“I’m sick of head raps” Sage Francis intones
on the Non-Prophets “Damage.” We can all empathize. For
all of its successes, underground hip-hop’s chief failing is
its reliance on said “head raps.” Aesop Rock, one of
the genre’s grandest MC’s, showed he can put together a
chorus on last year’s incredible “Babies With
Guns,” but too often resorted to angry monologues. We know
you’re smarter than Juvenile, guys — that’s why
we’re here in the first place.

Amita Madan
Courtesy of Matador
You know, if you make this caption a little longer, it looks like I have a moustache.

Dizzee Rascal, a 19-year old prodigy from Britain, proclaims,
“Don’t insult my intellect” on “Brand New
Day,” it feels like he’s speaking for quite a few of
us, even if the rest of his debut album, Boy In Da Corner,
shows just how entrenched he is in his own thoughts. Rascal is a
rare prodigy, an MC/producer who has seamlessly integrated UK
garage into the craziest, silliest flow anyone has heard in
years.

Dizzee’s tongue is immaculate. A mush-mouthed mix of
growling Southern adrenaline, head-spinning wordplay and 16-stone
of British accent, it is impossible to describe in print. Put it
this way: Dizzee could probably take this review and brilliantly
spit it into something worth hearing.

The beats are similarly fantastic. Bare, organic drum beats,
keyboards and burbling bass fill out the rare sonic spaces that
Rascal’s throaty buzz leave open. He can bring the hooks,
too: Both “I Luv U” and “Jus a Rascal” are
downright infectious, and the stateside single “Fix Up, Look
Sharp” is masterfully sparse and catchy.

If you can get past the sound, which admittedly may not even be
necessary, you realize what a head-trip Boy in Da Corner is.
Dizzee’s got anger, to be sure, but he molds it into
throbbing, sonic wholes, as if bracing against the terrors of his
street: teen pregnancy, gang violence, and the steamroller
realization that innocence doesn’t come back.
“Sittin’ Here” is a slow-leak realization of
these things, and things only get more frantic and hurried from
there. “Jus a Rascal” is playful and childlike, but the
disease-ridden “Jezebel” grows up fast. “Wot U
On” is rife with playful wordplay, but there’s no room
for such indulgences in the painful, beautiful nostalgia of
“Do It.”

Dizzee’s occasionally vulgar and occasionally a braggart,
but he’s never believable. “Fellas wanna stop me /
probably come together / it’s probable they’ll stop me
/ probably, never” isn’t the game’s most
convincing threat. But that’s the charm: The album is so
believable because Dizzee sounds like he has the same kind of
frustration, anger and deviance as an average teenager, even if his
experience is far more acute. It doesn’t hurt, of course,
that Boy in Da Corner is one of the most sonically addictive
albums hip-hop has seen in years, but it’s captivating for
other reasons: There’s something wonderful about an MC
who’s scariest threat is “Just remember this / I am
you.” Boy In Da Corner is the fascinating, brilliant
buffer he provides. Be grateful.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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