Dizzee Rascal, UK Wordsmith, Ranks His Own Albums

Words: Yemi Abide
Photography: Eva Pentel

Talking to Dizzee Rascal over Zoom, I can’t help but hide my excitement at the sight of greatness. From the nation’s first sight of a skinny, 17-year-old Dylan Mills on TV picking up his Mercury Award in 2003 to the present day, he has evoked joy and frustration in equal measure throughout a glittering career. Ever headstrong and certain of whatever direction he takes, Raskit has proven a contentious figure since his breakthrough at grime’s genesis, but that he continues to generate unbridled passion from fans and detractors alike is the proof needed of his undeniable impact.

That impact expands to his discography which, in many ways, represents the journey of Black British music itself over the last near two-decade stretch. The rawness of debut album Boy In Da Corner turning him into a hood star and industry darling; consolidation with Showtime and Maths + English making him a household name, before embracing a brighter, poppier path on Tongue N’ Cheek and The Fifth, cashing out on his new pop-leaning direction and embracing superstardom. The re-emergence of grime from 2013 onwards would bring about a desire to return to his roots on Raskit in 2017, before reaching artistic balance on new album E3 AF.

As a modern pioneer, to whom the scene owes a tremendous amount, Dizzee has earned the right to an eclectic career in which, at various stages, he has had the streets and the pop charts behind him. A blueprint to success for Black British artists to follow was provided by Dizzee—everyone from Tinchy to Tinie—and he commands the respect for paving the road many of his contemporaries and newer generations now freely walk. Have there been missteps? It depends on who you’re asking, but he has determined his own path.

With his seventh studio album out now, Dizzee has dug into a new level of comfort as he enters a new musical phase, made possible by his journey balancing underground greatness with mainstream success. “I was a bit more laid back after Tongue N’ Cheek,” he says, the taste of success understandably mellowing his music. “I didn’t sound as mad on the mic. But I think E3 AF has got that; I’ve got the energy and intensity back.” Breaking down Dizzee’s album catalogue proved unpredictable but refreshing, as he got forensic on his contentious discography.

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7. The Fifth

“I would put The Fifth last, not because I don’t think it’s a good album, but because I just feel like that’s the one my fans didn’t like as much as my other albums. I was kind of capitalising off the success of Tongue N’ Cheek and carrying on with that pop sound. I went to America and jumped in with the hot commercial producers of the time, whereas I’d never done that before. The songs on The Fifth were still being geared towards the big festivals that I was playing; you work with what you see in front of you. There were some songs on there like ‘I Am Superman’ which, when I look back, well, I was in a good mood, so there was that [laughs]. But then you had ‘I Don’t Need A Reason’ as well; I still think that’s a phenomenal tune and the video was fucking amazing! It set a standard for a lot of videos around the world at that time. But compared to some of my other work, The Fifth is not one you can take as serious, obviously.”

6. Showtime

Showtime might have been too quick to follow Boy In Da Corner; it came out a year after. I remember at the time people saying to me the jury was out on me on that second one. People weren’t sure because that second album is supposed to be a big follow-up to the first. But the good thing about that is I didn’t understand that or know that I was supposed to smash it straight away after the first album. As soon as I got back to England from Napa, we just got into the studio. I already knew that I wanted to just keep going, so I did. I was already working on Maths + English so I wasn’t focused or worried about needing to smash it with the second one. If I did, that might have devastated me.”

5. Maths + English

“I liked Maths + English at the time. It had some big tunes on there: ‘Sirens’ had that wicked video, ‘Old School’ was a big tune, ‘Flex’ had a fun video as well, ‘Where’s Da G’s’ when I linked up with UGK. I think I like more tunes on Raskit, but Maths + English was a good album looking at it now.”

4. Raskit

“I think Raskit is my most underrated album. I feel like it wasn’t given a chance. Here’s a full fucking album of me just spraying! I purposely did the opposite of The Fifth; no features, just me rapping. It had the maturity as well. But The Fifth was still bigger than Raskit, and this is what I mean about people picking and choosing. Even now, seeing some of the reaction videos for the tune I did with Smoke Boys [‘Act Like You Know’], it’s like people forget I could rap like this. But how could they forget? Do they think you forget how to rap? But on Raskit, I wasn’t so concerned with big hooks. I just wanted to bar, get it off my chest and show I could rap, innit.”

3. Tongue N’ Cheek

“In this country, I feel like Tongue N’ Cheek had as much impact as Boy In Da Corner did. It did the same but for everyone else who wasn’t necessarily into grime or rap like that. ‘Bonkers’ and ‘Holiday’ reached everyone—the album went platinum in a year, but Boy In Da Corner only went platinum about a year ago. So, you can’t say that its less impactful or iconic, because ‘Bonkers’ is still a huge tune. If you go on Spotify on my biggest songs, they’re all from that album. People’s reactions don’t lie. There are so many massive moments from that album, even performing with Florence + The Machine [at the 2009 BRIT Awards]. I had found that place where I was happy to experiment and attempt to make feel good shit. It could be number one, to be fair.”

2. Boy In Da Corner

“Everything I do is gonna be compared to Boy In Da Corner. It obviously reached my generation, some of the generation above me, and it’s still hitting generations after it, and still being seen as a pivotal moment. You’re never gonna hear anything like that again, because I was young, and so much of me was introduced to people through that album. I got propelled into doing loads of interviews, loads of shows—that’s what my life became. So it was just like tunnel vision and flying forward and I didn’t know any different. That’s just been my life! Imagine coming out at 17, 18, and you make this massive thing and that’s how people see you since; you’re almost spoiled in a way. I basically came out of college and kind of smashed it in music. I didn’t have to wait till my mid-20s or anything. I’m only just getting to see the little things throughout the generations, like Nines recreating the album cover [in his ‘Clout’ video]. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of Boy In Da Corner, but I didn’t get to absorb it like everyone else.”

1. E3 AF

“This is where I am now. I’m producing again so, automatically, there’s gonna be a bit of a nostalgic sound, because I haven’t produced my own songs in maybe ten years. But I’ve still managed to make an album that’s not so nostalgic to where it’s stuck in the past—it’s of today and it’s gonna live on. I think it balances well with everything else that I’ve ever done. It’s got good range. It’s got the hard-hitting stuff, the mainstream moments and the deeper ones that get people through shit, get people through life. The people are yet to make it number one, but I’m satisfied with it.”


Posted on November 16, 2020