Wednesday, 6 August 2003

Album Review: Boy In Da Corner

Anytime an album like Boy In Da Corner arrives it seems to cause no end of consternation amongst the music press. Always happy to pigeonhole artists for the sake of marketing, hacks seem to struggle when credible UK ‘urban’ music arrives. It happened with The Streets and now Dizzee Rascal looks set to suffer the same Garage tag.

Make no mistake; this is no garage album (whatever that means anyway). Like Mike Skinner before him, 18-year-old Dylan Mills has taken the basics of a genre that is currently laying face down in the water and transformed it into something far, far more intriguing. Where Skinner took games of darts and the midnight munchies as his inspiration so Mills takes estate violence and teenage pregnancies as his.

This is a far darker proposition than Original Pirate Material though. Dizzee sees himself as an outsider; the opening track makes this abundantly clear. On the opening line of the opening track, Sittin Here Dizzee tells us, “I’m sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just think / and my eyes don’t move left or right, they just blink.” For 18 years, Mills sounds remarkably mature, and sounds almost like an elder statesman of the streets when he whispers memories of playing football in the streets, before he yields to the feeling that there will be, “no positive change.” This feeling of hopelessness rears its ugly head again on Brand New Day. Over a dizzying wind chime sample, Dizzee reminisces, “We used to fight with kids from other estates / now eight millimetres settle debates.”

Though just shy of an hour in length, Dizzee manages to cram in a huge assortment of topics. Besides the tales of catching and delivering beatings, the inflammatory single I Luv U is a breathtaking synopsis of a young couples and teenage pregnancies (“Fifteen? She's underage!"). This theme is revisited on Round We Go – a tale of an endless cycle of loveless sex told by a narrator who has learned his lesson.

Elsewhere Fix Up, Look Sharp with its pounding drum, Billy Squier sample and eardrum-destroying bassline is an immense proposition. Dizzee sounds almost demented as he spits the lyrics. It isn’t the only track that defies sonic definition. Jus A Rascal has the most bizarre operatic chorus ever heard, which is totally at odds with the light speed rhymes Dizzee spits on the verses.

Original Pirate Material and Boy In Da Corner share the fact that they are the two best albums to come out of the UK in a long, long time. With Boy In Da Corner, Dizzee Rascal has joint the likes of The Streets and Roots Manuva as urban British artists with something interesting to say, besides American hip hop cliché.

So what is it? Garage? Hip Hop? Whatever genre you choose to pigeonhole this album in, I’ll choose to call it one of the best albums of the year.

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