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Dizee Rascal - Uk's Great Urban Hip-hip Hope


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Britain's Great Black Hip-Hop Hope



December 14, 2003. On a recent Saturday night, about a thousand young black

Britons crowded into some tunnels near the London Bridge

for a rowdy party that's known as "The Eskimo Dance." At

first the D.J.'s played American hip-hop and Jamaican

"bashment" - the local term for dancehall reggae - while

the men drank mixed drinks (or, if they could afford it,

champagne) and watched the women dance. But then came

something else: the beats got murky and fidgety, and local

M.C.'s crowded the stage, barking out fierce, mile-a-minute

rhymes. People pushed forward, straining to see who had the


Dizzee Rascal, a brilliant and wildly original 19-year-old

M.C. and producer, was everywhere and nowhere that night.

His hits - panicky confections of spluttering electronics

and superenunciated yelps - were played during the hip-hop

and bashment sets. And M.C.'s borrowed his underground

tracks - grim, sparse beats, with hardly any melody at all

- for their live sets. Wiley, the veteran M.C. who helped

organize the night, began by paying tribute to Dizzee, who

was once his close friend, and people cheered at the

mention of his name. But Dizzee, who grew up going to

parties like the Eskimo Dance, had chosen not to attend.

It turned out to be a wise decision. Around 2:30 in the

morning, a rhyme battle onstage spilled out into the

audience. Soon, hundreds of clubgoers were stampeding

toward the exits - and then, when another fight broke out

near the back, stampeding away from the exits. Bottles were

flying. People said they heard gunshots. Outside, as police

officers and their dogs kept watch, fans headed home early

(the party had been scheduled to last until 6), trading

tall tales about who had done what.

Dizzee's been keeping his distance from the scene that

spawned him but that is beset, he says, by just that kind

of "dumbness." In July, two weeks before he released his

astonishing debut album, "Boy in da Corner" (XL), he was

stabbed five times. (He has hinted that the crime was

motivated by jealousy or resentment, but it remains

unsolved.) Dizzee recovered, and the album went on to be a

success: it has sold more than 200,000 copies so far

(enough to be certified gold in Britain), and in September

he beat out Radiohead and Coldplay for the Mercury Prize,

the country's most prestigious musical award.

Britain has long been full of hip-hop fans, but the country

has produced surprisingly few hip-hop heroes of its own.

While home-grown rap scenes thrive in France and Germany,

Britain's has never really taken off, and the "Radio 1 Rap

Show" on BBC plays almost nothing but Americans. Dizzee's

manager, Nick Detnon, derides most British hip-hop as a

watered-down version of the American stuff, and suggests

that Britain's close relationship to America has inhibited

innovation. "The only thing that's holding us back is

speaking the same language as you," he said.

Maybe that's Dizzee's secret: he doesn't speak the same

language as American rappers - or, perhaps, anyone else.

Hip-hop music is usually built around rhythms of speech;

that's one reason Atlanta hip-hop, for example, usually

sounds so different from New York hip-hop. And so Dizzee

created his own sound by exaggerating the eccentricities of

his own voice: the typewriterly clatter of hard consonants,

the flattened or distended vowels (in his rhymes, "right"

rhymes with "bat," and the word "boy" might have two or

three syllables), the gulped half-sentences and abrupt

shifts in momentum. His eerie, stiff-legged beats are as

peculiar as his rhymes, full of overlapping keyboard parts,

unpredictable rhythmic clusters and, instead of bass lines,

jagged shards of low-frequency noise. He may dress like an

American rapper, but he loves American hip-hop too much to

imitate it.

He has already been embraced by a small group of American

hipsters and record geeks - listeners who have never heard

of his East London neighborhood, Bow, are nevertheless

entranced by his exotic slang and peculiar electronic

compositions. But watch the music video for Dizzee's

current single, "Jus' a Rascal," and you'll see the

audience that means more to him: scowling young men in

baseball hats and writhing women in well-ventilated

outfits, all gesticulating in time to the beat on a boat

floating down the Thames. (Visit

www.xlrecordings.com/broadcast/ to watch the video online.)

To fans like these, Dizzee is the opposite of exotic: he's

a local hero, a product of the rough-and-tumble U.K. garage

scene, weaned on pirate radio stations, vinyl-only record

stores and, of course, volatile nightclubs.

In person, Dizzee Rascal is every bit as charming and as

mercurial as he is on CD. When he talks about his favorite

American rappers, he could be any teenage music fan,

gushing about a new Ludacris track or quoting a verse by

the relative unknown Peedi Crakk. But his eyes never stop

moving, as if he's taking everything in and storing it all

away. His cellphone chimes mercilessly, so he's forever

mumbling gruff greetings and gruffer goodbyes.

On a recent - and, inevitably, rainy - Monday afternoon,

Dizzee could be found slumped in the front seat of a

handler's car, an oversized baseball hat pulled low over

his face. He was heading a few hours north from London to

Birmingham, where he had a three-night gig opening up for

Justin Timberlake. In Dizzee's CD player was a disc

containing a rough mix of the music for his 30-minute set,

and as the car inched forward in heavy M1 traffic, Dizzee

was figuring out exactly which words would go where.

Dizzee Rascal was born Dylan Mills in 1984, an only child

in some of Bow's dreariest primary schools and council

flats. His parents were of mainly Nigerian descent, but he

says he's often mistaken for a Jamaican or a Ghanaian, and

because he prides himself on being hard to figure out, he

can be playfully evasive on the question of ethnicity. "I'm

Cockney," he said, half-smiling. "That's about as white as

you can get, innit."

He grew up listening to the harshest music he could get his

hands on, from Busta Rhymes to Sepultura. But his favorite

homegrown music was jungle, a wicked-sounding electronic

dance genre built around frenetic syncopated rhythms.

Dizzee says that although he heard local hip-hop while he

was growing up, it was the tongue-twisting jungle M.C.'s

who most inspired him: "They were the only ones who really

sounded English," he recalled. By the time he was 13, he

was buying records and practicing rhymes, determined to

establish himself as a jungle D.J. and M.C.

The British dance-music scene is notoriously restless, and

by the late 1990's, the musical momentum had shifted from

jungle to U.K. garage (also known as speed garage or

2-step), which had more melody and less clutter. At first,

U.K. garage seemed like a sleek British version of R & B,

and the scene even produced an international star: the

bland crooner Craig David. But kids like Dizzee were

attracted to another kind of garage: a self-consciously raw

offshoot ruled by toneless bass lines and nervous, skeletal

beats. This grimy new sound (variously known as "grime,"

"gutter garage," "sublow" and "Eski") inspired a new wave

of British M.C.'s, including Dizzee, whose eccentric style

won him a place in Wiley's well-respected posse, Roll Deep


In the last few years, the garage scene has produced a

handful of breakthrough acts. So Solid Crew earned

widespread (if fleeting) success by championing a glamorous

version of grime, inspired by the flash and swagger of

hip-hop. Ms. Dynamite, who began her career in 2000 with a

classic underground garage single called "Booo!," turned to

R & B for her debut album, "A Little Deeper," which won the

2002 Mercury Prize. One of her rivals was a white

Birmingham native known as the Streets, whose excellent

"Original Pirate Material" pays tribute to grime by going

the other direction: the rhymes are flat and

conversational, and the beats are sweetened with

house-music keyboards.

But the garage scene has never produced an album like "Boy

in da Corner," an impossibly rich collection of battle

rhymes, nuanced narratives and radical beat-making. "I Luv

U," the album's biggest hit, tells a sly, savage tale of

deceitful women and single-minded men. Dizzee offers

sneering sympathy to a cuckolded boyfriend ("It's a real

shame you got hacked by the whores /It's a shame that kid

probably ain't yours"), and he punctuates his disdain with

one of his monstrous, grinding bass lines.

Some tracks on the album stitch together brash lyrics that

Dizzee had been reciting for years, but others are slower

and stranger. To make "Sittin' Here," the album's

gunshot-riddled opening track, he says he composed the

woozy beat, then took it home and let it play while he

stared at the wall. The result was a remarkably subtle

track about, well, staring at the wall:

I'm just sittin' here, I ain't saying much, I just think

And my eyes don't move left or right, they just blink

I think too deep and I think too long

Plus I think I'm

getting weak, 'cause my thoughts are too strong

This sense of unease hangs over the whole CD, and hearing

it now it's hard not to be reminded of what came next: the

stabbing. Dizzee was on the garage-crazed holiday

destination Ayia Napa, on Cyprus, when he says he was

assaulted by a group of British "boys" he'd never met

before. There have been plenty of rumors but few hard

facts; The Guardian reported that the police questioned,

then released a member of So Solid Crew, with whom Dizzee

had been feuding earlier this year.

Recalling the incident today, he said, "I would love to

have kept it to myself." But of course he couldn't; the

stabbing became a huge tabloid story, and cheating death

only heightened Dizzee's appeal and credibility.

By the time he returned to Britain, he had decided to bow

out of the Roll Deep Crew, severing ties with his onetime

mentor Wiley. Dizzee won't say exactly why, and neither has

rapped about the split. All Dizzee will say is that when he

was attacked, there was no one there to defend him. "It

really, really showed me a lot," he said. "I'm in this on

my own."

And so for now, he is taking a break from the U.K. garage

scene, turning his attention to a new challenge across the

Atlantic, the Jan. 20 American release of "Boy in da

Corner." Dizzee already has at least one high-profile

American fan: Mr. Timberlake, who stops him backstage in

Birmingham. "I just want to congratulate you on all your

success, man," he tells Dizzee, who stops and chats for a

minute before sauntering off - he has half an hour to check

in, wolf down some food, find his D.J. and get onstage in

front of about 13,000 teen-pop fans, but he seems more

amused than nervous.

Give Dizzee a microphone and he starts moving differently.

His shoulders twitch and shift, and his head starts

bobbing, carving out sharp little patterns in time to the

beat. Mr. Timberlake's fans cheer (or, more accurately,

screech) when Dizzee raps over Jay-Z and Missy Elliott

tracks, but they applaud loudest for his own hit "Fix Up,

Look Sharp," a riotous, off-kilter hip-hop track. And when

Dizzee rhymes "Flushing MC.'s down the loo/ If you don't

believe me bring your posse, bring your crew," he seems to

be taking puckish pleasure in his un-American slang.

Other British grime M.C.'s are hoping to follow Dizzee's

path. Wiley's debut album is due out this spring, and

Tinchy Stryder, a promising teenager, is sometimes touted

(prematurely) as Dizzee's successor. But while it's

tempting to claim that Dizzee is blazing a new trail for

black British music, it's also possible that he'll turn out

to be an anomaly - a solitary virtuoso whose musical

revolution starts and ends with his own records.

In America, Dizzee faces long odds: American listeners have

never really embraced imported hip-hop, let alone whatever

it is that Dizzee does. Then again, over the last year

hip-hop radio stations and clubs have seemed more worldly

than ever. Panjabi MC scored a bhangra hit (with help from

Jay-Z). Lil Jon extended the life of his "Get Low" by

releasing a merengue remix. And Jamaican patois seemed to

be everywhere, thanks to the newly minted dancehall reggae

stars Sean Paul and Elephant Man. If, say, Pharrell

Williams of the Neptunes decided to throw his weight behind

"Boy in da Corner," who knows what might happen? And if

not, well, suffice it to say Dizzee Rascal hasn't got his

hopes up too high.

After his set was done, Britain's great black hope could be

found backstage in an undecorated dressing room, squinting

into a camcorder, watching a tape of his performance. "It's

heavy to see people enjoying your music," he said, as if he

were still a bit suspicious of the whole concept. And then

he retreated back into the only place he really seems

comfortable - his own head - and watched himself on the

tiny screen, two heads darting in time to the same beat."


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  • 1 month later...

"where he had a three-night gig opening up for

Justin Timberlake"

..oh dear!

eventhough i had been recommended his stuff tho!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's another look on D.R. from Slate:

music box   

Pop, jazz, and classical.

Sui Generis

The utterly new sounds of Dizzee Rascal, Britain's rising superstar.

By Sasha Frere-Jones

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2004, at 4:05 PM PT

Dizzy for Dizzee

These are the known knowns: Dizzee Rascal is an MC from Bow, East London, and the UK government calls him Dylan Mills. His debut album, Boy in da Corner, won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize last July in England and was released this month by Matador/XL in the United States. The album, recorded partially on school computers under the tutelage of a music teacher named Mr. Smith, has gone gold in England. Dizzee just turned 19 and is so popular he can't go out to clubs anymore, fearing both rival crews and police. (This can't be written off as paranoia: Dizzee was stabbed at the Ayia Napa resort last July.)Boy in da Corner refracts all the light it attracts: The young see their own sense of possibility and nerve in it; older listeners hear a galaxy of familiar references, and even casual listeners find themselves asking, "What the hell is this?" as it plays in record stores. The album is a remarkable and ferocious flag-planting, a bank-robbery note that says, "Put everything in the bag and forget what came before." The respected critic Simon Reynolds has called Dizzee "the best MC that Britain has ever produced, period."

While Dizzee's commercial success suggests that Reynolds' opinion is a popular consensus in Britain, he seems a contender for permanently well-known unknown in the States, because his abrasive, energetic music doesn't fit easily in any American genre. That doesn't mean he's not an MC—just that there's no easy and quick way for Americans to understand exactly whatkind of MC he is. A boiled-down reduction of several dance-related genres, Dizzee's music doesn't exactly belong to British hip-hop, a gene pool distinct from U.S. hip-hop. (The last great hope of British hip-hop was Tricky, whose slow and warm music was attractive to listeners who didn't usually go for hip-hop.) Critics and record vendors often describe Dizzee's music as "underground garage," since Dizzee and his peers are descended from the U.K. garage scene. But garage, a light, syncopated blend of house music with flashes of American R & B and Jamaican music, is suited to the sweet and sincere (as heard in Craig David and Ms. Dynamite, two of the best-known graduates of U.K. garage).

Sweet and sincere do not describe Dizzee particularly well. As a sensory experience, Boy in da Corner is a bit like being trapped in an MRI chamber while somebody yells at you; it ishammering, anxious music. "Grime," the term record stores and critics have agreed on, feels like the right word. While American hip-hop songs sometimes show up as instrumentals in live grime sets, grime moves nothing like American music. The tempos are faster than hip-hop's. Jay-Z, for example, favors the 100 beats per minute range. Grime lives around 130 BPM, a zone of urgency and movement. 50 Cent sounds like Simon and Garfunkel next to Dizzee Rascal.

Continue Article

Dizzee's mentor, Wiley, a producer, MC, and architect of Dizzee's scene, calls his music "Eskimo Dance," abbreviated as "Eski," a term he explains as his idiosyncratic synonym for emotional coldness. There are few legato sounds and the reference points are the tools of digital life: cell phones, pagers, video games. Inorganic squawks fire around constipated, angry bass lines. Sounds enter and exit quickly, without explanation. Imagine a teenager slamming a door over and over.

The same words pop up again and again in descriptions of Dizzee's remarkable voice: "choking," "strangled," "yelping." And his rhymes do sound like they're trying to leap back down his throat before he spits them out. The effect is a bit like fried ice cream—two different sensations at once. Dizzee's musical backdrops are just as complex as his voice. An anachronistic interjection like "You haven't gotten the foggiest!" delights and worries, because Dizzee is that kind of teenager: His facility and wit don't mask the fact that he's not entirely in control of his emotions. His breakthrough single, "I Luv U," was made almost two years ago; its backing music still makes even the most abrasive hip-hop sound easy like Sunday morning. Two bass sounds and two percussive sounds, possibly robots imitating the "Bumfights" video series, burst around Dizzee's voice. Keyboard and string sounds enter and exit irregularly, as if the doors and windows were trading places on the wall. The energy level is closer to ska or garage rock than most hip-hop. Rascal has confessed a love of Nirvana, Sepultura, and other "heavy" bands, and this could be a key to his future in America. Hip-hop artists from the south like David Banner and Lil Jon can match or better Dizzee for nervous energy, but the harsh production style on Boy in da Corner will probably attract rock fans first.

Conceptually, Dizzee writes rhymes that suggest American "emo" rock or realist American MCs like Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang Clan: angry confessions and detailed snapshots of everyday life. Dizzee's opening track, "Sittin' Here," could fit into a news magazine episode on troubled youth: "I watch all around, I watch every detail/ I watch so hard I'm scared my eyes might fail/ I'm just sitting here, I ain't saying much I just smile/ It's funny cos I haven't bust a smile for a while." He moves from the specific to general in the next verse, replacing self-pity with a sense of community: "Cos it's the same old story, intelligent yaps in hospie flats/ And it's the same old story, benefit claims and checks in false names/ And it's the same old story, students truant, learn the streets fluent/ Yeah, it's the same old story, strange, there's no sign of positive change." His thick East London accent makes no concessions to global marketing—Dizzee is a local boy and the story belongs to him and his friends. The poetic compression and line delivery are available to everyone, though, and any teen in the world would understand this great parsing of the word "screwface": "Screwface means I'm not pleased/ Screwface means I'm not amused/ Screwface means I just wanna walk, not talk/ Screwface means I just wanna leave." Slam!

If you want to understand the scene that Dizzee's emerged from, you'll have to buy lots of white label 12-inches, listen to British pirate radio, download clips, and browse Web sites. If you can get through an entire eight-CD mix-tape pack, you'll find dozens of useless instrumentals that were destined to be cell-phone ring tones, but also chunks of amazing music and a few MCs in Dizzee's league. Kano is a fleet and funny MC whose summer hit "Boys Love Girls" is like a lighter version of "I Luv U," and Bigga Man and Ears' "Players" is as good as anything Dizzee's done. Wiley's own album, due in the spring, will likely be the next major album in the genre, whether it's called grime or eski. But it seems unlikely we'll hear another album as good as Boy in da Corner, even if grime keeps fielding skilled MCs and producers. The album's considerable horsepower comes from the clever bluff of a boy convincing himself he's a man, but Dizzee knows the emotional hook lies in what he's leaving behind. He didn't call the album Roughneck in da Corner or Genius in da Corner. Next time, he may be just another successful professional with a genre to call his own. He won't be in the corner, and he won't be able to slam the door.

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