February 5, 2004

Dizzee Rascal: In This Corner…

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If Busta Rhymes, Mystikal, and Roots Manuva had an illegitimate child (forgive the image), it would probably rap something like Dizzee Rascal. Entirely peerless, any attempt to compare Dizzee with an American emcee, even fellow Brits Manuva or The Streets, is for naught.

Boy in Da Corner marks the emergence of the 18-year-old East London phenom from underground raves and pirate stations. And while Dizzee may be young, woven throughout his diction-defying rhymes is an insight and a savvy well beyond his years.

The world of Boy in Da Corner is a decidedly bleak one, and it reads as a street-level testimony to the violence, prostitution, and drug abuse native to the small world of East London. But unlike groups such as NWA, Dizzee never places himself within the nihilism he witnesses, but rather continues to recede from it.

Matching the desperate subject matter are equally sparse and stripped down beats. Nevertheless, they remain as dense as platinum, with a dull base beat permeating nearly every track. The opener “Sittin Here” builds from a chilled out thump to a swirling disarray of car alarms and police sirens. More often than not, cell phone effects and GTA gunshots constitute as much of the production work (done largely by Dizzee himself) as anything remotely musical.

Yet the heart of the album is Dizzee’s rapping itself. The superb “I Luv U” depicts a back and forth argument between an unwilling teenage father-to-be and a suspect woman. “Jus a Rascal,” boasting a punk rock bassline and a roaring cathedral choir on the chorus, has Dizzee taking stabs at anyone thinking of hustling him. “Jezebel” finds Dizzee commenting on the cycle of teen promiscuity and prostitution, castigating such girls for continuing the trend: “Now she’s got one of her own/ Two kids/Even worse/ Two little girls/ Two more of her/ That’s two jezebels.”

Perhaps Dizzee’s greatest feat on Boy in Da Corner is the original and distinctive style he has carved out on his debut. Of course, this is greatly abetted by his impenetrable and indecipherable cockney accent (yes, he is speaking English). But to hear Dizzee is the equivalent of throwing a grenade into an aluminum trash can; it’s a kino-fist spike driven right through the forehead. Anyone expecting a fluid flow