Interview: Dirty Dike

Bearded chats to the venerated UK MC about his acclaimed fourth LP Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight and recent live work

Posted on Oct 20th, 2015 in Features and Interviews, Dirty Dike, High Focus / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Dirty Dike Cambridge rapper Dirty Dike has been one of the names at the forefront of everyone's minds when thinking of the rappers putting out raw and intelligent hip-hop in this country. As a part of the High Focus Records camp, he's just released his new studio album (his fourth in total) Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight, which continues a productive period for the talented rapper. He's recently expanded his skill set with some fantastic production projects, which is also exploited on the new LP. Dike, while on a slightly peculiar walk, chats to Bearded about the new release.

Dike first started gaining attention of hip-hop fans across the United Kingdom with the release of his 2011 Constant Dikestar album; a permanent fixture on any hip-hop head's iPod, which featured recognised tracks like 'Pork Pie' and 'Hi, I'm James'. I ask how he first got down with High Focus, who released the album. 'I was in Brighton making Contact Play tunes and stuff, and met Fliptrix. He was building the beginnings of the label. He signed Baxter, and then I was shortly to follow'.

Prior to Constant Dikstar, Dike dropped his debut album Bogies & Alcohol, where he had an even rawer sound than he exhibits now, in 2008 through School Bully Records. I ask what his process was when making that album, and whether that changed when High Focus came into the picture. 'The process of that was just kind of like 'these tunes are never going to come out', says Dike. 'It was like this is just funny and all a bit of a joke. I was just making tunes, and Delegates of Culture, a local crew from Cambridge, were like 'you should put this out as an album', so I did. I guess since the High Focus thing, I'm putting projects out knowing that there's an audience. I suppose there is a slight difference, but I try not to think about it (laughs)'. I ask if he still listens to Bogies & Alcohol himself. 'Nooooooooo', says Dike emphatically. 'Not at all man. I don't really listen to my old projects once they're out. I've spent two years or however long making them, I know them, they're in my head. It's weird'.

I've always thought that Dike's sound has grown and evolved subtly over each of his album releases, particularly on his newest. 'That's just natural, that just happens' he says. 'If you're not getting better and evolving then what are you doing? You're just doing the same thing over and over again. That's not what you want to be doing if you're creating something is it? You try new things, your ideas get better or different. It just gets boring otherwise'.

I ask why Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight takes a noticeably maturer and personal approach. 'Evolving, growth and wanting to do shit that maybe people haven't noticed before, or that you haven't done as much before. It's a similar thing, you don't just wanna do the same old shit. I've always loved making songs like that, and the album itself is more like that. It's just the way it went. Your audience grows and matures, so you do as well'.

Dirty Dike released The Sloshpot EP in 2013, a project with a similar tone to the new album. I ask if this side of his writing makes the process different in anyway, compared to albums like Return Of The Twat (his other 2013 release) for example. 'Yeah', he hesitates. 'Those sort of tunes come from a different place, a different mindset or just feeling different, or just having some other reason to write. So yeah. Yeah. (laughs).

Bearded: Would you say that one takes longer than the other?

DD: 'I guess if you're writing about something that you're really passionate about, or if you have a particular message that you want to convey, then you'll put more time into the finicky bits, but really, no. All my tunes get done in the moment. I don't write a bit, then agonise over it and go back to it later. If it doesn't get done in the first sitting goes back on the back burner because I'm impatient'.

That can be the best way though. You can spend too much time trying to perfect things.

'Yeah. You might think that something's finished, I dunno...' Dike's voice trails off. 'Oh shit, I might be walking the wrong way here, yeah we need to go that way. Sorry I'm just wandering about in the streets getting lost'.

With a productive spell of beat-making recently, on collaboration projects with Rag N Bone Man and Lee Scott, I ask Dike how he got into the production side, and how long he'd been doing it. 'It's just normal to take an interest in something you're part of. You've got producers around you and you want to work with them, you're going to want to have a stab yourself. It's fun, so you get sucked in. I don't know exactly how long. Roughly four or five years but I used to tinker about back in the day on Reason, just trying to get a grasp of how things worked'.

Dike's new album features some of his own production too. I ask if he approached the beats differently than he would if he was making them for somebody else. 'Nah they were just beats I was making, and I liked them so I chose them. I didn't make them specifically for the project'. I ask if he found it different writing to his own beats. 'I might not even have written to those beats, I can't remember. Sometimes I write to whatever I'm listening to, sometimes I write in complete silence'.

Constant Dikestar was produced entirely by Mr. Constant, The Sloshpot EP by Mr. Boss and Return Of The Twat by Naive and Pete Cannon. I ask why he chose to work with a variety of producers on Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight. 'I hadn't done it since Bogies & Alcohol. I was on some 'I'm never gonna do that again' thing, I was always going to do albums with just one producer 'cause I thought that makes a better album, but then I realised it doesn't really. It's interesting to get involved with a load of other people and make something different. I just thought I'd give it a go again and I enjoyed it'.

The new album features beats from a range of producers, including Joe Corfield and Chairman Maf, amongst many others. I ask how he decided who to work with on the new album. 'Well, I heard Joe Corfield at Boom Bap a couple of years ago. This person I'd never heard of or seen came and won the beat battle that year, and I was like 'give me some beats'. Chairman Maf, he's a guy I know from Cambridge, I believe he knows my Dad or something, and we kind of made contact and his beats are dope. It all just sort of happened, again there wasn't much consciousness'.

I ask if he has any main influences on the production side of things. 'Nah not really. I'll just be listening to some jazz or some Motown and hear a snare, and be like 'Wow, that sounds amazing' and go from there. I like loads of producers, just all the obvious ones you know? It's not like there's a key guy, probably one of my mates or something; Naive, Pete Cannon, Chemo. I've never been like 'Who's that producer?' and then following that one guy. I like loads of people. Normally all my inspiration comes from listening to old records; I hear something and think 'I can do something with that'.

I ask if it's always been the case that people he knows are more of an inspiration than actual established artists, when rapping as well as making beats. 'Yeah. Definitely'. I can hear some faint alarms or sirens going off on Dike's end of the phone. 'There's some massive beef going off in the street. Sorry, what was the question?', he remembers, and continues. 'Oh yeah, that's what kind of sparked me in the first place, and that's also like..' he trails off again. 'Sorry, there's all these women fighting in the street over a car crash... When your mates do it and you're hearing what they're doing you're like 'ah that's sick', and that inspires you more than someone well known as a rapper. I started in the first place after hearing Mr. Key and the Delegates, and being like 'I know them and they're doing that. I wanna do that'. I never heard, I dunno, Snoop Dogg as a kid and was like 'I wanna do that', I just liked it'.

Dike exhibited soulful production on his Put That Soul On Me EP with Rag N Bone Man, a smooth and jazzy vibe on Lee Scott's Butter Fly album, and a grittier, more up-tempo side on his work with Ocean Wisdom. I ask if he has a particular artist in mind when he makes a beat. 'A little bit. I don't think that's what I'm doing, but I do end up doing that. Not always though; a lot of the time I'm just making beats for the sake of making beats, and getting inspired by whatever the sample may sound like, or the noise or whatever, and then just go from that. I'm not very good at sitting down and going 'Right, today I'm gonna make a 2-step beat with a soulful vibe'. I dig through records until I'm inspired by some sort of sound, and then I go from that and it kind of grows itself. I dunno. I don't really...yeah (laughs)'.

I ask how he first hooked up with Ocean Wisdom, and what we can expect from the upcoming album, with production handled entirely by Dike. 'Prince Kong of Rum Committee brought him round to my studio a long time ago, and he just killed it. We made Walkin' that night; that was the first thing he spat to me and I got it recorded. I was like 'Jesus...are you an alien'? We've just worked together from then, obviously I wanted to make an album with him after that. It's pretty much done, a lot of features that I can't tell you about, it's banging. It's going to be out at some point in the future'.

I wonder what inspired the Walkin' beat, and what that now instantly recognisable noise is taken from. 'It'll just be the record I was listening to, which I can't even remember now what it is. I'm pretty bad like that. That beat's quite old too, it was just one that I dragged up at the time. You've got to remember it wasn't like 'Right, I'm gonna make a heater with this guy', he literally just said to me 'Do you mind if I spit some bars bruv?' and I was like 'Course, step up'. I played him one or two beats, it got to that one and he was like 'Cool' and we recorded it. Again, there wasn't much conscious effort towards it. It just sort of fell together and made sense'.

I ask if a production album would ever be on the cards. 'Yeah, maybe, but not for a while man. That's like something you do, well I dunno. Probably not yet (laughs). That's something I'd actually have to pay attention to and give some time to, but I can't be bothered at the minute'. Production albums often have some great posse cuts, maybe that's why it's a concept that's exciting to me. I ask Dike how he puts together the cyphers that have ended his last three albums. 'It's just whoever I've been working with that year, or that I rate, or is just up for it. Again, it all just sort of happens and falls together. I'm not like 'Right i'm gonna get this amazing combination of UK rappers on my beats'. It's just like 'Oh you're here, we've done some tunes. How about you shove a sixteen on this posse cut'. It just grows like that. Someone'll be in my studio that I rate and that I'm working with, and I'll be like 'Do you wanna jump on that?'

I ask what kind of music he's been listening to lately. 'Weird, shit 80s pop songs that you don't remember and you don't understand why someone ever bothered to make a song so shit. That kind of does my head in and I like it at the moment. I listen to nostalgic nineties pop songs to make myself feel like I'm 14. Sometimes I like go out and go mental to Drum & Bass and Jungle and Garage, and that's it really. I stick on a hip-hop album every now and again'.

And if that's not the perfect closing statement I'm not sure what is. Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight is out now, and Dike is currently on a UK tour with more dates likely to follow (keep an eye on High Focus's site for all the information as it lands), and with the album with Ocean Wisdom being one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year for hip-hop heads and fans of the High Focus movement, there's plenty more to expect from Dirty Dike.