With the release of his eagerly anticipated seventh album, we look back at the remarkable evolution the one and only Dizzee Rascal.
The UK grime scene has produced some massive international stars since rising to prominence almost two decades ago. While the likes of Skepta and Stromzy have taken the genre by storm of late, neither is yet to reach the highs of London MC Dizzee Rascal. Bursting onto the scene in 2003 with his Mercury Prize-winning debut album, Boy In Da Corner, Rascal quickly became the face of the UK rap scene and a pioneer of the genre. Rascal’s appeal can be contributed to his playful character, insightful lyrics and willingness to experiment, dabbling in dance and pop and collaborating with artists from a wide range of genres.
In 2020, the icon of grime drops his much-anticipated seventh album, E3 AF (named after the postcode of the district he grew up in), and to celebrate, here’s a look at the evolution of the grime legend in 11 awesome songs.
The song that started it all, ‘I Luv U’ remains Dizzie Rascal’s calling card. Written and produced by Rascal at the unbelievable age of 16, the song contains some surprisingly heavy themes, focusing on an unplanned pregnancy and the back and forth between both parties about who’s to blame. It provides two points of view, one from Rascal and the other from female rapper Jeanine Jacques; with the two trading barbs over the bass-heavy beat on this classic grime tune.
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As Rascal was making a name for himself, The Streets were the toast of the UK rap scene. The alias of Mike Skinner enlisted Rascal’s crew Roll Deep (a rap collective founded by Wiley) for a remix of ‘Let’s Push Things Forward.’ The group turned the track into an aggressive celebration of geezer rap, with Rascal and Wiley’s fast-paced rhymes the highlight.
Sampling the beat and vocals from Billy Squire’s ‘The Big Beat,’ this is a dynamic rap-rock crossover that never lets up. Rascal is full of swagger on this one, taunting his foes with lyrical darts and reminding everyone he’ll always stay true to the streets, no matter how famous he gets.
If there’s one-thing grime shares with American rap it’s the need for MC’s to express how great they are in their rhymes. ‘Jus’ A Rascal’ is a boastful, braggadocios expression of Rascal’s greatness, with the Londoner reminding his peers, “I’m a rudeboy, dangaragan, daps / I got this game in my hand like dax.”
Infusing elements of electronica with grime and garage, ‘Stand Up Tall’ is ready-made for the clubs. Rascal’s rapid-fire raps infiltrate the futuristic beat with glee as he shouts out his fans across the globe and name checks his crew Roll Deep.
One of the keys to Rascal’s long-term success is his willingness to embrace other genres. ‘Sirens’ is a great example of Rascal’s boundary pushing sound, with the high-tempo track based around a sample of Korn’s ‘Here To Stay.’ It’s not just the beat that kills though, with Rascal’s storytelling skills on display as he details life on the violent streets of London and his police issues.
You couldn’t escape this track in 2008. Hooking up with man of the moment Calvin Harris and R&B singer Chrome, Rascal fully embraces commercial rap with ‘Dance Wiv Me.’ A bouncy, 80s inspired club number, the track became Rascal’s first number one. Amazingly the three musicians never met when producing the track, with Rascal and Chrome recording their parts over the phone and Harris mixing them in his studio.
Rascal went electro on his fourth album and it paid off big time. Tongue n’ Cheek spawned four number one singles (including the aforementioned ‘Dance Wiv Me’) and quickly became Rascal’s best selling album. While the departure from traditional grime beats put some off, Rascal’s willingness to embrace the dance craze opened him up to a whole new audience. Opening track ‘Bonkers’ is an early indication of what to expect from the album, with the delightfully rambunctious collaboration with Armand Van Helden a dead set banger that became a festival anthem.
Lightning struck twice with ‘Holiday.’ Once again featuring Calvin Harris and Chrome, ‘Holiday’ is a fun tropical-esque song made for dancing too. It’s a classic Harris production, with the 80s inspired synths mixing with modern electronic beats while Rascal does his stuff and Chrome provides the catchy hook.
There’s not much to like about Rascal’s The Fifth. Enlisting a raft of producers and guest vocalists, the album is a mish-mash of styles and genres that fails to gel. Of the 13 tracks, the clear highlight is ‘Bassline Junkie.’ Similar to the big sounds of ‘Bonkers,’ the track is in your face and based around a booming, dirty bassline, with Rascal informing us the only thing he’s addicted to is big bass. Each to their own I guess.
Rascal retuned to his grime roots on Raskit, receiving universal acclaim from critics. My favourite track on the album is ‘Ghost,’ a retrospective flute sampling tune where Rascal remembers how he struggled to get girls as a youth due to his social standing and how everything he has now could have been taken away from him if he had died during a stabbing incident in 2003.
Of all the singles released from his new album, ‘Act Like You Know is my favourite. Recalling Rascal’s early work, the track is a gritty punch of grime with additional verses from Swift and Deepee, members of hip-hop collective Smoke Boys.
E3 AF is out now.
Words by Tobias Handke
Image: Eva Pentel