Dig deep enough, and you'll find the deepest corners of the grime scene are often littered with faint memories of the near-forgotten supernova MC; the street-level maverick that held temporary acclaim, only to fade away as quickly as they passed over the mic.
On every classic crew track from the mid-noughties, you'll indeed spot that character—and on Skepta's 2004 underground hit, "Private Caller", it was a man called Dan from Meridian. While his Bloodline and Boy Better Know cohorts eventually rose to acclaim, Dan had to settle with being immortalised on internet forum threads and throwback radio segments. "Where did he disappear to? Why did he waste his talent?" The online grime world asked this for countless years. But for a movement still so young, its clear the scene carries redemptive qualities to its stars like no other. Typified by the on-off sensibilities of grime's most famous exports, its sound is forever open for nostalgia to dictate what and who comes to the fore, time and time again.
It was through said portal that Meridian Dan stepped through and landed the biggest grime hit of the past year, with the insanely catchy "German Whip". Now heavily tipped to take home the gong for Best Grime Act at this year's MOBO Awards, it's safe to say that—more than decade after that fresh-faced motorbike cameo on Meridian Walk—Dan has finally arrived. Ahead of the release of his "One Two Drinks" single on October 3, we invited PMR Records' Meridian Dan down to Complex HQ for a chat about his journey from boxing champ to superstar MC, and those scary thoughts of ending up a one-hit wonder.
When you first emerged on Skepta's 2004 cult hit, "Private Caller", did you envision yourself still having a career in music a decade later?
Nah, not at all. I never really saw it as something that would pay the bills, then, which was probably silly at the time. I was a teenager; it was probably '03 or '04.
You disappeared for a while after, and eventually found some success in boxing. Of all the jobs you took on in between, what was the worst?
I did loads, man. I literally did everything! The worst was probably labouring, having a boss tell you to do stuff you just know he would never do himself. Working five days a week for like under £200? Nah.
What came first for you, then: boxing or music?
Boxing. It's pretty similar to music in that, if you wanna succeed in it, you've gotta live it—you know? You've got to know the first thing you do when you get up in the morning is go for a run and, if you don't, then your work's gonna suffer. It's the same with music: you've got to work at it.
If someone offered a 16-year-old Dan a record deal or a chance to be a UK boxing champion, what would you have taken?
That's a tough one, but I'd probably go with music. Boxing's a lonely sport, man. You're on your own a lot of the time, and the only time people are cheering you is when you're in the ring—as soon as you come out, that's it! With music, I'm with people and that's why I've always messed with it. It's a social thing, and it's always been a part of my social life.
In an interview earlier this year, you were quoted as saying "I'm nothing but a grime MC." What did you mean by this?
Yeah! I saw that, I think I was misquoted. Erm, I think I meant more like this is me! It's who I am, firstly...
That's your Identity?
Yeah, exactly. To be honest, I've been on tunes with rappers like Mike GLC, Pabs, all sorts of tunes. If I pick up a vibe from it, I'll jump on it but, usually, the vibe that gets me is grime. It's probably more of a tempo thing, for me.
Would you agree with many who feel like we've been experiencing something of a grime renaissance, lately?
It's crazy! It's crazy. We didn't have none of it and now, all of a sudden, we’ve had three smashes: "German Whip", Skepta and JME's "That's Not Me" and Bizzle's "Rari Work-Out". I'm happy we're all working together, but I'd like to see the girls doing it as well. It seems the guys support each other much more than the girls do, and that's a shame.
For the critics who thought "German Whip", your top 20 hit, was gimmicky and you basically just got lucky—what do you have to say to them?
"German Whip" is a smash, but it's actually bigger than the record. It was never about the record, more about what it done for the scene and how it re-energised everything. I've got better songs than "German Whip" up my sleeves; I've got a lot more things to say, and I can't just try and replicate that.
When did you realise the track was destined for big things?
To be honest, I kind of let go of "German Whip" and the idea of what it would do after it got Record of the Week on Charlie Sloth and MistaJam's shows. I thought that was it! We even had US artists jumping onto the wave so I was just like, "Whatever it does, it does." But then it grew some legs and just ran [laughs].
The new single, "One Two Drinks", it's about guys who can't handle their drink and act up in the club. But, what are you like under the influence?
That's what really led me into boxing, actually. It really helped me into learning some discipline, because I was a bit out of control. I was just going out with friends, drinking, and I was going to the gym at the time so I had a lot of muscle, just getting into stupid conflicts. I always had a problem with men, anyway. All that bravado, shit just led to me knocking people out in clubs and then I just realised I had a skill and turned it into something more constructive.
Out of your Boy Better Know/Bloodline circle, who's the best/worst at handling their drink?
Wow! I'm just tryna think, because we've done a lot of drinking over the summer. To be honest, everyone kinda held it up this year.
JME doesn't drink and Skepta also stopped, right?
Jamie doesn't, but Skepta? Naaah! He dips in and out. Jammer! [Laughs] Jammer's bad, but then you've got Big H and JME on the other end of the spectrum, who don't touch it.
You've been super-active throughout festival season this year, but what has been your highlight?
Ibiza and Mallorca Rocks that was an experience. Seeing my name up there amongst those huge names, it was mind-blowing. Reading went off, too, and Leeds was great.