“True Grime.” Printed in 2005, this was the title of the first Sasha Frere-Jones article I ever read. Thanks, Dad, for having both a subscription to the New Yorker and the wherewithal to identify and foster your son’s interest in hip-hop culture. Regrets?
Grime, a catchall classification for hip-hop that combines elements of dancehall and ragga, emerged from the bowels of South London in the early 2000s. Sasha-Frere Jones and most U.S. “indie” hip-hop heads (who ever liked, or worse, still like, shit like Aesop Rock) got their first taste of grime when Lady Sovereign drunkenly stumbled her way into Jay-Z’s heart, slovenly burping out an album released by Roc-a-Fella Records. Since then, no grime artist has managed to make a legitimate imprint on the mainstream hip-hop scene, except for Dizzee Rascal.
Rascal’s fame has skyrocketed in the past few years, propelling him to international stardom. Let’s stop here, though. His reviewers, and reviewers of grime in general, tend to be painfully bogged down in the idea that any music involving danceable beats, rap, and peoples of African descent belongs to the uniquely American tradition of hip-hop. I’m sure at least 20 percent of scene’s readers could offer some technical term (probably a compound word involving ‘normative’) for this phenomenon, but the point is the same regardless. For the remainder of this review, I’ll let Rascal’s music speak for itself, and I promise not mention lenses or post-colonialism.
“Tongue N’ Cheek,” Rascal’s latest drop was released by his own record label “Dirtee Stank.” XL Recordings, a British-run outfit with credits for artists as great as Titus Andronicus, as banal as Vampire Weekend, and as Yale as Ratatat, co-released the album. The seemingly gaunt LP (it’s only 11 tracks deep) builds well on Rascal’s previous successes, giving the listeners just what they want and nothing else.
The production on the album, despite the variety of DJs that contribute, is thorough, meticulous and interesting. Grime, generally composed of two-step breakbeats with guttural and glitchy electronic samples, lends itself to beautiful intricacies. Most akin to glitch-hop or even noise-hop, the beats on “Tongue N’ Cheek” are more exciting than those on any previous Rascal album.
“Holiday” is particularly well produced. Excessively synthy and just glitchy enough, no listener could help being drawn to this beat. Plus, I swear I remember this shit from “Pilot Wings” on Nintendo 64: once a banger, always a banger. “Money Money” draws heavily from the reggae/dancehall influence, but not offensively so. The beat on the album’s definitive single, “Dance Wiv Me,” situates the album comfortably in most any fan’s conception of grime, while straddling the curb between gutter and sidewalk. Rascal sums up the production on this album best himself on the noisy trance-inducing jam, “Bonkers,” when he insists, “a heavy bass line is my kind of silence.”
The appeal of this album, however, extends beyond the club-worthy instrumentals. Rascal’s rapping is incisive; his flow high energy, yet down to earth. Rascal manages to spit with precision and authenticity, regardless of the topic. Whether rapping with revolutionary sensibility on the dancehall-influenced “Can’t Tek No More,” or with vag-slaying bravado on “Bad Behaviour,” he consistently delivers the prowess loyal listeners have come to expect.
“Tongue N’ Cheek’s” aim is simple. Rascal wants to let the world know: “I live a superstar life: young, rich, and I’m famous/no time for nobody talking out of their anus.”