Dizzee Rascal’s debut album Boy In Da Corner, though seemingly forgotten by American media outlets and hip hop fans is an undisputed classic and undeniably as good now as it was advertised. When Dizzee broke onto the U.S. music scene in 2003, he was supposed to be the bringer of change, the sign of the coming British hip hop invasion–the genre more commonly known as grime. He was the penultimate grime emcee, behind only the fabled Kano after, in a now well-publicized underground freestyle battle with former grime king Wiley. But five years later, we know it was all a pipe dream. The red herring of Kano’s catalog never made a splash on the U.S. front, Dizzee continues to receive only tangential recognition in the States, and Wiley, after his second major-label release Playtime is Over, looks to be the only true force in grime anymore.
But none of that can take away from the breaktaking excellence of Boy In Da Corner, a record thematically akin to Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, the presentation of an emcee forced to grow up too soon. Rather than tricks and hoes on the corners, it’s girls making the sexual rounds during gym class (“Jezebel”). Rather than confident, womanizing anthems, it’s tracks about teenage pregnancy and puppy love (“I Luv You”, supposedly recorded when he was just 16). For all of the beaming lyrical confidence and stand-tall posturing, Dizzee is little more than a scared high schooler on this record, something he understands and delivers with a supreme amount of omnipotence and introspection. Even in his more indecipherable moments–to U.S. ears anyway–Dizzee uses his voice as a blunt object (“Stop Dat”); but he doesn’t uses it violently, rather as a chest-beating declaration.
In his following releases, Dizzee lost the wide-eyed wonder that made Boy In Da Corner so engaging, working with the likes of UGK and adopting a more Americanized sound; you can’t blame him for this as hip-hop money is in the pockets of America’s youth, but an unfortunate happening nonetheless. But Dizzee will always be remembered as the fragile kid, sitting with his Nike’s on making faces at the camera.
Dizzee Rascal – “Fix Up Look Sharp”