“Nah, I don’t mind a bit of rain,” Durrty Goodz says, smiling and stepping out into a downpour.
Minutes beforehand the 25-year-old grime MC was thrown a series of awkward questions by a radio host that he maintains was out to wind him up, resulting in not one but both parties walking out on the show, the tension almost unbearable. Outside the studio it’s September in London – an Indian summer, supposedly – and the sky is ash grey. It’s cold, really cold, even at 3pm. Goodz is only wearing a t-shirt, and now, to add insult to injury, our photographer wants shots of him standing out in this monsoon. Yet somehow, he’s not sulking. In light of his recent history, it’s hard not to admire this resilience.
It’s been an extraordinary two years for 25-year-old Durrty Goodz, aka London-born Dwayne Mahorn. Signed by Polydor in 2005 and recognised as one of the biggest talents to emerge from grime’s first flush of youth, he then spent almost a year in jail awaiting trial for the murder of 21-year-old Richard Holmes. Mahorn was acquitted in November 2006, while his half-brother Carl ‘Crazy Titch’ Dobson, also one of the most hotly-tipped names in grime, was convicted of murder (along with one other) and sentenced to 30 years without parole. Since this cataclysmic sequence of events Goodz has returned with an emotional, lyrically devastating mini-album, ‘Axiom’, that has had old fans and newcomers alike in raptures, and the phrase ‘saviour of grime’ cropping up with increasing regularity.
Goodz’s spectacular comeback is not hard to explain: quite simply, he is phenomenally gifted with a microphone. He speeds up and slows down with casual ease, and shifts the tone and roughness of his voice (and even his accent) perfectly to match each beat put before him: in the case of the remarkable medley ‘Switching Songs’ he does so ten times within the same track. When the ‘Backwards Riddim’ beat makes an appearance in this medley, Goodz duly obliges and delivers his lyrics backwards.
But for all his incredible technical dexterity, there is certainly soul to match the skill. The hidden track ‘Letter To Titch’ addresses Goodz’ incarcerated half-brother over a subdued drum beat and maudlin, almost funereal keyboard stabs. The backing track sounds like a digitised version of someone crying: and Goodz’ vocal is not far off this level of emotional intensity either, as he indulges in four minutes of pure catharsis:
“There’s been times when I can’t sleep at night, shit got me feeling like I’m still locked in / Thinking they were always going to send man down – even though they knew none of us shot him… It was like I had a shield from the wings of an angel when they said ‘Mahorn not guilty’ / In my soul I was mixed with emotions: crying out happy tears, full of joy / Here I was going home to my little girl – sad ‘cause you weren’t going to grow with your little boy”
As his voice starts to crack recalling happier, freer days (“You’re my brother from a different mother / We were taking over like Napoleon but born apart.”), it’s clear that Goodz can’t help but bare his soul for his listening public, warts and all. He’s returned to music because he felt compelled to – indeed the only love song on Axiom is one addressed to music (“they put you on trial with me” he spits, referring to the media’s coverage of the case). Given this ever-present bond I can’t help but ask whether he worked on music for those 11 months he was on remand?
“No. Not even for one day. I always used to think about music all the time, but I never wrote. I never wrote.”
Was that because you didn’t want to?
“No, it was because I never had my own space in there. And I need my own space to create. It was frustrating, very, very frustrating. Because there were so many things I wanted to say, and… you can’t.” He sighs. “You can’t even sit and have a clear head for ten minutes.”
“But I think that helped me as well, in terms of writing less down. I’m just realising this now, as we speak, but that whole year when I never put pen to paper, it meant that when I got home after the verdict I just thought ‘eff the pen and paper, let the words come naturally’.”
The words are certainly coming naturally since Goodz reappeared earlier this summer: all of the accumulated angst of the last few years seems to be coming out in one unstoppable lyrical torrent. On ‘Licence to Skill’ he explains his 007-style mission “to expose what the majors have been on”, decrying what he sees as the record industry’s patronising investment in black music: “they’ve got Lemar singing like Frank Sinatra / So we forget about Afrika Bambaata”. Such cynicism seems well-founded – while a black ‘street star’ like Lethal Bizzle has acquired a degree of mainstream attention recently, he has done so chiefly by hooking up with Babyshambles and Kate Nash. Dizzee Rascal’s album features Lily Allen and Arctic Monkeys; Kano’s features Kate Nash and Damon Albarn. Black artists can only be black, it seems, if they have been legitimised by established white artists. Goodz’ bitterness about these trends, and his experience with Polydor, has led him to shy away from the big labels this time:
“I’ve been around the table, and I’ve seen how lawyers and managers, and all these people – they just want guys like me to sign a contract as soon as possible, so they can just get their share and go and put a mortgage down on their house, and cut loose. It’s not been good for the grime scene in the last few years.”
It certainly hasn’t been good financially speaking. But this separation from the mainstream industry has allowed grime – still a solidly London-based music – to evolve without A&R involvement, and move towards self-sufficiency, like dancehall and drum ‘n’ bass have done in the past. Goodz is doing very well selling his CD through independent channels, without a PR agency, advertising, or a street team, let alone a major label. But doesn’t he feel it’s a shame that his music isn’t reaching a wider audience?
“Well that’s what the major record companies have got their buildings for. That’s supposed to be their job: they’re supposed to help guys like me be heard. But they’re lazy. Their hearts are not in the music. If the corporates want to talk, our ears are open, and they can come and talk business. But we’re not going to be pressured this time. We know what we’re capable of, we know what we’re sitting on here, and we’re fine doing it by ourselves, if the labels don’t want to get down.”
Goodz’ weary tone has dissipated. Artistic freedom seems to taste just as good as actual freedom; the two go hand in hand for him now:
“I’ve always been on this mission. But this time it’s going to be different, I have people around me who share my vision: so if I want to make a CD like ‘Axiom’, I’ll just make that CD. If I’m looking for a particular beat to flow on, I’ll go out and find that beat. This is not Polydor here, we don’t just talk and get nothing done for ten or eleven months.”
“That’s the reason the grime scene has had to cut out from the majors, because we’re not about waiting around for ages just to do something simple like put out a CD. Major labels are like big ships, they take too long to turn around.”
And while the majors creakily lower their sails, Goodz’ James Bond-style speedboat is zig-zagging niftily off towards the horizon.