D Double E at The Sugar Club Dublin on February 8th 2019
For all its chart success of late, grime has always been a genre in which you’ve never really heard a big single until it’s at a sweaty, hedonistic free-for-all with the bass pounding in your stomach.
This has been D Double E’s forte from the get-go: before August 2018, the grime veteran’s discography as a solo artist essentially read as a flurry of singles crafted to complement riotous live performances. But with the release of his debut album ‘Jackuum’ last summer (some 20 years after his first foray into the scene), gigs now have a more personal, exhibitive significance for the Newham man.
The intimate setting of The Sugar Club was given the nod for Jackuum’s Dublin unveiling. The venue’s shabby-chic lounge style cries out for Double’s Dapper Dan persona to fill it; were it revealed to be the setting of his How I Like It video, few would be surprised. Seats are abandoned for the dance floor not long after doors are opened, and it almost feels as though the young crowd, huddled around the stage, is anxiously awaiting a meet-and-greet rather than a concert.
The unenviable task of getting the crowd’s adrenaline going falls to rapper God Knows. His impressive fast-fire flow does the job on the tricky grime beats laid before him – it’s nothing too exhilarating, but at least isn’t too left of field for a charged-up crowd in the mood for a grime onslaught. The Limerick man is clearly versed in the genre’s protocol, making the most of call-and-response crowd interactions and wheel-ups (which he has no hesitation in requesting for himself).
The thousand word-per-minute vocal output takes its toll on God Knows, who becomes gradually less audible and invites Dublin MC Mango, eagerly waiting in line in the front row, on stage to help him out.
When D Double E finally steps out, you can’t help but admire how polished he looks. He’s rocking a fresh trim, pristine white runners and a tracksuit with one of his own ad-libs (“OHHMYYGOD”) plastered across the chest. Life has clearly been good to the Newham General, who’s just turned 39.
In fact, “polished” is a word that can be used to describe D Double’s performance as a whole. Though the number of bars actually spat is usually left to the MC’s discretion (if you’re a rapper of Double’s calibre, the crowd will do a lot of the work for you) he pulls no punches and recites every single lyric like scripture, barely stopping for breath. Double takes the whole thing remarkably seriously – the downside being that his famously cheeky persona is given little room to shine. However, sacrificing expressiveness for non-stop lyrical shelling is no easy task, and the artistry of it has to be respected.
Sparing with the wheel-ups and ad-lib recitals, it’s a gig for D Double E more than for anyone else. He kicks things off with a series of cuts from ‘Jackuum’, showcasing the album’s highlights with a proud grin. By closing his eyes and submitting to the gods of grime, he breezes through even the most challenging of flows (most notably, the second verse on Flatmate).
With a recital of the bass-heavy Dem Man Dere, the rave begins its descent from a lively bop into full-blown carnage (albeit a relatively polite carnage – sorries can be heard). The crowd have smelled blood, and the descent only deepens from there; not even a couple of cuts “for the Dublin ladies”, namely D Double’s verse from Skepta’s Ladies Hit Squad, can rein it in. Album done, the micman delves into his rawer back catalogue, with the crowd’s reaction to tracks like Lyrical Farda and Newham Generals’ Hard separating the wheat from the chaff in the moshpit. But by the time D Double closes with his most legendary banger, Street Fighter Riddim, the energy sucks even the most faint-hearted in to the vortex (or else they’re too covered in other people’s pints to care). Now a big harmonious mosh, all pretension goes out the window. New runners are ruined, phone screens are smashed, the bass instils a momentary deafness. It’s beautiful.
Back in September 2018, D Double E told The Guardian, “I haven’t been able to prove myself,” as “there isn’t even an album, just verses and bars.” When you look back at Double’s Wikipedia biography, you get his point. But grime has never been a genre predisposed to accolades; instead, respect is given and earned by ravers in run-down, backstreet establishments. D Double E needn’t worry too much – he has more than enough classics for this 90-minute Sugar Club appearance, with absolutely zero filler. And to be honest, he could probably have done another 90.