Dizzee Rascal is the best rapper this country’s ever produced, period. His words are as sharp as prime Tricky, his delivery sharper; he’s got bags more personality than anybody in the British rap scene. These local comparisons add up to faint praise, though, so how about this: 18-year-old, East London-bred Dizzee Rascal is as good as any MC currently active on Earth.
Every UK garage MC brags about how his style’s unique, and virtually every MC does it using the same flow and timbre. But Dizzee really does sound “identical to none”, from his blurting, jagged phrasing to his frayed, edge-of-losing-it grain (like he’s on the brink of lashing out, or sobbing, or both simultaneously). Better still, he’s got something to say as well as a unique way of saying it. Too much, maybe: listening to his torrential wordflow, you feel like his head’s surely set to EXPLODE. When he spits that he’s “vexed at humanity/Vexed at the earth”, you can hear the ingrown cyst-like rage of a generation for whom social-political deadlock is just “standard business”, kids who’ve never seen in their own lifetime so much as a glint that change is possible.
Boy In Da Corner is bookended by “Sittin’ Here” and “Do It”, two songs that open up whole new emotional terrain for garage rap (and that sound bizarrely like Japan circa “Ghosts”/Sylvian-Sakamoto). Dizzee is voicing the fragility and doubt underneath the thug’s invincibility complex, the tenderness behind the you-can’t-touch-me/you-can’t-stop-me armour. “Sittin’ Here” features Dizzee as the painfully acute observer: “I watch every detail/I watch so hard I’m scared my eyes might fail.” Those eyes have seen too much in too few years: on “Do It” Dizzee mourns how “everyone’s growing up too fast” and confesses “sometimes I wake up/Wishing I could sleep forever.”
This ain’t exactly So Solid Crew, then. Oh, Dizzee’s got few peers when it comes to boasts and threats, slaying rivals who wanna test him with a murderous exuberance: “Flushing MCs down the loo/If you don’t believe me bring your posse and your crew.” But it’s not the gun talk that’s the draw, it’s the vulnerability that peeks out, exposing the hard’n’ heartless posture of every mannish boy as desperate sham.
Gotta mention the music, which is self-produced (Dizzee’s like Dre’n’ Eminem in one body) and stunning. This is a totally post-garage sound that draws on beat-science from ragga, electro, gangsta and gabba. (And, on the uproarious “Jus’ A Rascal”, opera and Sepultura-style thrash-metal!) The result is as angular and futuristic as any German weirdtronica, as shake-your-ass “dutty” as Southern bounce, as aggressive as punk.
On which subject, it turns out that Dizzee’s a Nirvana fan?especially the ultra-gnarly In Utero. It may only have creased the outer edge of the UK Top 30 but his savage war-of-the-sexes single “I Luv U” is a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the new millennium.
In summation: Boy In Da Corner is a front-runner for this year’s Mercury (yeah, right?big deal). Mike Skinner should be shitting his pants. So should everyone else. Because next to Dizzee Rascal everybody looks pale, uninteresting, and irrelevant.