DIZZEE RASCAL at the Mod Club Theatre (722 College), Thursday (February 5), $20. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Twenty-five years in and hiphop has hit a creative brick wall. Sure, there’s still a lot of fantastic music being made, but very little hasn’t been done before. Timbaland’s spleen-rattling beats for Missy come close, and Kanye West’s uncanny ability to turn a nervous breakdown by Lauryn Hill into an underground anthem can put a smile on your face, but those truly outrageous moments that make listeners go all giggly seem long gone.
No doubt that is, in part, what lit the bonfire under Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner (XL Matador) debut. Since the record came out last year, it’s been proclaimed the saviour of hiphop more times than the 19-year-old London-born Rascal (known to his mum as Dylan Mills) can count.
What’s so singularly impressive about the Mercury Prize-winning Boy In Da Corner is that it truly sounds like nothing else. From the PlayStation beats to Mills’s shouty, squealed rhymes, the record seems to have no recognizable reference points whatsoever, hiphop or otherwise.
The disc’s closest roots, in its bombast and freakish video game beats, are UK pirate radio, but even that’s been twisted and turned inside out.
“It’s exciting when people say it sounds like it’s from Venus,” Mills snorts over a cacophony of howling bleeps and blips.
“When I was writing the record, I was on pirate radio all the time, so obviously it has that mayhem and madness to it. It’s got depth to it, though. It’s not just that shouting and squealing. It’s more the feeling of that, being on a two-hour show and just shouting the hell out of it for that long.
“My whole approach was that if I made something that was kind of abstract or harsh, I’d make a point of spitting over it and incorporating that into my music. It wouldn’t put me off. That’s what the most innovative people in the music are doing now, people like the Neptunes, OutKast and Timbaland. All genres of music revolve around that.”
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the most appealing part of Boy In Da Corner – its grit and grime – almost didn’t make it.
“When I was shopping the record to labels, all of them said the same thing,” Mills laughs.
“They’d be like, ‘Yeah, mate. Love it. Can you take out the noise, though?’ It would have taken the life out of the music, and people wouldn’t have gotten around to listening to it because it would have sounded like everything else. So we just walked.”
Noise or not, Boy In Da Corner remains Brit hiphop’s first legitimate chance of breaking into the notoriously xenophobic US hiphop market. Glowing articles in the American press – albeit ones complete with glossaries of East London slang – should help, but Mills isn’t actually all that concerned, though some Southern attention might help soothe his crunk addiction.
“People here talk about how they want to get respect from people like Nas and Pharrell,” he offers dismissively.
“Me, I’d love to get bigged up by people like the 1996-era Cash Money clique and E-40. Those are the cats I want to impress.
“It could happen. I’m not boasting when I say that nothing like my record has ever come to America before. There was the Streets, Ms Dynamite and Slick Rick, but if you asked most kids my age, they wouldn’t even know Slick Rick was British.
“Most of the stuff from the UK has been emulating the Primo sound and pretending to be from the Bronx. I’ve got none of that. British and proud, yeah?”