‘E3 AF’, the seventh studio album from UK rapper Dizzee Rascal, is a statement of intent. Marking a return to his London roots, the Mercury Prize-winner showcases the growth and versatility he’s collected since his iconic ‘Boy In Da Corner’ dropped in 2003. Over 10 succinct tracks, ‘E3 AF’ is full of raw energy; Dizzee’s usual razor-sharp and quick-witted rhymes are elevated even higher. He flexes his versatility on various beats while bringing together emerging and legendary UK rappers on his strongest project since 2007’s ‘Tongue ’n’ Cheek’. If anyone thought he was past it, ‘E3 AF’ extinguishes that notion quickly.
In a first since his 2006 release ‘Maths + English’, ‘E3 AF’ was wholly written, recorded and produced in the UK. It’s one of many details that make up the prevalent theme found throughout the album: that of a homecoming. As he told NME in a recent cover story, even the album title is a callback to a derogatory term Dizzee was called growing up in London: ‘E3 African’.
Sprinkled throughout the album are elements of British music – past, present and future. From the dubstep wobbles which entwine themselves throughout the album’s production to the ice-cold drill found on the Smoke Boys-featuring ‘Act Like You Know’ to elements of dancehall, grime and UK garage, Dizzee Rascal has created a project that arrests your attention from the opening seconds.
Over ceiling-threatening bass, UK music legends D Double E and Frisco trade verses with Dizzee on ‘That’s Too Much’, with each rapper flexing his skills to keep up with one another. The Splurboys-produced track ‘Body Loose’ is an ode to British musical history: sampling British electronic music act Architech’s chart-topping hit ‘Body Groove’, Dizzee floats over the infectious sample to deliver a club-ready banger. Both of these songs bookend what may be the album’s weakest track and, surprisingly, the first single of the record: ‘L.L.L.L (Love Life Live Large).’ The transition may be smooth, but the song remains superfluous with Tottenham rapper Chip, in particular, falling short with his verse.
When London dancehall singer Alicai Harley powerfully opens the Steel Banglez-produced ‘Energies and Powers’, it’s a respite from five intense tracks of Dizzee spitting bars over hyped-up, frenetic beats. Her warm vocals are the refreshing summer air outside a sweaty club night.
Dizzee reminds us of his origins on the stand-out track ‘Eastside’, which features two of the UK’s most famous artists, Kano and Ghetts. The trio trade verses with aplomb, reminding each other and anyone listening that, despite their age, they cannot be competed against. “You ain’t got a leg to stand on / you ain’t got a patch to land on,” Ghetts raps with ferocity. Kano continues the theme, emphasising to anyone emerging: “Go on – act like you’re the oldest one / I got plaques older than your oldest son”.
On ‘Act Like You Know’, over an eerie glistening beat reminiscent of the future drill sound enveloping the UK, Dizzee manages to hold his own, even ceding space for Smoke Boys to take the spotlight with lines such as: “Some would say I’m heartless / I’ma get money regardless / Who woulda known I be eatin’ loads? / I look like I’m starving.”
‘E3 AF’ builds with tension and intensity, crescendoing on the exceptional track ‘Don’t Be Dumb’, where Dizzee trades hyper double-time bars with north London rapper Ocean Wisdom over a frenzied beat. The two go for the jugular over eight-bar sequences, reciting everything from lurid lines to potshots to whimsical advice such as: “Brethren, that sounds unsettling / Somebody get him some ketamine”. As the track progresses, the spectacle increases as the synths become more haunting, the bars more rapid with Dizzee even taking a moment to state: “Jesus – that’s a bloody mouthful / I know I got my hands full”.
Throughout his career, Dizzee Rascal has pushed boundaries and surpassed expectations. This album is no different. It’s underpinned by a sense of homecoming for the rapper. On ‘E3 AF’, he marks his territory, coming back to a sound he grew up with while tipping his hat to the future. He recognises his enormous contribution while reminding everyone that he’s not done, not yet: on the album closer, ‘Be Incredible’, he says: “I’m in my prime / If I decline, I’ll want privacy / I’ll be fine / Finally, then I’ll recline / But I don’t think that’s my design.”
Release date: October 30
Record label: Dirtee Stank / Island