Gutter-garage prophet declares UK Garage's end-of-days on incredible debut
In 2002, UK Garage’s bid for popularity crashed and burned. Acts like More Fire Crew turned out bullish garage-rap LPs with barrels of braggadocio but precious little substance. The likes of Romeo and Lisa Maffia learnt to assimilate or die, stealing into the Top 20 under the guise of nu-R&B. And the talent clung to the scene’s underside, hidden, like cockroaches terrified to skitter into the light.
This is where Dizzee Rascal comes in. Dizzee thinks his music sounds “like the end of the world”. He’s right. It sounds like balaclava-clad gangs of teenagers wiring London’s tenement blocks with dynamite and razing them to the ground. The Streets‘ Mike Skinner says Dizzee Rascal is the future, but Dizzee screams “no future!”. Where ‘Original Pirate Material’ revelled in the wonderment of modern geezerdom, ‘Boy In Da Corner’ is primed for impending apocalypse.
Dizzee is Dylan Mills, an eighteen-year old rapper-producer from East London. He rose to prominence as a member of UK Garage collective Roll Deep, cites his favourite album as Nirvana‘s ‘In Utero’, and claims his music isn’t even UK Garage at all. And indeed it isn’t: throughout, the tempo sits around 90 BPM, meaning ‘Boy In Da Corner’ has far more in common with hip-hop than two-step’s high-octane rush. But you never heard hip-hop sound this brutal, this alien, this foreign. No, scratch that. This English.
This ‘Boy In Da Corner’ is trapped like a rat. On ‘Sitting Here’, Dizzee‘s an observer, watching ruefully as gunshots rattle and police sirens tear out of the fog. There is terrible violence here – at one point, Dizzee threatens to smash your head in with a metal bar – but there is startling wisdom too. “We used to fight with kids from other estates/ Now eight millimetres settle debates,” Dizzee notes, sadly, on ‘Brand New Day’ – an old head on young shoulders. This freakish mix of frenzy and ennui is a constant through ‘Boy In Da Corner’.
‘I Luv U’ is Dizzee‘s bloody valentine. It finds him spliffed into a state of hypertension, voice exploding like a bag of firecrackers as he picks over the dire ramifications of a one-night stand: “Pregnant what you talkin’ bout this for?/ Fifteen she’s under age that’s raw”. The production here, like much of the album, is truly foreboding: piledriver kickdrum ripped from some head-stoving Dutch gabba white-label; dispassionate female voice intoning the title until it rings hollow, devotion spoke by rote. This jaundiced view of modern relationships is a running theme – ‘Round We Go’ describes a merry-go-round of loveless sex, charted by a narrator who’s had his fingers burnt one time too many.
So many excellent moments left to chart: the staggering ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’, riding a stadium rock drum loop so savagely sliced that the silence between the loop yawns like a vacuum, or the truly bizarre ‘Jus A Rascal’, insane Fiddler On The Roof operatics splashed over every chorus. Suffice to say this: ‘Boy In The Corner’ is one of the most assured debut albums of the last five years. It’s anyone’s guess where this one goes next.