Few rappers embody grime’s complex relationship with the mainstream as fully as Dizzee Rascal. His acclaimed debut album ‘Boy In Da Corner’ charted the poverty and paranoia of his adolescence on a council estate in east London, its claustrophobic beats tense and twitchy with frustration. Six years later, Dylan Mills took a decidedly poptastic turn with 2009’s buoyant ‘Tongue N’ Cheek’, an album on which he graciously invited doubters to “give my balls a tickle”.
Dizzee makes a fantastic pop star, but apparently that whole grime thing’s come back around, so the 32-year-old has returned to reclaim the genre he helped create. Sixth album ‘Raskit’ ditches the whiff of sambuca and Lynx that hung around its predecessor, 2013’s ‘The Fifth’, and trades good-time anthems for social commentary. On opening track ‘Focus’, he boasts about his longevity, cataloguing the cultural icons he’s outlived: “Never thought I’d see the end of the CD / I never thought I’d see social media replace the TV”.
The murky production sets the tone for ‘Raskit’, which teems with snaking grime synths, recapturing the repressed rage that once made him such a compelling force. ‘What U Gonna Do?’ taunts a rapper who attained success but lost it (a caution to himself, perhaps) while ‘Sick A Dis’, with its cluttered and clattering beat, settles countless bitter scores.
The standout, though, is the reflective ‘Slow Your Roll’, on which Dizzee laments the post-Olympics gentrification of his old stomping ground, which he claims displaced his old neighbours: “Developers rocked up… / The ends got boxed up / And the price got knocked up.”
Dizzee Rascal is no longer the wild, energised teenager who made ‘Boy In Da Corner’. And if he wants to make dumb, fun party anthems like ‘Bonkers’ and ‘Bassline Junkie’, what’s the problem? His return to grime and social commentary is not commendable in itself – the genre’s recent renewed success precludes that – but it’s heartening that he still gives a f**k about injustice and the communities he left behind He hasn’t sounded this vital in years.