Despite inspiring grime’s biggest stars, this is only the first nationwide tour from the east Londoner – a victory lap that draws on decades of Black British music
Stay in the shadows for a while and people begin to wonder why it didn’t happen for you; do it a little while longer and you just might become a legend. As grime blazed through conventional milestones, the rapper born Darren Dixon – key former member of early 00s groups Nasty Crew and Newham Generals – struggled to keep pace as the genre entered the mainstream. This first ever nationwide tour is part of an overdue victory lap for his successful second act, befitting an artist who was an early inspiration to Dizzee Rascal, Skepta and Wiley.
Introduced with fitting reverence by opener Novelist, Dixon appears in military fatigues, large gold chain and cropped dark hair. The ominous, rattling 2019 single Top Boy showcases Dixon’s taut flow, with bars that flirt with his own mythology and nearly-man status. Coming some 14 years after his first releases, in 2018 Dixon released an album somehow both debut and comeback record – followed by 2020’s better Double or Nothing – and tonight mostly reflects that one-two punch. Lemon Trees, dedicated tonight to the “bare flavours” seemingly on offer in Manchester, is a spirited homily to herb, peppered with the MC’s signature, absurdist ad libs – “bluku bluku”, “bud-a-bup-bup” – linguistic trademarks repeated back by the audience with the recognition of other stars’ biggest bars.
It’s a set that genuflects to a few different generations of Black creativity, reflecting grime’s roots in not just pirate radio and rave but in parents’ record collections. Contact Us combines both 80s soul horns with brittle, first-phase grime, while the brilliant Tell Me a Ting is loaded with drill’s malevolence. Late 90s jungle galvanises recent single Selecta – a well-chosen collaboration with early drum’n’bass practitioner Danny Byrd, it’s a weapons-grade crowd-pleaser for two generations in the room tonight.
“2021’s been a hard year” says an unusually quiet Dixon (he will later tweet that he has lost his voice, which barely shows) “but I’ve been learning to grind.” Recent adverts for Ikea and Pepsi suggest an artist playing the game and having fun with it. This is old school British rap with a foot in the new, done assuredly by an originator.
D Double E review – grime originator unites the generations – The Guardian