Monday, June 04, 2007

Dizzee Rascal – Maths & English


You don’t need a degree in Rapnology to be conscious of the fact that hip hop has been giving off a bad smell of late. East and west coasts either retread styles from back in the day or proclaim the death of their artform over pompous, shiny and hollow beats. Down south, flashes of inspiration struggle to surface through the morass of gaudy production line synths and dead-eyed gangsta parody. And when a fresh wind blows it tends to come from some unlikely cultural backwater. Baltimore for instance, where Spank Rock didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel but certainly gave the music a memory of its party-rocking past to chew over.

Grime may have been marginalised by the bloggers who first championed it – currently chasing dubstep into the same dark hole that swallowed drum ‘n’ bass around 2000 – and abandoned by the label A&R men that spread bling dreams throughout E3 in 2004, but don’t count Dizzee Rascal out.

“Showtime”, the largely excellent follow-up to his Mercury Prize winning debut “Boy In Da Corner” did little to bridge the gulf that had grown between Grime’s visceral street level impact and its absolute failure to present a palatable commercial face. Admittedly, “Dream” and “Fix Up Look Sharp” were more quick-witted and loveable than most of Roll Deep’s regrettable “In At The Deep End” but Dizzee was still at his best when knee-deep in paranoia and spitting bile over some clanking, industrial two-step.

“Maths & English”, released today, may just see him find the elusive balance between accessibility and credibility that everyone else appears to have given up on. For the purist, it’ll be greeted as his weakest to date, even though tracks like “Where’s Da Gs”, “Paranoid” and “Bubbles” are as strong and relatively uncompromising as anything that came before them.

The balance is right on “Sirens” which mines unlikely gold from a fusion of grime and new stadium metal. “Pussyole” too, manages to blend that old Rob Base & DJ E Z Rock break into a Belgian hardcore riff for pop perfection and “Temptation” just about gets away with including a vocal from the Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner, which serves no purpose other than the obvious audience buy-up. Elsewhere, though, there are the anticipated mis-steps. Lilly Allen hook-up “Wanna Be” is little better than you can expect from the singer responsible for “Alfie” and “Suck My Dick” should really have been left on the cutting room floor.

Pick your tracks though, and you have another fine record from the man who remains the UK’s brightest hip hop star.

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