Boy in da Corner
Only one thing is uncertain: When did merry old England grow spikes and fangs? Observe the new rap sub-genre shuddering out of the streets of East London: grime. What a radical name for a type of music. In fact, it's probably one of the best names since "metal" and certainly better than any other invented in the last 10 years.
Ostensibly influenced by such disparate genres as dance hall, garage and American hip-hop, grime is, in reality, probably the most anarchic, jumbled, abstract mass of sound to ever make people shake tail feather.
Observe still-teen-aged London MC Dizzee Rascal's debut album Boy in da Corner, just released in the United States on Matador. It's the first grime full-length, thus its most obvious mission statement.
This album sounds like a cockney Nelly rapping a faux-misogynist Camus over musique concrte consisting of ring-tones, toy laser guns and the Neptunes getting beaten up by a robot. In a word or two, this is reasonably unbelievable.
Dizzee is an incredible MC at only 19 years old, probably as smart and reflective as Nas was when he made Illmatic. Look no further than the first track, "Sittin' Here," which, with a minimal, hyper-syncopated beat and minor-key menace, creates the kind of palpable album-beginning tension unheard of since The Clash's "London Calling."
His appeal and uniqueness as a rapper admittedly owes a little to his diction and slang; you've probably never heard this lingo before (Wagwan? Juiced? Battery? WTF?). However, to concentrate too entirely on the patois is to ignore the incredible, understated skill with which he presents himself as a drifting, incisive phantom of the alley, casting harsh and private judgments on everyone around him.
His delivery is somehow both scattershot, marble-mouthed, and impeccable. Look at the standout track "Wot U On," in which the insistent repetition of his rhymes serves to mock and berate his unfortunate victims.
Considering that he hasn't yet hit the U.S. drinking age (the kid is 19! Nine! Teen!), his talent could go anywhere. Just hope he sticks around for a little while, as some kids tried to pull a Julius Caesar on him on the resort island of Ayia Napa last summer. Dizzee: Don't be Biggie, baby.
-- Brian Arnot