N-Dubz - Pop stars who play with fire

Home-grown hip-hop hitmakers N-Dubz have a history of trouble, most lately with 'death-texts' to a radio listener. The north-London trio explain themselves to Charlotte Cripps

It has taken ten years of hard slog for cousins Dappy and Tulisa, and their childhood friend Fazer, of N-Dubz to go from council estates in Camden to the top of the UK charts. On Monday their first No1 hit single , "Number 1" (with Tinchy Stryder), was nominated for a Brit Award, as Best British Single. Now the north London band, who released their new single, "Playing with Fire" this week, featuring Mr Hudson, are poised to sign a deal with US label Def Jam, in an attempt to break the US market.

I meet the trio at the Islington Arts Factory, amid plenty of gossip in the tabloids since Christmas – including rumours that X Factor boss Simon Cowell is tempting them away from their management. Then last week the Anglo-Greek rapper Dappy, 22, whose real name is Costas Dinos Contostavlos, sent "death texts", to a woman who had phoned into the Chris Moyles Show on BBC Radio 1 calling him "vile" and "a little boy with a silly hat". Dappy, who had scribbled down the listener Chloe Moody's mobile number while on the show, has since apologised, after his texts were published in The Sun. He was also ditched by a Government anti-bullying campaign. One message went as follows: "Your gonna die. U sent a very bad msg towards Ndubz on The Chris Moyels show yesterday Morning and for that reason u will never be left alone!!! u say sorry I will leave u alone u ****".

Dappy greets me in an endearing way by kissing me on the cheek and outstretches his arms dramatically. "I apologised to Chloe. I sent the messages to her in the heat of the moment when I was angry. I hope people believe I'm genuinely sorry," he says. Fazer, 22, then appears, wearing a baseball cap, while Tulisa, 21, whose style is urban-pretty, is just finishing a photoshoot upstairs.

I ask Dappy about the rumours that N-Dubz are splitting up. "Where did you read that?" he says. "We are not splitting up." I hand him a press cutting with the headline, "N-Dubz star Tulisa says band will split" and in which she says, "I've pretty much had enough of collaborations to last me a lifetime". He jumps up and runs upstairs snatching the article to show his blonde cousin Tulisa, while Fazer rolls his eyes.

"They are cousins," says Fazer, who met Dappy at the age of seven, at karate classes in Camden. "They have a brother-and-sister relationship. They have silly arguments and then make up and it's all forgotten. What she said has been taken out of context. Right now we are very dedicated to N-Dubz."

After a No1 hit last year, their second album Against All Odds flew into the Top Ten in November, and went platinum within a few months. NME has hailed them as "the voice of youth". "They are easily as culturally significant now as any guitar band you care to name," it said. They've had two sold-out UK tours in 2009, three Mobo Awards, while their second album has sold 400,000 copies. Now the wheels are in motion to conquer the US, with Def Jam record label bigwigs Max Gousse and LA Reid impressed by the band, who formed as the Lickle Rinsers, when the three were 12 years old.

So why is it that until now N-Dubz – whose hits include "I Need You", "Ouch" and "Papa Can You Hear Me" – have never been taken seriously and are dismissed as the Fisher-Price version of Dizzee Rascal? "It's been a lot of let downs, a lot of broken promises. People weren't interested in urban music. They didn't think it would sell records," says Dappy.

It hasn't been an easy ride for the trio, who are often ridiculed for their tweeny pop songs about boys' views versus girls' views, relationship problems, cheating, love, and life on the streets. Yet it all looked rosy in 2007 when Polydor Records signed the trio, and re-released their track "Better Not Waste My Time", which reached No26 in the charts. Dappy even made an appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks wearing his Dappy hat. But N-Dubz got dropped from Polydor, because nobody knew how to market them. Yet everything is now changing for N-Dubz.

Dappy has returned after his outburst to eat his lunch alone in a corner. "Sorry I'm pissed off with that Tulisa thing. It gets to me," Dappy says, looking genuinely upset. "Can you really set the record straight?" He starts hugging and kissing me and calling other journalists "plonkers".

Ever since the trio were inspired by the UK garage scene, recording singles in Dappy's dad's home studio, it has always been a family affair. Dappy's dad Bryon had been a member of 1970s folk band Mungo Jerry (of 1970 hit, "In the Summertime"), was their greatest inspiration and managed them until he died of a heart attack in 2007. His memory lives on: Dappy has "DAD" tattooed on his neck, their debut album is titled Uncle B (he was, of course, Tulisa's uncle) and the second album's title, Against All Odds celebrates the fact they never gave up.

They pride themselves on the fact that they write, produce, mix and master all their own material. "We are real musicians – not just rappers with a singer in the middle," says Dappy. There is nothing manufactured about them. Rather there is an overriding feeling that they have been nurtured to fulfil their talent, on the long-haul journey to success.

Their manager Jonathan Shalit, of Shalit Global and the former manager of Charlotte Church, snapped up N-Dubz in 2008. But managing N-Dubz is challenging even if the band sell records. In November it was reported that Junior Edwards, aka DJ Maze, a freelance musician who worked with N-Dubz, was arrested on suspicion of raping a fan after a show. He was released on bail without charge and the band dropped him. It is Tulisa, 21, whose real name is Tula Contostavlos, who really has her head screwed on. She is super-efficient, possibly due to the fact she cared for her mother, who had been diagnosed with mental illness. Her parents divorced when she was young (her dad Steve was also in Mungo Jerry). She tells me she stands for "female empowerment" in the band. "I want to be a good role model to girls. I want to show them that anything is possible and bring back morals that seem to have been forgotten." Tulisa thinks the showbiz world is "shallow".

"Dappy and I love each other to pieces. I tell him off because I love him. I'm the only girl in the band. I'm more mature I suppose." These latest rumours of her ditching N-Dubz erupted when, for the second album, she did a solo song called "Comfortable", which prompted gossip that she was to quit the group and go solo. Then, in an interview in the girls' magazine Sugar, she said: "One day we'll all definitely go solo. I'd like to bring out an album and so would the lads. But we'd always be involved in other people's stuff. I'd want Fazer to produce it and Dappy to co-write with me."

She tells me: "It does get frustrating expressing yourself in a band. It gets complicated because we co-write all the songs." Tulisa also wants to make it in films and is already auditioning for major roles. She has just played Laurissa, a cocaine addict who is in a pop group and gets abused by her manager and boyfriend, played by Ricci Harnett, in the third and final Channel Four TV series of Dubplate Drama, a show that Dappy also featured in.

Her biggest luxury is her Audi A5 convertible sports car. For Dappy it is renting a plush apartment in Canary Wharf – "instead of a dirty sh*thole that we were raised and born in". Dappy also shows me white gold and diamond jewellery, including crucifixes hanging round his neck, worth £13,000, and tells me he owns more than 80 hats.

But it's hard not to see that behind the N-Dubz persona is a band who get hurt and upset and have made it through nothing else but sheer talent and determination.

"I'm used to council estates and doing naughty stuff," says Dappy. "Now I'm hanging out with all the rich people, I'm feeling rather important. I'm up with the big boys. I'm swimming with the sharks."

'Playing with Fire' is out now

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower