On Boy in the Corner, 18-year-old East Londoner Dylan "Dizzee Rascal" Mills sets himself the task of melding British hip-hop with UK-garage. Both styles have an unenviable history of providing a sonic backdrop to violence and criminality, and both are subject to excessive scrutiny from obsessive purists who view miscegenation as heresy. So it's little surprise that Mills' debut sounds so paranoid, claustrophobic and unsettling; this is front-line music, fidgety, distracted and distracting. It is, in the main slow, stripped-down and awkward, recalling Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa, Schooly D and LL Cool J as much as Dizzee's UK peers.
At times it lives up to the extravagant praise many have already bestowed upon it. "I Luv U", the nagging single, is brilliantly conceived--boy and girl talking about one another without hearing, a perfect encapsulation of how disconnection is the norm, even if you've got two mobiles, a pager and an e-mail address. "Fix Up, Look Sharp", sampled from Billy Squier's 1980 rock classic "Big Beat", is as near as the record comes to straightforward rap, its joyous flavour provides a much needed moment of uplift to what is an often brilliant but densely oppressive album. --Angus Batey
The East End of London has historically produced fascinating life-characters whose magical mixture of tragedy, bravado and humour have captured the attention of us everyday sorts seeking a little escapism. The latest product of the east end is Dizzee Rascal; an everyday street-solider successfully articulating council estate pain.
Boy in Da Corner serves as a stark reminder that 21st century teenage life is a million light years away from the happy-clappy optimism that marked previous generations.
Musically, the Mercury Award nominee must be applauded for treading new territory. Ornament breaking bass thuds, quickly syncopated guitar notes and pained synthesizers generate a sound that is cold, unfeeling, regimented and confusingly noisy. This echos the mind-state of the embattled author.
For instance, the dry humour inherent in the ironically titled "I Luv U" coats a sheer blanket over the tragedy that operates under the guise of teenage romance. "Pregnant, 15 underage thats raw. But its your own fault you said the three magic words (I luv U), its a shame the kid probably aint yours". Similarly "Jezebel" as the title suggests further points the finger towards immoral young females who intentionally impregnate for entrapment and frequently commit adultery. The sarcasm coupled with tough beats lets the girls know that this is locker room/barbershop talk first and foremost.
Although a few tracks fall predictably into the stereotypical notion of young, troubled inner city male, Dizzee escapes the typical through his reflective and insightful musings. "Brand New Day", the most chart-friendly song on the CD finds the young scriber tackling the dichotomy between reality and desire. The light tickle of Oriental instruments and optimistic chorus lends subtleness to an otherwise cynical track.
Boy in da Corner encompasses everything that is exciting about British music past and present. Rascal's two-fingered salute to the monarchy is reminiscent of the stir caused by the Sex Pistols, whilst the sexual debauchery mimic's the rawness of early Rolling Stones. All this plus a musical palate of bhangra, old skool hip hop breaks and garage will ensure that this East End boy will become a star far beyond the sounds of Bow Bells. --Keysha Davis
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