cos i can’t relate with it. When people hear D Double, that “Oh my word”, my voice, I can picture it more on those other tunes.
“I’ve got a different technique to get them out, “Oh my Word” or “Bluku Bluku” are just another “Brap brap.”
You released your debut album in 2018, was that intentional or did it just make sense to release the album at the time?
I’ve wanted to put out an album since 2010 to be honest, it was a long time coming. I already had tunes sitting there but it came back down to the opportunities again. A lot of the times, I was waiting for opportunities — to be in the right place, to not do things by myself, and have support on the team. I wasn’t willing to do nothing without it. That’s what made me wait. I had to do it on my own and put my own opportunities in my own hands, make my own label Bluku Music and make my own ting happen and that’s what I’m doing. When I was walking into companies, talking about what I wanted to do, they couldn’t believe I’ve never had anyone looking after me. This is why people just thought I was winning. People think D Double is this or that, like “Who paid for your last video?” – they were thinking I was signed or something, but no, I’ve given the opportunity to myself. I’ve been waiting, now there’s no waiting. Now I can make my own dream come true. I do what I want and I’m happy I’ve got to this situation where there’s more longevity. I’m not going from one manager to another manager, I have a label with my cousin who manages me, and it’s just a family business.
I see you’ve been getting into production. You have your own clothing line and make bikes as well; what else is in the pipeline in the next year?
I really want to promote the production that I’ve been building for the last 3 years. I’ve got projects with different artists. I’ve got a single coming out on my own beat with a feature out very soon as well. I’m trying to make sure I get my production into the world, everything else is gradual. I’m trying to get my feet more comfortable in the bike world and with clothing too, just do things slowly but surely. I got a few little surprises, still.
I look forward to seeing it. Could you tell me a bit more about your EP coming out?
Bluku Bluku EP part II, I wanted to keep my fans occupied and keep things rolling whilst I work on my next album. This is keeping my fans warm in the meantime and I’ve got some nice little messages on there, a mixture of vibes. Just staying on this D Double ting but at the same time, remembering music is the key. It’s still 100% me. But when I put out my projects, I get a chance to give people my taste. When I’m on a DJ set, like a Maximum set, he’s playing beats so I’m not able to tell him what to play, he’s surprising me and I just have to get on with it. With albums and projects, I get to give listeners my feel. So everytime I release, I'm happy I get to give people my world which is different.