I’d love for Dizzee Rascal to break through onto American radio and TV. I’d like to think he would be a star. His gruff charm would help him stick out from all the Southern hacks mugging for the camera in front of a mansion rented for the day. In the new video for Maths & English’s first (official) single, “Sirens”, Dizzee looks to shake game hunters down dark alleys just like the ones in early Wu-Tang clips; appearing shirtless under his winter parka, he cuts a similar figure to 2Pac, with scars from his stabbing filling in for the ‘Thug Life’ tattoo. In a genre where your street reputation is paramount, Dizzee is one of the most genuine ghetto urchins to bless a mic for a while.
When he debuted in 2003 with Boy In Da Corner, Dizzee came on like a one-man N.W.A., mostly because there had never been a truly gifted British MC. His rapid fire flow and post-jungle beats were a culture shock. Though singles “Dream” and “Stand Up Tall” were exceptions that raised his public profile, his second album, Showtime, was darker, further down those dark alleys, inhabiting the PJ’s pissy stairwells and elevators immortalized by Ghostface, Nas, and many others. On this, his great third album, Dizzee streamlines his sound and ups the tempo, while embracing a multitude of new sounds, from the cruising roll of West Coast G-Funk to Houston’s slurred Screwed sound, from the new Brit-Pop to the club play that American rappers cater to. “Excuse Me Please” rides a chilled-out Blaxploitation bassline that Ludacris would die for, while the absolutely mammoth “Hardback (Industry)” builds from the sub-woofer stress-tests of Paul Wall and Slim Thug to a cautious journey through the music business. Staying in the Dirty South, “Where Da G’s” brings in Houston legends UGK for a blunt examination of posers, while “U Can’t Tell Me Nuffin’” bridges Dizzee’s original Grime sound with the huge production of Lil’ Jon.
The middle of the album is where Dizzee goes for the dancefloors, with mixed results. “Suk My Dick” has the bouncy, playful, sing-songy delivery of Eminem, and even works in a bit of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and some off-key warbling reminiscent of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and the trio of “Flex”, “Da Feelin’”, and “Bubbles” continues the floor filling. “Flex” recalls David Banner’s “Play”, “Da Feelin’” marries a laidback funk groove with the skittering beats of drum & bass, and “Bubbles”, one of the album’s highlights, sounds like Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times” played at double-time and spun backwards. Unfortunately, of these, “Bubbles” is the only one that’s really memorable past its gimmick. Dizzee’s Pop experiments don’t fair well either; collaborations with hot UK acts like Lily Allen and Arctic Monkey Alex Turner don’t fit the vibe of the album. They would be better suited as a one-off single with Allen’s “Wanna Be” on the A-side, and Turner’s throwaway “Temptation” tucked away on the B.
Maths & English is best at street level. “Sirens” is a vivid, detailed crime narrative with metal guitar riffs and a clanging beat steamrolling anything in its path, while the vicious diss track “Pussy’ole” drops fuzzy synths all over the classic “It Takes Two” track while Dizzee sprays vitriol at his former friend, fellow UK MC Wiley; he doesn’t mince words, leading to one of the strongest beef blasts in Hip-Hop history, along with Jay-Z’s “Takeover” and Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline”. Like highlights “Bubbles” and “Hardback”, this deadly duo illustrate that, while his experiments might be admirable, Dizzee Rascal is at his best when he marries hints of other styles to his own unique street personality.
MUSIC: Dizzee Rascal's Maths & English
- Dizzee Rascal website