Dizzee Rascal - Biography
Hip-hop is an odd genre in that its instrumentation is a melting pot of interpretation and sampling of other musical styles. American hip-hop has traditionally used American music (jazz, rhythm & blues, soul) for sampling purposes. Rarely have American hip-hop producers mined too deeply for international genres to create the backing soundscapes for their rappers. When London-born rapper Dizzee Rascal lunged into the States with his diverse sounds, the public’s ears took note.
Dizzee Rascal, who signs checks as Dylan Mills, grew up in the crime-infested inner city of East London. He began creating music at the age of 14 and eventually got involved in the genre known as UK garage. Grime soon evolved from UK garage, fusing elements of dancehall, drum & bass, and hip-hop, as well as a good amount of influence from the music of the West Indies, thus proving that the genre is indeed reflective of its East London origins. Dizzee found a mentor in grime pioneer Wiley, who helped him get his start (although, bad blood has since formed between the two). Dizzee quickly became known for both rapping and producing his own music. His minimal approach to the construction of the beats mixed with an accumulation of found sounds, video game noise, and many experimental bleeps and pops, made him stand out in the scene.
Dizzee hit the ground running in 2003 with Boy in da Corner (2003 Matador). The album’s first single, “I Luv U,” focused on a tumultuous relationship that had disintegrated into a viscous cycle of sex, infidelity, and monotony. The theme is made eerier by the song’s android-like call and response chorus. The other two singles, “Jus’ a Rascal” and “Fix Up, Look Sharp,” supplied a dose of esoteric and cerebrally dazzling hip-hop while simultaneously offering content relatable to traditional hip-hop fans. Fierce jabs are taken at the oppression faced by individuals in the inner city. A light is shined on gang violence, teenage pregnancy, and the hypocrisy of England’s monarchy. Mistrust of authority manifests many times in Dizzee’s music, and his debut album was just the beginning.
Critics universally praised Boy In Da Corner and it appeared on numerous critics lists including Rolling Stones’ Top 50 Albums of the Year. The album also ended up claiming the prestigious 2003 Mercury Music Prize for the best album from the UK or Ireland. As a Mercury Prize recipient, Dizzee was in good company joining past winners such as Portishead, Roni Size, and PJ Harvey. Dizzee remained busy in 2003, collaborating with Bassment Jaxx on the track “Lucky Star” from their album Kish Kash (2003 Astralwerks). Grime was birthed in small clubs, but Dizzee Rascal was steadily becoming the genre’s most recognizable figure.
As Dizzee grabbed the public’s attention, the criticism towards grime’s depiction of violence began to erupt. “Hold Ya Mouf” was excessively quoted by the British press for the lyric in which the London rapper gleefully gloats “I’m a problem for Anthony Blair.” Several other prominent politicians accused grime of glorifying gun culture. As a result of this crackdown, Channel U, a television station that is a starting point for many urban artists from the UK, became increasingly selective regarding which grime music videos were fit to air. Perhaps because of these instances, the hostility between Dizzee and authority figures can easily be heard within his music. However, despite openly displaying distrust of politicians, he has stated that the United States’ election of Barack Obama has renewed his hope for the UK’s government.
Showtime (2004 Matador), Dizzee’s second album, was released in 2004. Following suite with his debut, the album features tales of London’s sordid underbelly told through Dizzee’s rapid-fire rhymes. However, he dives deeper into the diverse array of samples and musical styles. The first single “Stand Up Tall” is a buzzing, dance floor-ready romp, which was released two weeks prior to the release of Showtime. Although the single helped the album reach number eight on the UK album charts, Showtime ended up falling short of the mark set by Dizzee’s debut.
Later in 2004, Dizzee joined Band-Aid 20 to raise money for the famine in Darfur. Continuing to break ground, Dizzee laid down lyrics for an updated 2004 version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” making him the only artists ever to add lyrics to the song originally written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984.
In 2005, Dizzee resurrected his own label Dirty Stank Records, which he had created as a way of releasing his single “I Luv U” before he was signed to XL Records. Dizzee aimed to promote artists whose street-riddled backgrounds made it difficult for then to get record deals and hoped the name of his label would dichotomize what he felt was a saturation of glitz and pomp within hip-hop.
Meanwhile, relations between Dizzee and his former mentor Wiley had gone sour. Perhaps upset at the mainstream direction grime was heading, Wiley aggressively took verbal shots at Rascal and several other well-known UK hip-hop artists in a video that was heavily circulated on YouTube. Wiley, however, refuted his scolding toward Dizzee on his song “Letter to Dizzee” from his album Playtime Is Over (2007 Big Dada), hoping to end the dispute. Despite Wiley’s quasi-apology, Dizzee fired back at Wiley on the viscous “Pussyole (Old Skool)” on his next album.
Dizzee’s third album, Maths + English (2007 XL UK/Definitive Jux), is his most successful album to date and debuted at number seven on the UK charts. Esoteric hip-hop label Definitive Jux gave Maths + English a formal American release. “Pussyole (Old Skool)” was scrapped from the American version and it instead contains the unreleased songs “Driving With Nowhere to Go” and “G.H.E.T.T.O.” Critics were receptive towards the album and it became Dizzee’s second album to be nominated for the Mercury Prize, although the award ended up going to The Klaxons for their album Myths of the Near Future.
Rascal has stated that the title of his third release describes the collaboration between the right brain and left brain during the creation of an album. Maths refers to the rhythmic production of beats as well as dealing with the monetary and business issues within music. Conversely, English is the act of penning and delivering lyrics. The first single “Sirens” is a panic-induced frenzy, rapped from the point of view of those trapped in the ghetto. The single projects Dizzee’s mistrust of authority degrading into full-blown fear. “Where Da G’s?” shows his versatility, fusing the minimalist rhythm of grime with the thick synthesizers of southern hip-hop, and is a hostile scolding of rappers who brag about their criminal records and high monetary influx. Other tracks such as “Da Feelin” prove that Dizzee can mingle with electro and dance music without pandering to mainstream radio.
Dizzee has never compromised his loyalty to the underground roots of UK grime, yet the London rapper still commands respect from his American counterparts. Rascal’s emergence into the mainstream has helped pave the way for other urban British artists, such as The Streets and Lady Sovereign, to find mainstream success as well. Through the usage of uncharacteristic production techniques as well as an aggressive narrative technique, Dizzee Rascal remains far ahead of his time.