Dizzee Rascal tells the story of the LP that put UK Grime on the map.
Tonight in New York City Dizzee Rascal, the artist who took UK Grime to a world stage, will perform his debut LP Boy In Da Corner live from start to finish for the very first time as part of RBMA’s annual Spring Festival. In an age when Skepta is reigniting the global prospects of grime, it’s worth revisiting the moment some 12 years ago, when a young London MC introduced the word into the vocabulary of music heads everywhere. DJ and grime documentarian spoke to Dizzee to record the LP’s secret history for Okayplayer.
It is rare that the first album release of a newly minted genre of music is a bona fide classic. Boy In Da Corner is that rarified case. Largely self-produced, written and performed by a 17 year old East London rapper, Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 opus is arguably grime’s first proper album and remains the genre’s benchmark of excellence to this day. A masterpiece of a grime auteur in the making, the album captured in sharp focus the emotions of a boy on a rough council estate. On Boy In Da Corner, along with crafting sonically layered soundscapes, Dizzee pitched his lyrics through boastful defiance, anger, wit and careworn hopefulness at breakneck tempos. The results were infectious, frenzied and arresting. The album went on to win Britain’s coveted Mercury Prize that year, beating out Coldplay and Radiohead, among others, making Dizzee the award’s youngest ever recipient.
In 2003, Grime was the next stop on what music writer Simon Reynolds calls the hardcore continuum – British music’s ongoing underground mutation, a uniquely gifted, shapeshifting child of Jamaican soundsystem culture, breakbeats, DIY pirate radio, speed and bass. It had morphed from late ’80s hardcore techno to jungle to drum & bass to UK garage.
By the mid ’90s, its latest metamorphosis, UK garage – sped up house music with sub bass and syncopation – had emerged from the underground and begun to set dancefloors bubbling across Britain. Garage songs started topping the UK charts, often with female vocal R&B hooks over rumbling low frequencies – bass weight with feminine pressure. At raves, rapid fire MCs often chatted lyrics on the side, but more often as masters of ceremonies than frontmen. The energy was bright and bougie, and the garage nation dressed the part, sporting expensive, sexy designer gear and sipping champagne while having it large.
By the early 2000s, the scene had gone a bit darker and violence started to hinder UK garage raves as its popularity waned. All but locked out of what remained of the blinging scene, and seeing the success of newer MC-led garage outfits like So Solid Crew, Pay As U Go and More Fire Crew, the next wave of London’s garage kids looked to create their own music, frontloading a more lyrical rapping style over ever-rougher basslines. The next iteration of the hardcore continuum was born. Young producers, often from their bedrooms, built harder, darker garage instrumentals, riddims, for MCs to spit lyrical versions over, on pirate airwaves and at the few raves promoters were able to organize under scrutiny of London’s authorties. Along the way someone called it Grime, perhaps derisively at first, and soon the moniker stuck.
It was out of this next wave that a young Dylan Mills, BKA Dizzee Rascal, would emerge, developing his own unique sound that would bring forth Boy In Da Corner. He recently took time out while preparing to perform his groundbreaking album in New York, in its entirety, live for the first time, to share the making of BIDC…