The U.K.’s Dizzee Rascal became a bit of a household name a couple years back with his hit single, “Fix Up, Look Sharp”, which found the grime/garage rapper flexing over Billy Squire’s “Big Beat” sample, in his dirtiest British accent. Embracing his culture to the fullest, Dizzee’s an emcee who’s never been one to try to hide his accent; in fact, that’s what makes him so unique in today’s market. Last year, XL Recordings released Dizzee’s third LP, Maths and English overseas, to great critical acclaim, touted as one of the best LP’s of the year by Pitchfork Magazine. Still, while that honor doesn’t hold much weight with the hip-hop audience (as the site also touts Dipset as the best rap has to offer), this must be something worth peeping to some degree if Definitive Jux licensed it for stateside release.
The LP opens with “World Outside”, a earthy, metaphysical beat mixed with clanging silverware sounds, as the Yardie emcee suggests that there is a whole other side to hip-hop than what is heard in the hood (hence, Dizzee’s existence). “Sirens” picks things up a bit, with a nasty, multi-layered track, packing distorted guitar stabs, dirty drums, and yes, sirens, as Dizzee runs through the streets of London, police in tow. But Dizzee really doesn’t hit a home run until “Where’s Da G’s” kicks in, his take on the dirty south sound. Here, he delivers a blistering dis verse to all fake gangster rappers, followed by Bun B and Pimp C, who effortlessly adapt to Dizzee’s unique sound. Later on “Flex”, we get this year’s “Fix Up”, with an up-tempo little club jam that probably packs floors in the U.K. (and clears them in the U.S.).
No worries though, Dizzee’s doing his thing. His sound is rather unique and he manages to make it work, hardly conforming to what is expected. The perfectly titled “Da Feelin’” is a song about summertime, as Dizzee fast raps over drum and bass rhythms and chipmunk’d soul vocals. “Temptation” also defies contemporary sounds, as he duets with the Artic Monkeys, which takes chopped guitars from the Monkey’s original track, while frontman Alex Turner lends the hook. The album’s most British moment, “Wanna Be” is also fun, as Lily Allen’s hilarious hook asks “so you wanna be a gangster? Tell me just one thing / What you know about being hard man? / Your mom buys your bling!”
Unfortunately, the album does dip into mediocrity from time to time. While the songs with guest artists help flesh things out and lend some unique sounds, other times some of Dizzee’s solo tracks hardly seem distinguishable from one another. “Bubbles”, “Paranoid”, “Suk My Dick”, and “U Can’t Tell Me Nothin” are each decent contributions from the artist, but may only please the super fans. Problem is, this makes up ¼ of the record.
The new U.S. edition of the album has a slightly altered tracklist from its U.K. counterpart. Curiously missing is the single “Pussyole” – a rumored dis to fellow grime-cee Wiley. New to the American collection is an El-P remix of “Where’s Da G’s”, and while it’s hard to top the original, Bun B sounds extra ill on a Def Jux beat. Also included are new cuts “G.H.E.T.T.O.” and “Driving With Nowhere To Go”.
Different? Yes. Good? That’s up to the listener. While many complain that hip-hop is stale at this point in the game, Dizzee Rascal may be exactly what they are looking for. While his accent and accompanying style are an acquired taste, Maths and English will strike a chord with a dedicated cult following. – D.T. Swinga
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