D Double E interview: ‘I’m making grime’s first-ever Christmas banger’

Eleanor Halls
·7-min read
The veteran MC is back with a brand new solo album - Captured by Catch
The veteran MC is back with a brand new solo album - Captured by Catch

Last Christmas, D Double E broke the internet. The 39-year-old emcee, a grime forefather who cultivated the rap genre along with Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Kano almost two decades ago, appeared in the 2019 Ikea Christmas advert. In it, he ventriloquised his scorn for a family’s ancient furnishings through an assortment of household objects – from an audacious porcelain woman in a bathing suit to a judgemental china panda and an affronted duck-carved walking stick. 

The advert instantly became culturally momentous. Here was a venerated rapper who pioneered grime before the genre even had a name, a rapper who has eschewed all chart trends and streaming pressures to release such gloriously uncompromised rap that he is often described as your favourite emcee’s favourite emcee. An artist who inspired Dizzee to pick up the microphone, and whose name may not even be familiar to pre-pubescent rap fans of Stormzy and Dave, who have no idea that grime was once deemed so controversial that its performances were shut down all over London.

And yet, the most widely known furniture brand in the world, Ikea, had chosen D Double E to front their inaugural Christmas advert. The short film, which has now been viewed over a million times, is even peppered with the rapper’s legendarily nonsensical ad-libs, from “Bluku bluku!” to “Bu Da Bup Bup”, with one even tail-ending the formal Ikea credits (read by a Swedish voiceover). The incongruity was whittled to perfection. 

“When I got that email, I thought it was a scam,” says D Double E’s manager and cousin Daniel Dixon, thinking about it for a moment before taking a bite of his fish and chips, sitting in one of his local pubs near Forest Gate, where he and D Double E – real name Darren Dixon – grew up. D Double, his black Hilfiger jacket zipped right up to his chin and a black cap dipped low to his eyebrows, puts down the fork he was using to neatly excavate a lemon sole and shakes his head in disbelief. “Boi, boi, boi,” he murmurs.

“Ikea had written the lyrics, but they were dry, and didn’t sound anything like me,” says Double, who, incidentally, used to work at Habitat on Tottenham Court Road. “There weren’t even any of my ad-libs, so I rewrote it.” Double didn’t choose which ornaments he would speak through, but he smiles happily when I remind him of the half-dressed lady. 

Does he shop at IKEA? “No, at DFS,” he says nonchalantly. 

We are here to talk about the rapper’s brilliant new album, Double or Nothing, which underlays intoxicatingly intense drill and grime production that makes you long for the dark caverns of a pulsating festival tent with surrealist lyrics that span everything from fishing and Ted Bundy to crocodiles and contactless payments. As always, for a man whose biggest song sampled the video game Street Fighter, humour is at the centre, and listening to his album offers an alternative form of escapism at a time in which politics seems to have infiltrated every aspect of culture. No one could accuse D Double of taking things too seriously.

For instance, the best song on the album, Catch of the Day, is inspired by his one true love: seafood. Against a thudding beat he lists his favourite fish alongside samples of the rushing sea and joyously absurd wordplay that includes: “When I say I got mussels, it’s not a gyming-it ting.”

He tells me about the video he is moodboarding, which will have him on the boat of a fisherman he recently met in Portsmouth, with rain pouring down as he catches a seabass. He looks at me inquisitively. “What percentage of fish is put me back into the sea? I don’t like thinking of the fish on the floor, unable to breathe,” he says, sucking his cheeks together to mimic a fish floundering for air. I point to the bones of his lemon sole. If he cares so much about fish, why did he eat one?

Double sits up straight. “Either you merk it, or you put the fish back. You have to choose.”

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MI NUH RAMP 🇯🇲 📸 @musical_d

A post shared by D Double E (@omygoshitsddoublee) on Mar 13, 2019 at 6:16am PDT

D Double E has been enjoying lockdown, which he says has given him a renewed “hunger” for his three-decade career in music. “You take something away from someone, you’ll see how much they want it back,” he says. Spending days roller-skating and whizzing around on electric scooters in Hackney with his three daughters, he has also been using the extra family time to brush up on business. Specifically: by entering the hospitality market with a brand of Hennessy-based canned cocktails named after him. 

“I made my daughters think of a name for the drink and then I asked them what price they needed for the name. One daughter came up with Double Trouble, the other Double Twist. I gave them £150.” The rapper is now in talks with several well-known London bar and hotel chains, and is hoping to sell each can for £9 a pop.

“My daughters are already onto something. One has 20,000 TikTok followers,” he adds, incredulously. “I’m thinking, how can you direct that back to me? Can you do my TikTok?”

D Double has always had a head for business, and while part of grime duo Newham Generals in 2004, he signed to Dizzee Rascal’s label Dirty Stank, rather than with a label that would try and change his sound. “I did a lot of learning. I realised artists were getting signed with huge debts over their heads. They were getting sucked in with advances they couldn’t repay because their first single flopped. Artists should make money outside of the label as much as they can,” he says, acknowledging recent advice from Kanye West for aspiring musicians to be judicious with their contracts.

Since then, Double has launched his own record label, Bluku Music, on which he released his first ever solo studio album, Jackuum!, in 2018. While the album was reviewed by some critics as “behind-the-times grime”, DON has fully caught up, with drill beats mixed in with grime, as well as a feature from one of UK rap’s most exciting rising stars, Ms Banks. It’s the first time Double has collaborated with a woman: why is that?

“I’ve always wanted to work with female emcees, and also female singers. But I just couldn’t picture them on a song with me before, although I considered Lady Leshurr on my last album. But now I’m ready: Mabel, Jorja Smith, NoLay – I’m thinking widely.”

Despite never working with women, Double’s lyrics are never misogynistic, unlike some rap. Was that a conscious decision? “I just find it a bit rude, personally. I think rudeness is getting worse in both men and women. There is no respect. It’s an underworld. Things are getting worse.” He goes on to reference the controversial WAP video from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, which Russell Brand dismissed as porn. “I don’t want my daughters seeing that. I can see why it’s good that women are getting more powerful, but where it’s getting displayed, in the morning, in the daytime, I don’t think that’s appropriate for young viewers.”

As our conversation draws to a close, and a Christmas song plays prematurely on the pub playlist, I ask Double whether another Christmas advert might be on the horizon.

“Nothing is confirmed, but we were approached by McVitie's,” he says coyly. “But I want to make our scene’s first ever Christmas number one. It will be just like Mariah Carey, but grime.”

D.O.N is out Friday 23 via Bluku Records