Dizzee Rascal: Boy In Da Corner

Dizzee Rascal: Boy In Da Corner

Dizzee Rascal might be just a guest verse or two away from breaking into the American rap charts, but he's equally promising as a refraction of hip-hop's psychogeographical shadow. Rascal hails from London, a city he gives a sense of place rivaling those of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, and various other hip-hop outposts. But he also comes to rap from a slanted angle: As the leader of what's now known as grime, Rascal grew out of the dance-music realm of U.K. garage, which rubbed post-jungle beats with R&B glitz and MC calls flecked as much by Jamaican dancehall as by anything with roots in the Bronx. The backstory helps account for Rascal's minimal, thwacking beats and weird, rubbery vocals, but Boy In Da Corner proves even more unusual for the way it twists hip-hop into an inside-out channel for introspection without going soft. The album-opener, "Sittin' Here," casts Rascal as brooding and bed-bound as he aches over rhymes like "I'm just sittin' here, I ain't saying much, I just think / My eyes don't move left or right, they just blink." Like an invisible observer hardened by the East London streets he haunts, Rascal surveys external maps in search of reasons for internal wrong turns. "I Luv U" serves as a duet between a guy and a girl sharing an unwanted pregnancy and delusions about each other's future designs, while in "Brand New Day," Rascal flits between defiance and despondence as he pays tribute to "friends" who would just as soon lay him to waste. Musically, Boy In Da Corner follows its grim moods with dense vocal sprays taking the place of choruses, and hard beats crinkling beneath minor-key creak and woozy wind-chimes. It all makes for a bleak spread, but Rascal rises up as a singular musical presence too brimming and perceptive to let the coarse world around him pass by untouched.

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