Audiofile: Durrty Goodz

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East London’s most versatile grime lord is Born Blessed.

Watching Durrty Goodz freestyle is a hypnotic experience. He’s angry, he’s funny, he’s nice, he’s happy, he’s scary, he’s rapping double-time, he’s rapping half-time, he’s ragga chatting, he’s barely breathing, he’s referencing Boogie Down Productions and Cam’ron, and even after three minutes of perfectly on-beat fire rhymes, he’s still fixing the camera with a hypnotic, Hulk Hogan crazy-eye stare that is pure focus.

In his late 20s, Goodz—also known Dwayne Mahorn, formerly known as Dirty Doogz—is already an elder statesman in the teen-driven U.K. grime community, where it’s not uncommon for MC careers to start at 13 and end by 19. But since mobbing his way onto the scene as a youth, Mahorn has stood apart with his fire, his singular voice, and that quality that all great rappers have in common: knowing they’re the best.

“I always felt that I was good from when I was very, very young,” explains Mahorn, who got his start rhyming at roller rinks and house parties around East London. But real motivation came at the age of 13, while he was away in juvenile detention. “My cellmate was playing some tape of some MCs he was going crazy about,” he recalls. “I knew these guys from around the way and they weren’t that great. I was like, ‘You know what? I am just going to take over everyone.’ I had that attitude. Then I came out and I was just going hard: hittin’ the pirate radio stations, freestylin’, turning up on people’s sets unwelcome, uninvited, just like, ‘I need a piece of the mic right now.’ Sometimes you got to take the bully role for a little while, but it’s always for a righteous cause.”

Of course, being gully has its price, and Goodz saw the dark side of the streets in 2005, when he spent over a year in prison in conjunction with the death of 21-year-old music producer Richard Holmes. Though Mahorn was found not guilty, his stepfather and his half-brother (grime MC Crazy Titch) are currently serving 30-year sentences for Holmes’ murder. While he’s none too keen on talking about his jail time, you can hear about it in his raps, notably “A Letter to Titch,” a hidden track from his otherwise party-jam-filled 2007 EP, Axiom. Even more serious tings are to be expected from his forthcoming full-length, Born Blessed.

Official releases are cool and all, but Durrty is still at his best on freestyles and beef tracks—anywhere he has an opportunity to cleverly slew the competition. Lately, this has taken the form of a mic fight with Wiley (whom he accused of cross-dressing on “Panty, Bras, Coke, and Cameras”) and choice words directed at the heaps of grime MCs currently flirting with electro-house.

“Some people are playin’ like they’re 100% grime and all this kind of crap but then the first major label that comes around and offers them to do some next sound—some funky house and all that—them guys are quick to take it,” states Goodz. “I mean, what are you really saying? Are you really that real? You got to be honest with your people. You can’t keep on switching on them because they’re not going to know where you’re coming from. And they’re not going to follow you."

“Wherever the music’s at, I’m at,” he continues, with a deep inhale. “And wherever I’m at, grime’s at. The scene is me, and the direction that I need to go is forward. Others is going to do what they do. I can’t help them.”

Photo David Axelbank
Check out more from our interview with Durrty Goodz below.

UK grime MC Durrty Goodz on the sound of the streets, clashing, and the state of the scene.

Do you see yourself, Dwayne, and Durrty Goodz, the MC, as two different people? Sometimes on the mic it looks like you’ve got a few different personalities showing up.
Naw… We’re the same guy! We got different characters and different personalities, but we’re the same guy! We smoke the same weed! I’m telling ya. I’m in both modes when I’m on the mic, innit? You can see it when I’m spitting, when I’m delivering the rhymes, innit. Right now, you’re talking to both of us.

Who are some of your favorite lyricists
Talib Kweli, Pharoah Monche, Eminem, Andre3000… loads of people. Bob Marley is one of my favorite lyricists in the world. He’s the greatest lyricist in the world to me.

When was the first time that you were on the radio
The first pirate I was on was a station called Rude FM in North London, Seven Sisters. That was years ago. I was about 13 and that was in north London and that was years ago. I can’t even remember how long. Iw as about 13 and I used to jump on a train to tottenham and get there. Seven sisters.

Did you have any mentors or people who put you on?
No one was really putting me on then. During those times, I was only thanking my dad for a lift. I used to listen to the pirate radio stations a lot and I used to think the MCs were rubbish, so I made a tape in my friend’s house where we played the music and then we just rapped into the stereo. I sent the guy the tape and he got back to me and I was like, ‘Cool, you didn’t even know I was 13!’ And I was in.

What music gets you really pumped?
I don’t know. Just good music man! I like playing some Michael Jackson in the morning, like “Wanna Be Starting Something.” Something with a groove.

When you MC on the radio, do you tell the DJs what tracks you want to hear?
It don’t work like that no more. The DJs just play and you just get busy.

But does someone like, say, Logan Sama make an effort to play “Durrty Goodz” beats?
To be honest with you, I don’t even really like the kind of beats that Logan plays when I’m up there. But you have to just work with the vibe right at that moment. If that’s the beat that he’s put on you just got to eat that beat. There’s no time to be saying ‘Aw, I don’t like that beat. Give me another one.’ A beat’s a beat when you’re on the street.

Can you talk about the difference between your Axiom EP and Ultrasound and your new album, Born Blessed?
Born Blessed is very, very personal. You’re going to hear a lot of things about Dwayne, about the man, on Born Blessed. Ultrasound is just like… something for the streets right now, something for where I come from. I was just feeling my peoples, basically. The sound of now. I’m showing that I’m the best from ’round here. Axiom was me testing the waters to just see what the people were going to work with when I started touring around. I just wanted to see what people liked. That’s why Ultrasound is a lot harder. When I went to Europe they wanted the basslines from “Take Back the Scene”—they loved that. They loved the hyped up stuff and they wanted to sing along with me. I started writing more catchy stuff, based on the lyrics a bit more. Born Blessed is more personal though, more roots. Born Blessed is like a foundation album. It’s the equivalent to Nas’ first album or Lauryn Hill’s first album.

Is it more difficult to write really personal lyrics than just street talk?
It’s not more difficult. I would say it’s better. The challenge is always to see if this song is going to come out as dope as you think it’s going to be in your head.

When does Born Blessed come out?
I don’t know when she’s going to be born yet. I don’t know when the mother’s going to let her out. I’m not sure. I’m not sure. She might have to have a caesarean still.

Do you think that as an MC you have to be honest with your audience
You’ve got to be honest with your people. You can’t keep on switching on them because they’re not going to know where you’re coming from, and they’re not going to follow you. One minute they’re following you this way and then you’ve gone off and done that and they don’t want to back that. They want to back you but you’ve gone and done the wrong thing, innit? The grime scene is very small and most of the players are real young, and what they really want to be is American rap stars. The sound of where they come from is the grime sound and that’s not wide enough for them. N one is really making it wide enough so it can exist on an international basis and people around the world can understand it, dance to it, and keep it moving. Some of the [young MCs] get caught up in the fantasy business and running up and down on this gun stuff and all this wrong image stuff. You know what I’m saying? It’s different. Half of the stuff that they’re writing about is not even going on. They’ve just got to go through certain things for themselves and when they learn more they’ll probably start making projects with more of a thought-process behind them instead of just rapping about junk and putting it out.

But you also started when you were really young. That young energy is important to the grime scene
That young energy is important but what’s more important is that it gets directed in the right direction. If I was putting in the kind of energy I put into making Born Blessed when I was 15 or 16, I probably could be rich already. Time goes on, you meet up people, certain people sit you down and say ‘Look you got to take the right direction now. You look at your career, you look at life, and you think about things and you realize if music is for you. Music is not for everyone, you know. The UK is small and a lot of people love music, but the creativity level of people making music is low. Everybody thinks that they know music and they don’t know music. Only time will tell.

Do you ever feel uninspired? If so, what do you do about it?
Yeahhhhh. To tell the truth, most of the time I feel like that. It depends, man. I have to start listening to old stuff or just start listening to music I like. I never listen to grime anyway because its not musical enough for my ears, to be honest with you. I like reggae music and soulful stuff. But what really inspires me is just getting a dope beat. When I get a beat and I know that the beat is for me, that can inspire me alone.

What is your favorite drink?
Carrot juice. Ital-style, with the ginger in it.

What is your favorite place in your neighborhood?
A Caribbean food shop called Too Sweet in East London. I always get the coconut cake.

What’s your process of recording raps?
Ahhh, it all depends. For my Born Blessed project, I never wrote one thing. Everything just came out. Everything is off the head. Usually, I just get the vibes and think about what I’m going to say then say it.

Do you feel like the time you spent in prison changed your music or your approach
It probably changed my approach to music a little touch but not really, to be honest with you. I think it’s a shame if you have to go somewhere like that to learn about something still. Most of the stuff I’m doing now I was gonna be doing anyway. It’s just that the Father has just brang me back home to do it. That’s what was always going to happen.

Are you religious?
No, but faith’s just one god, one word, and one love, innit?

What was the first record you ever owned?
One of Redman’s albums, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Onyx. Snoop was my favorite when I was young.

Was there a moment when you really decided you wanted to start rapping?
There was a couple of moments. One of them was when I happened to be away. My cellmate was playing some tape of some MCs that he was going kind of crazy about. I knew these guys from around the way and I was like, ‘They’re not that great.’ I was like, ‘You know what I am just going to take over everyone, innit?’ I had that attitude. From then, I came out and I was just going hard: hittin’ the pirate radio stations, freestylin’, turning up on people’s sets unwelcome, uninvited, like ‘I just need a piece of the mic right now.’ I started playing that role for a little while—sometimes you got to take the bully role just for a little while but it’s always for a righteous cause.

How much of an influence are drum & bass MCs on the grime scene?
I don’t think drum & bass right now has got an influence over the grime scene. Them grime boys don’t really look up to no one. They’ve got no rules.

Yeah, true. But in the late ’90s, before grime existed, people were probably getting inspired by MCs like Skibadee and GQ, right?
Yeah true. The scene’s a bit different now. Back in those times, freestyling on the radio station was the thing. Right now, the thing in the UK is proving yourself in the studio and just getting your stuff out there. Back then, it was a bit more raw. It was about being the best, like, in the room. Now it’s different. You got to go studio. It’s about ‘Have you got the best lyrics now, in the studio?’’ People are trying to be artists and that now. There’s money involved now.

Isn’t your position that street clashing and being the best in the room are important?
It’s very important. That’s why, obviously, I’ve had to take place in some of those clash situations, even now. If it’s for a righteous cause, it’s okay. If it’s going to be done in a correct manner, it’s okay. If people are going to act silly about it and people are going to start losing their lives and end up in prison over rhyming, I ain’t got the timing.

You’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that you’re not feeling grime MCs going off and rapping over house and electro.
If you want to do that, that’s your choice, but what are you telling the fans? Some people are playin’ like they’re 100% grime and they’re the grime kings and all this kind of crap but then the first major company or first label that comes around and offers them to do some next sound, some funky house and all that, them guys are quick to take it. It’s like, as an MC, what are you really saying? Are you really that real?

But it’s pretty hard to make money in grime, isn’t it?
Grime is smaller than an ant. This is what everyone in the scene fails to understand. There’s not a lot involved. There’s not a lot of things spinning. Everybody’s living in a dream in this scene. They think they’re going to get rich but it’s not like that. Music always wins. Grime is not musical enough to have millions of pounds involved. Straight! If you listen to the radio you hear music, innit? You don’t hear grime. Grime’s a bit too noisy. Obviously, I proved on Ultrasound that it can be musical. That’s why I made that.

What do you feel is the direction that the scene should go?
The scene is me. And the direction that I need to go is forward. I go where the music goes. So wherever the music’s at, I’m at. And wherever I’m at, grime’s at. Others is going to do what they do. I can’t help them. I can’t stop them.

What would be your advice for young MCs?
If you want to do this you got to discipline yourself to do this 100%. Do it from your heart. Have a lot of patience, and just say what you want to say.