It hasn’t been easy to sell out in this century, but Dizzee Rascal pulled it off. Dizzee first came to international attention at the age of 16 when he started making berserk low-tech grime beats on his PlayStation and then rapping over those beats. Those tracks and the following album Boy In Da Corner made Dizzee a critical and cool-kid sensation, a fascinating new beast of an artist who stood, for many of us, as the personification of a rowdy and chaotic scene across the Atlantic. But he didn’t become a UK superstar until he left all that behind and started making cheesed-out house anthems. 2009’s Tongue N’ Cheek — Dizzee’s fourth album, and the first that didn’t get a proper North American release — was a big, silly party-rap fart of an album, and it spawned four different UK #1 singles. Given that Dizzee’s previous album had come out in the US on El-P’s skronk-rap Definitive Jux label, this was quite a turnaround. So now that the fiery old-school grime sound is once again ascendant in the UK, Dizzee’s in a weird position. If he kept making EDM raps, he’d be hopelessly out of touch. If he went back to making the kind of music he’d made when he was 16, he could be accused of riding Skepta’s wave, even if he helped start that wave in the first place. But instead, Dizzee’s found a third path.
On the new Raskit, Dizzee’s gone back to sounding hard, rejecting the doofy crossover rave-rap that he’s been making in recent years. (Dizzee’s last album, 2013’s The Fifth, had Robbie Williams on the first single; Dizzee has thankfully left that mawkish shit in the past.) But these days, Dizzee’s old contemporary Skepta has become a bigger international star than Dizzee ever was, and he’s done it by resurrecting the low-tech immediacy of that early grime wave. Stormzy, now one of the biggest solo UK stars this side of Ed Sheeran and Adele, is making way-too-emotive crossover moves, but he’s kept that fundamentalist grime as a crucial part of his arsenal. Dizzee is now 32, old enough to be a grumpy old man within his still-crazy-young genre. But grime is funny. Grime’s superstars are now the ones embracing traditionalism and rapping over malfunctioning-R2D2 bleeps and blurps. Dizzee, by contrast, is moving on. His music is still recognizably grime, but on Raskit, he’s keeping up that rangy hyena energy while attacking minimal dance-rap beats, many of them from Americans like Valentino Khan and Cardo.
Raskit is full of nods to the past: a few quick bursts of jungle on “Close,” some UK garage history-lesson lyrics on “Bop And Keep It Dippin.” But it’s not mired in past glories, even though Dizzee has plenty of past glories that could justifiably mire anyone. Its sonics are crisp and propulsive, and they don’t quite sound like grime or rap or dance music. They’re forward-looking without being fetishistic about it, and they’re cohesive, too. There’s a sonic sensibility at work here: hard drums, smears of melodic synth, Dizzee’s own permanently fired-up voice. On his last few records, Dizzee’s generally given himself room to be silly, to get loose with it. He never does that here. He keeps the sonic screwface on the whole time. With no prominent guests, it’s just him ranting for an hour straight. It does get a bit heavy and samey, but it still works because Dizzee has always been a better pure rapper than anyone’s been willing to admit.
Dizzee’s voice is a sonic jolt, an element of pure disruption. Even on his most introspective songs, he sounds like he’s shouting. And when he puts that voice toward a full album of “fuck you, I’m still great” sentiments — which is ultimately what Raskit is — it can be pretty great. On paper, Dizzee’s lyrics never look like much. (My favorite line on Raskit is “I’m not Martin Shkreli / But I’m a scheming fiendy,” mostly because Dizzee pronounces “Shkreli” as “ska-really.”) But the defiant, intense energy he brings has no real equal on either side of the Atlantic. On Raskit, he’s in pure bluster-mode, thundering at the top of his lungs about refusing to be left alone. He’s got a great ear; these beats fit his style beautifully. But it’s the way he yammers that puts Raskit over the top.
I’ve got this glorious memory of seeing Dizzee play the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2008. Just before he came onstage, a baby Fleet Foxes had played the adjacent stage, and they sounded absolutely pleasant on a sunny afternoon. But Dizzee wasn’t having it. As soon as he touched the stage, he bellowed something like, “All right, enough of that fuckin’ folk shit!” And then he proceeded to knock out a sweaty, hard, euphoric set, one of the best I saw at that year’s festival. It’s funny; Dizzee never came back to the Pitchfork Festival, and Fleet Foxes ended up headlining it a few years later. But that level of fuck-you aggression and energy made Dizzee special then, and it makes him special now. It’s what makes Raskit work. The smart move might be for Dizzee to cozy up to all the grime guys that he inspired, or maybe to get try to get Drake to do an Instagram post about him or something. Instead, he’s made a dark, nasty, intense, energetic piece of fuck-you leave-me-alone music. His career might not be better off for it, but we are.
Raskit is out 7/21 on Dirtee Stank/Island.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Lana Del Rey’s as-yet-unheard narco-popper Lust For Life.
• Tyler, The Creator’s woozy, disclosure-heavy Scum Fuck Flower Boy.
• Trapped Under Ice’s roiling hardcore basher Heatwave.
• Cornelius’ drunk-on-sound comeback Mellow Waves.
• Animal Collective member Avey Tare’s solo album Eucalyptus.
• Terror Pigeon’s ecstatically dark DIY LP We Will Never Run Out Of Love.
• Tau Cross’ metal/punk assault Pillar Of Fire.
• Meek Mill’s comeback attempt Wins & Losses.
• The Alchemist’s beat collection The Good Book Volume 2.
• Human Potential’s shimmery, percussive debut Hot Gun Western City.
• Daphni’s DJ mix Fabriclive 93.
• Nine Inch Nails’ ADD VIOLENCE EP.
• Denitia’s Ceilings EP.
• En Route’s Then Is A Song EP.