A Dizzee Retrospective

Oct 11th, 2009
| posted by: Jonno |

People are into Dizzee Rascal now, because he’s all hot with Armand van Helden and Calvin Harris and every electro-beat-freak producer on the planet. That’s all well and good, I’m happy that he’s getting more airplay than T-Pain or Akon (well, probably not Akon, that mother is everywhere), but having taken little sister Z for a Tongue In Cheek drive yesterday, we both conceded that the East London rudeboy just doesn’t have the same fire in his belly anymore. It may be that he’s becoming filthy rich. It may be that ‘Dirtee Stank’ is now more than something he drops in the middle of tracks, but actually a fully functioning record label. It may even be that there are already a raft of Dizzee imitators (we all know Wiley didn’t do anything significant before ‘Wearing My Rolex’, anyway), pretty impressive for a lad who’s two years older than I am.

The fact that Dizzee has beaten down the path into the mainstream is not something to be sniffed at. Anybody who’s listened to tracks outside of ‘Bonkers’ knows that the Londoner is so notoriously difficult to understand that his voice is more of a percussive instrument than it is a vehicle for words. Grime slang takes Brooklyn ghetto language to a whole new level, with words like ‘jezabel’ (skank), ‘pussyole’ (wimp) and ‘flex’ (dance/bootyshake) becoming part of the underground vernacular and exciting those music listeners dying for something more than ‘niggas’ and ‘homies’. Dizzee’s music, with the exception of some of the cuts off his last two commercially successful records, is not meant to be danced at. His abrasive drum beats, dark synths and almost horizontal harmonic patterns all combine to make the kind of sound that you’d prefer to have playing at a fight rather than a disco. That’s why One A Day likes Dizzee, he’s about as punk-rock as hip-hop gets. Fuck Jay-Z bringing Empire Of The Sun onto a track for The Blueprint 3, this is rough and ready. So let’s look back at some of Rascal’s finer moments.

‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ is possibly the greatest party anthem of all time since ‘Fight For Your Right (To Party)’ dropped in the ’80s. The drums are fucking huge. Dizzee sounds like he’s been gargling methylated spirits and is ready to spit them through a lighter onto anyone who screws with him. I have been listening to this track for over five years, and I still have barely any idea what the hell is going on. There’s that great line ‘when I have your head/Your head splits like banana’, which trumps Gwen Stefani for the best couplet involving fruit in the new millenium. This album (Boy In Da Corner) gave Dizzee a coveted Mercury Award in 2003, when he was still a teenager. Have a listen and you’ll see why.

Dizzee Rascal – ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’

While I’m not a huge fan of Showtime, Dizzee’s second effort, Maths & English is probably the first time the rest of the world stood up and took notice. By now Dizzee was hip-hop royalty in the UK, and accordingly, he could bring in the best producers and guest stars his continent had to offer. Maths is a brilliant record which marks Dizzee’s first foray into the US via the Def Jux label, and the songs have never sounded better. Vocals from UGK (including some of the last verses spoken by Pimp C before his untimely death) and Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) added the razzle dazzle, but it was Rascal’s ability to transcend his genre that brought him the most accolades. My pick from this album is ‘Wanna Be’, which features Lily Allen. The song is a kiss-off to fake gangsters, and it’s god damn hilarious. There’s a sick bouncing bass line that could only come via the UK jungle scene, and sister Z knows every word to this one. Yes it’s sugary as fuck, but it’s in a good way, especially considering the lyrical content. That’s called JUXTAPOSITION people. It wasn’t a big hit like ‘Flex’, but it should have been.

Dizzee Rascal – ‘Wanna Be’ (ft. Lily Allen)

Which brings us to Tongue In Cheek. My problem here is not Dizzee’s decision to crossover, it’s an inevitable point in every rapper’s life and I think he’s handled it as well as he could. My issue is now that he’s let the slick beats overtake his flow, as proven on ‘Bonkers’ where he repeats the same line a million times, something he wouldn’t have been caught dead doing a few years prior. there are still some killer tunes in here, but they take a backseat to the party jams of Calvin Harris, who we love, but has pretty much defouled Dizzee’s future credibility. To be fair, Felix Buxton from Basement Jaxx recently told me on the phone that ‘Bonkers’ ispired him to start making records again, because dance music before that was minimalist and depressing. Considering that the Jaxx launched Dizzee with ‘Lucky Star’, they probably know what they’re talking about. In fact, since that is a song which shows how to successfully marry machine-gun rhymes with heavy beats, I think we’ll use that one instead. Turn it up and get loose.

Basement Jaxx – ‘Lucky Star’ (ft. Dizzee Rascal)

Rascal Official


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[…] My first experience with the word ‘jezabel’ came not from this Sydney quartet but from Dizzee Rascal, who uses the term in almost every one of his songs on Maths and English to describe a less than […]

[…] life of his revolutionary label – home to everyone from The Prodigy through to Basement Jaxx, Dizzee Rascal, The White Strpes and The xx – Russell has always acted on his gut rather than commercial […]

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