Dizzee Rascal has often bemoaned fans for craving some sort of Boy In Da Corner 2, and the frustration is well-founded. It’s easy to forget how young he was when he first appeared; his life is entirely different now , and to attempt to return to that mind-state would not only be disingenuous, but almost certainly a career misfire, an uncanny carbon copy best left to rest in the valley of the fanatic’s mind.
This apparent yearning for a follow-up to his first record also ignores the fact that his second album Showtime acts as an excellent continuation; the youthful nihilism is dialled back a touch, a more refined approach lightly sanding the jagged edges off his earlier work. All the while, a dazzlingly sense of experimentation remains, swinging between playfulness and menace with unreserved glee.
But therein lies the crucially-missing element of Dizzee’s more recent output: that bombastic sonic experimentation. From a technical standpoint, his emceeing is tighter than ever, and his wordplay engaging and humorous. Even when considering the fact that he came from an era that birthed some of the most singular and inventive British vocalists ever, he still shines as one of the brightest talents the UK has to offer. Perhaps his more recent work is less thematically arresting than when he first appeared, but the craft makes up for that; he’s an athlete, capable of demonstrating his prowess time and again.
E3 AF follows Raskit, the passable “back-to-basics” album that followed on the heels of grime’s last true revival in the wider cultural sphere, and before that, The Fifth, perhaps Dizzee’s first and only real misfire, a continued wandering into the nether regions of pop that lacked the zeitgeist-seizing urgency of the ‘Bonkers’ era.
By and large, the project follows the Raskit template of high-definition bangers, all pristine 808 bass-weight and rattling percussion, purpose-built for playlisting next to the current crop of UK rap talent. ‘Eastside’ featuring Ghetts and Kano is the standout in that respect, three emcees at peak vocal dexterity atop an assertive rolling beat that bursts into life just as your attention begins to falter. The same can be said for ‘Don’t Be Dumb’, the latest edition to the ongoing collaborative partnership between Dizzee and Ocean Wisdom, possessing an assured synergy that is by far the most exciting moment on the record.
Besides the ever-welcome appearance of drill royalty Smoke Boys (formally Section Boyz) on ‘Act Like I Know’, the rest of the album meanders slightly. Tracks pass by without much fuss, and many of the beats present little real intrigue, with only Dizzee’s innate charm and personality to carry it all. The glint of pop continues to gleam in ‘Body Loose’, a casual reworking of the harmless early ’00s 2-step hit by Architechs, though its crossover appeal remains to be seen. The unmistakable swing of garage rears its head a few times on the release, as it does across much of the current UK rap landscape, though as usual it seems to be as facile nostalgic fodder rather than a genuine inquiry into the creative opportunities of the genre.
Regardless of this, the album is by no means a failure: the strength of the emceeing alone will be of note to many fans, and the highlights will undoubtedly be revisited often. Yet as with many of his generational peers, Dizzee Rascal is perhaps in the process of handing the baton of innovation down to the next crop of talent – but maybe that’s not an issue at all.
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