It’s not exactly a British invasion. Dizzee Rascal is the second English rapper to have a major album release in the United States, following The Streets’ release of “Original Pirate Material” last year. And the best feature of his album “Boy in Da Corner” is not that revolutionary — or even catchy or intelligent — it’s just that it’s, well, different. Like “Original Pirate Material,” this English rap sounds nothing like its American cousin.
The Streets and Dizzee Rascal have reached rap music by a kind of convergent evolution. In the most basic sense, this music is “rap,” as the songs consist of looped beats with rhyming words spoken over them — but the artists’ influences are completely different. Rather than remixed sounds of R+B, soul or funk, Dizzee Rascal’s tracks are almost all based on techno, with drum and bass, garage, and synthesized beats similar to reggae dancehall. This inspiration results in bare, repetitive, very raw-sounding beats.
Dizzee Rascal excels first and foremost as a producer. Using a synthesizer almost exclusively, he combines harsh, pounding bass beats with treble string effects and various beeps. Towards the end of “Stop Dat,” there’s an effect that sounds exactly like it has been sampled from the Atari version of Pac-Man, with a low dancehall beat underneath it. In fact, because of his frequent use of a Playstation for sound production, many of the beats sound akin to old video game music — very, very aggressive old video game music.
Dizzee’s vocal style is also incomparable to any American rapper. He delivers nearly all his rhymes in a fast, shouted patter, much more like a dancehall singer than an MC. This delivery is only made more novel by his high, nasal voice; he sounds like a scratching turntable with a heavy east-end London accent. But unlike dancehall singers, his verses often don’t seem to fit the structure of the beat. In songs like “Vexed,” and “Fix Up, Look Sharp” he rhymes as fast as he can, completely ignoring what’s under him. And because the beats hardly ever vary — or at least without regard to the rhymes — few of the choruses and hooks are catchy or even recognizable. It all just sounds like one big verse.
The rhymes themselves are an afterthought. Unlike The Streets, who told complex, story-based raps about working-class life in Liverpool, Dizzee’s flows are often inane –and amusingly Cockney — couplets. For example, in “Fix Up, Look Sharp,” he raps “Flushin emcees down the loo / if you don’t believe me bring your posse bring your crew / feel free to hate / I don’t want to be your mate /–/ It’s an Air Force One! / Trainers by the truckload / trainers by the ton!” Though in some songs he explains bits of east-end vernacular like “screw-face” and “jezzie,” his rhyme flow and subject matter haven’t really graduated past a 1985, “I’m the best emcee, I love my sneakers” level.
His voice is distinctive and the beats sound unlike anything you’ve ever heard in rap other than The Streets, but in the end, he’s just a good novelty, and the album’s loud beats and his high, scratchy voice get tiring.
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