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Nine Songs
D Double E

Celebrating his Jamaican roots and reminiscing on the songs that motivated him to find individuality as a rapper, the grime legend talks Max Gayler through the songs that shaped him

21 October 2020, 17:00 | Words by Max Gayler

"It's all about mixing genres and cultures. Jungle was one of the first to do it and now you can see Drake do a song with Headie One and all sorts of unpredictable tunes."

If you're the person who inspired Dizzee Rascal to pick up a microphone and have artists like Skepta declaring you're the best MC to ever come out of the UK, why wait until 18 years to release your debut album, 2018's Jackuum!?

D Double E is an exception to the rules, a master of his craft, who has been busy breaking ground in his own inimitable fashion. Double worked his way up through pirate radio stations, illegal raves and sold out shows off the back of his ability as an emcee, mixtapes and EP’s. Now he's doing COLORS shows and getting his voice behind viral Christmas ads, to help bring a bigger audience to the genre he helped carve out from an estate in Forest Gate.

Ahead of the release of his second album D.O.N, where Double proves he's still a pioneer, with a body of work that can inspire the growing number of ears paying attention to grime. Featuring a collaboration with Kano, "Tell Me A Ting", as well as appearances from Ms Banks, Giggs and Ghetts, the grime legend explains he wants to continue growing his musical output and legacy. "I've played around a lot during my career," Double confesses. "I've done too much playing around and not been taking things seriously enough, even though I'm being looked at as someone legendary. The difference is now I'm working harder than I ever was before."

"I just want to get straight into albums man. I don't want to be wasting anymore time. I've been a part of EP’s and mixtapes for a long time. Now is the best time to do something more concrete”, he explains. “I really hope this tour can happen in March and February. I'm excited man. I've got so many secrets coming up and I want to make sure the timing is perfect. It's all about timing. The album is coming out, but that's not everything. There's always more.”

Looking back at the songs that have shaped his taste, it's clear the value albums had for him while he honed his sound. Double’s Nine Songs selections also provide the unexpected. For an artist with such an extensive and committed history to London's underground music scene you'd perhaps expect his choices to stay on this side of the Atlantic. But growing up with Jamaican parents meant that Double was immersed in the origins of dancehall as well as some the best hip hop to come out of both the East and West coasts of America.

“A lot of the songs I've chosen here are nostalgic. All released before 2000 and they help me appreciate the good and the bad times.”

“U Can't Touch This” by MC Hammer

“Before I picked up the mic, I was doing a lot of breakdancing in my young days - trying to spin on my head, do the running man, pop and lock and all. I played a lot of Michael Jackson too and I could do the moonwalk so clean - I mean, super good.

“I was into dance culture, so when I was watching MC Hammer as a kid, I'd copy whatever he did. I'd copy the music video for "U Can't Touch This" and finish it so out of breath. I think "Pray" was on that album as well and that song is another banger, definitely. So many bangers from that man, but this song in particular was the one.

"The name is interesting, because he's just a rapper, not an MC. I guess it just happened to be his name, but I was still inspired by him on the mic as well.

“I was only ten when this came out, so when I was at my cousin's birthday party we'd always play little dance competitions between the kids. If they put this song on, I was definitely winning. My cousins, my family and friends would all be trying to do their thing too. I think I've got the footage of me at a party dancing for everyone and you can see how committed I was to dancing, you can see me shining man. All that extra work I was putting in was working. [Laughs]. I can still bust that up, I promise you!”

“Hello Mama Africa” by Garnett Silk

“What a beautiful song, Garnett Silk is such a special artist. When I first heard this song, it humbled me so much, as well as a few other tunes that really stuck with me throughout the years.

“It was such a tragedy when he died in that fire, a real sad time. I'd always come back to this tune too and knowing what happened to him just made it that much harder to listen to. I'm not sure how old he was but I know he was young, maybe around 30.

“It's something about that voice. Whenever you get a chance, dig into his discography and you'll really find something to love. When I heard "Hello Mama Africa" it was because my parents showed it to me, then it just stuck and now I can sing the whole song. [Starts singing] "Hello, mama Africa, how are you? I'm feeling fine and I hope you're fine too."

“Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G.

“This song is one of the first times I was listening to lyrics from an American artist and could properly understand it. You know sometimes man can get real confused when you hear these American artists, you get me? But with this track, I could understand everything.

"He's talking to the people that said he'd never amount to nothing, that doubted him and saying, ‘Look at me now’. When I listen to "Juicy", I think about how it's the perfect ending to life.

“I actually found this song in the P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes era. I think it was the first time we got something like Sky in the house, the first time you'd get that big dish on your house. There was this music channel called The Box and that's where I was coming across the American music videos, we never had internet or other ways to watch them. It showed me the different artists like Aaliyah too. It was all coming from the TV.

“This song came out in 1994 so he was already a star in some ways, but it's real interesting that he can think back to those times when he had nothing and write lyrics like that. Us artists do that all the time, we're still that same person and we're still not where we want to be. I'm hungry like that too and even though I've done a lot, I've got so much more to do."

“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” by Busta Rhymes

“That tune there is crazy, it reminds me of my early club days and even then it was a classic. This song came out in 1997, and I was partying to it in 2000, it was still fresh to us, so we would all skank to it. That beat was so mad, and it made every club crazy no matter what time you put the song on.

“Busta started out in a group actually. Later on it split and he moved onto other crews. I don't know if it was put together by a label or something, but it never seemed like a home to him, but look at him now, like 15 years later, still putting out good songs and verses. You seen him recently? Woo, he's a beast. His neck is connected to his shoulders differently.

“When Disaster Strikes... was a whole album I adored growing up man. I loved it. That's what I'm saying with guys like him and Twista, you've got to go to the studio and watch them live. Even seeing them perform is something special, I know they can do it every time, perfectly.

"Some people have to record it one line at a time, so they can make it sound how they want. I heard that Big Pun did his lines one at a time, that doesn't mean he's not great, but it just makes people like Busta look even better. He's a militant machine when it comes to rapping.”

“Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” by Aaliyah

“That's the sound, man, it goes back to them days, you know? Songs like these bring back so many good memories, sometimes you hear these songs at the right time and they end up living with you forever. I remember being 16 or 17 and finding this song, but here I am still listening to it.

“I was so in love with music when I heard it. If I'd been a producer at the time, I would have started making songs that sounded like Aaliyah, you get me? [Laughing] I'd leave that grime thing to the guys for a moment while I make something for the ladies. I'm looking out for the ladies bro, no slow jams on this album though. Maybe the next one, once I've figured out harmonies and that.

“Her music is inspirational. I'm inspired by all music, but sometimes you listen to music and it does something to you separately. It's calming enough that it triggers that thing inside me, that lets me know I need to take a second to breathe. A lot of her songs are like that for me.

"She died in an airplane crash in 2001, so when I listen to her music I take that on board. Not everyone gets to live these days, so It reminds me that I need to be thankful. So often I'll read news about some artist who died, but I never knew. Then I start getting into their music and I only appreciate it after they'd died - Prince would have been on this list if I had more choices.

“Sometimes maybe you don't hear a song at the right time, but you know what? It comes back when you need it. When you connect with a song, you don't always realise it immediately.”

“2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” by 2Pac featuring Snoop Dogg

“This one is just a straight banger; the video is dope too. You can see it's different from watching someone like Busta Rhymes. When I watched Busta I'd get a different energy. He'd have those shiny suits and be moving all mad, but when you watch Snoop it's just OG stuff.

“The cars are bouncing, there’s loads of dogs about, so many women. It's the houses and the gates on top of that beat that make it crazy. I'm pretty sure it was Dre who made this beat too but I'm not sure. He's the king, man, a pioneer. Legendary.

“It feels great to have Snoop on one of my songs, he was on the "Be Like Me" remix. The producer that made the beat for me, he was the one that had the connection. The track was already out, and Snoop was in the studio with him. At the time, he was making a dubstep album and he wanted something heavy, the producer starts playing Snoop beats but he's not really feeling any of them. Then he played my beat which was already taken and Snoop was like, ‘I like this’.

“Next thing you know, they explain it's mine already and he did his own version along with some others. I was happy when I heard it. I'm not sure what the name of the album is, but it's ended up on that dubstep album. Proud moment and got to bless him. I would have put something from "Doggystyle" on here instead, but he's just got too many bangers and I've got to show each of them love.”

“I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By” by Method Man and Mary J. Blige

“Mary J. Blige, man, she's another for certain. With this track, all I remember is them sitting down in the video with both their heads bopping, the beat just goes so deep. It's a singalong one, the singing and all of that is different, but she is gangsta in this one. You've got to see this music video too, it's a piece of rap culture. Watch it and you'll be like, ‘Now I get what Double was talking about.’ [Laughs].

“Method Man is always keeping it G. Whether he's the main man on the song or he's a feature on the track, he always makes it his own and so instantly recognisable. I think he's another one that got so much love from the UK, but it took us time. We would listen to Wu-Tang sometimes but it's this song that I loved the most.”

“Dolly My Baby (Extended Hip Hop Remix)” by Super Cat featuring Mary J. Blige, Notorious B.I.G. and Third Eye

“When I see this tune man, it just makes me so proud. Because I was living in England and my parents are Jamaican, I used to go back and forth all the time and music just seemed so far from where I was sometimes. It seemed so split.

“If I was listening to reggae, that's all I'd be listening to, and if I'm listening to rap, that's all I'd be listening to. Same goes for jungle. Jungle was the first type of music where I'd hear samples from all different sides of the world. There's Jungle tunes with R Kelly, one with Aaliyah, plenty with Bob Marley and all sorts. Jungle was the first time I saw a genre that really wanted to mix things up, and when I saw "Supercat" mixing with all these massive artists I truly believed it was a good thing.

“He's proper Jamaican. I'm not saying anyone else ain't, but he's the equivalent of the true grime Jamaican, not like Sean Paul or nothing like that. He was always rated as the best, so knowing that they were giving him love made me so happy. He would have appreciated it too.

“Growing up in Forest Gate, so many of the instrumentals and tracks we'd jump on would be reggae tunes. Jamaica has always been killing it, so seeing some collaboration from America was a good step in connecting everything.”

“Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)” by Soul II Soul

“A classic from 1989. Them early tracks like this I didn't have to learn the lyrics for. I used to listen to rappers like Snoop Dogg and write all the bars down to learn them, but with "Back to Life" I didn't need to do none of that. If I was sleeping listening to it, the lyrics would have somehow still oozed into me.

“It’s so great to support UK artists too from time ago, and “Back to Life” is one of them easy tracks that'll teach you to love and learn. I feel really similar about songs by Garnett Silk, you just have to hear them once and you feel like you could sing the whole track the next time you play it.

“Even the guys who are listening to nothing but heavy garage, these are the songs they need to come back to. You can't be listening to hard stuff all the time. That's what life is about, it's supposed to be a mixture of everything, you don't have to go hard every time. Why not take a rest for one day, and then go back to something hard?”

D Double E's D.O.N. project is out 23 October via Bluku Music
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