From the Boy in da Corner to the Man in the Spotlight
I can scarcely believe it has been fourteen years since…
Dizzee Rascal burst onto the scene with his stunning debut, Boy in da Corner. I have written about that previously – so shall not go into too much detail regarding that record. Earlier this year; I questioning where Dizzee had gone – not having produced an album for a few years. Low and behold (no influence on my part) he is back and, on the basis of the first couple of tracks, Raskit is going to be an emphatic return to form. Wot U Gonna Do? is the second cut to be taken from Raskit – out in a couple of weeks. It is a song that takes me back to the earliest days for the Bow maestro. Whilst the circumstances have changed since Boy in da Corner – Dizzee is thirty-two now; he is no longer the struggling kid in the manor; concerns have changed – there is no maturity and degradation when it comes to the lyrics. One of the reasons Boy in da Corner is one of my favourite albums ever – in the top-twenty, at least – is because of the blend of amazing compositions (different genres, sounds and effects put together in a head-spinning mix) and tight, on-point lyrics. Dizzee, even as a teenager, showed a peerless and hugely intelligent approach to wordplay and lyrics. A flawless album that addressed impure women and the wars unfolding in estates; the social dislocation of the working-class and the sort of stresses and strife a typical East London boy experiences. Showtime was a worthy follow-up – if not quite as sharp – whereas Maths + English contained one of his finest hits: the frightening and intense, Sirens. I am a huge fan of Dizzee but felt he has never surpassed the splendour and unexpectedness of his debut. After Maths + English (2007); I feel the quality took a dramatic dip. By the time of The Fifth; there were too many collaborations and too many fillers. I guess the pressure and expectation foisted onto the shoulders of Dizzee was a lot to take.
I am pleased Raskit is forthcoming and, from what I have heard so far, it seems like it is the London rapper at his finest. Space, in terms of composition, certainly differs from his earlier work. Some critics felt the backdrop was not sufficiently strong to support such (typically) fiery lyrics. The four years since The Fifth has not dampened Dizzee’s lyrical gifts. In fact, it seems like he has come on strides since his previous album. The reason The Fifth gained mediocre reception was the fact too many people were involved. It got to the stage where Dizzee was hooking up with people because he had that pull and cache. His lyrics looked at estates and problems of the streets: too many songs focused on petty cussing and juvenile spats. Maybe the growing attention and celebrity meant singing about the ends; the gang battles and struggle of modern-day Britain was not a possibility. It would seem inauthentic and forced: in the same way The Streets could not talk about these things following A Grand Don’t Come for Free. I wondered whether Dizzee would be back this year: given the social discontent and political issues in the country – it seems like a perfect time for him to launch a fresh assault. If Wot U Gonna Do? is more a jab at washed-up peers and faded stars – what are they going to do when things don’t work out or the attention slips – I am optimistic we will see a lot of relevant and scathing commentary from Dizzee. I have bemoaned the lack of Urban explosion and reaction considering the time we are having at the moment. Perhaps artists are readying themselves for the attack but, over the last few months, it has been a little quiet, to say the least. The nation is divided and people and unsure where we are heading right now. Music has a reactive role and is a great way to channel those frustrations and questions into something meaningful and dramatic. I hope Raskit, in a way, returns to Boy in da Corner: offering some mature insight but possessed of that same spark that brought a young Dylan Mills to the public parapet fourteen years ago.
There is a lot of anger and uncertainty at the moment: musicians have a duty to, at least, try to translate that into something constructive and propulsive. Back in 2003, Dizzee Rascal perfectly articulated the reality and depth of the young, working-class existence – where people were overlooked by the government, for the most part. One can argue that problem is as evident fourteen years down the line. Dizzee lost a bit of his touch in the years following Boy in da Corner but that was going to happen – he could not sustain the same electricity and relevance. This is not a chance to promote an album and say it is going to define this year. I think it will, in a lot of ways, but know Dizzee Rascal’s ‘return’ – if you can call a four-year gap THAT long to consider it a departure – is as necessary and needed as anything else. Wot U Gonna Do? sounds like Dizzee as fresh and hungry as he did all those years ago. Against the tide and continuation of upheaval and unpredictability this year – the best and brightest Urban artists out there have the opportunity to lead the country; in a way the elected leaders cannot. I will be watching closely when Raskit is unveiled. Dizzee Rascal, himself, explained the album in these terms:
“The idea of trying to be my 17-year-old self again just because everyone thinks grime’s landed in their lap this week didn’t satisfy me…I wanted to use what I’ve learned to make the best rap album I could, with no hands in the air moments, just using as much English slang as I could over the best beats I could find”.
Raskit is out July 21 via Dirtee Stank Recordings/Island Records. I urge everyone snap it up and watch the Godfather of Grime show the competition how it is done. Sit back, put the record on and…
WATCH the sparks fly.
RASKIT UK TOUR
Mon 02 Oct Liverpool O2 Academy*
Tue 03 Oct Glasgow O2 Academy*
Thu 05 Oct Newcastle O2 Academy*
Fri 06 Oct Sheffield O2 Academy*
Sat 07 Oct Leeds O2 Academy*
Mon 09 Oct Norwich, Uea
Thu 12 Oct London O2 Academy Brixton*
Fri 13 Oct Cambridge Corn Exchange
Sat 14 Oct Manchester Academy
Mon 16 Oct Bristol O2 Academy*
Tue 17 Oct Nottingham Rock City
Thu 19 Oct Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Fri 20 Oct Birmingham O2 Academy*
Sat 21 Oct Brighton Dome