It's taken Dizzee Rascal four albums to develop from cult exponent of a marginal London-based scene to fully fledged pop star bordering on youthful national treasure, a process that speaks volumes about the sustained commitment and support required to establish fledgling acts.
The kind of support which the larger, more corporate record companies, hounded by the short-termism of talent-show telly, long since baulked at offering their charges.
It also says something about Dizzee's own resources, few of his peers being able to stave off encroaching staleness over a four-album period. By contrast, the Rascal has grown more engaging with each release, a reflection of his openness to change and willingness to challenge ingrained attitudes. Including his own: explaining the use of sampled chants from Franco Rosso's 1980 film Babylon in the track "Can't Tek No More", he explains how "when I was a kid on the grime scene, I didn't really clock that all we were doing was what the reggae sound-systems used to do... so it's nice to be able to make that connection now."
For all his belated acknowledgement of cultural heritage, Dizzee's main concerns remain the strictly un-roots, slacker territory of "money money money, girls girls, cash cash", as he puts it in "Money Money Money", where indiscriminate sexual conquests leave him hoping the next morning, "that my willy ain't stinging". At least in the explicit litany of "Freaky Freaky" his taste for "all shapes, sizes and colours/ sisters and mothers" is indulged with a little more care (if not delicacy), Dizzee sagely noting that "I bag it before I shag it". How strange, then, to find him later observing that "personally I think the streets are lacking decency and tact", as he takes to task the absurd hip-hop obsession with respect, revenge and "keepin' it real", a courageous rejection of street attitude which also surfaces in the social ills and "too many grieving mothers and sadness" of "Can't Tek No More".
Musically, he's less constrained by grime imperatives than before, with "Holiday" continuing the alliance with Calvin Harris that brought his breakthrough hit "Dance Wiv Me", while elsewhere Shy FX whips up a galloping bassline skank and heraldic trumpets for "Can't Tek No More", and Tiësto devises the most infectiously propulsive staccato synth hook for "Bad Behaviour". But it's still Armand Van Helden's brilliantly idiosyncratic backing track to "Bonkers" that provides the album's peak moment, a landmark piece which restored to the charts the kind of techno-musique-concrete sonic sculpture unheard since the time of The Prodigy's "Firestarter".
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