With all the talk of Jay Z’s 4:44 being a grown-up rap album, it feels like we’re due one from Dizzee. 'Raskit', however, is less reflective and dripping in wisdom than it is pent-up, confused, and adolescent in its flailing grapple with identity.
All the talk on release day will be about ‘The Other Side’ as Dizzee calls out Wiley directly, as well as So Solid Crew’s Megaman and much of the new generation of MCs – some might even suggest that his claim to be “too big for my boots, that’s the bloody truth” is an aside directed at Stormzy. Gossip fans may leave disappointed, though.
“Tell Willy I don’t need a pen pal / Stop writing me these letters, I don’t know what to do with them,” he seethes in the second verse (which also includes a line referring to “the godfather” that, curiously, on the copies of the album sent out by the label, is blanked out).
Rather than the bile or visceral sparring usually associated with a grime beef, though, this is exhaustion: he’s fed up, he’s shown no interest in being dragged into a nothing debate – this is his plea to be left alone. And yet, despite for years successfully ignoring or avoiding the issue of his fractious relationship with his one-time mentor, he has chosen this moment to address the issue. It’s a contradiction that defines the album and the identity crisis at the heart of it.
Despite complaining about dwelling on the past, that’s exactly where Dizzee aims to place his musical identity on 'Raskit' – lamenting that he’s expected to prove his relevance to the scene, despite his instrumental role in creating it. The hook on ‘Make It Last’ calls for reminiscence, while the verses are full of old postcode tales, pirate radio sessions and foundational characters. His insistence that “that’s all in the past” and that people should let him enjoy his life in the present all seems a bit ‘lady doth protest too much’.
Part of the problem is that he'll simply never sound as cutting-edge as he did in 2003, and that's purely because of the scale of his own achievement at the time. A large factor in this is that he’s not riding beats that sound as alien anymore. On a first listen, ‘Ghost’ comes close, and includes all the idiosyncratic vocal tics (the mockney accent in particular) and pop cultural references (a dig at the enduring title of Mike Skinner’s debut Streets album) that made Dizzee’s first records so simultaneously charming and disarming. But ultimately, it’s not stretching enough.
This is most glaring on tunes like ‘Bop N Keep It Dippin’. The beat is half-baked DJ Mustard and – even worse – in both its bouncy swing and use of “bop” in the hook ends up sounding like a characterless J Hus impression. The comparison to Hus is a relevant one too, given he’s arguably doing today – in terms of waging a genuinely unique sonic path – what Dizzee was doing more than a decade ago. (It’s a shame really, since his flow on the verses is the best on offer across the whole album.)
And when it comes to sounding out of touch, well, the less said about ‘She Knows What She Wants’, the better. Dire on more than most counts.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing to get excited about here. ‘Space’ is brooding, punchy and a twist on the identikit trap-style instrumentals that dominate the current UK MC landscape. ‘Everything Must Go’ packs a beat that’s as hard-hitting as its political messages, Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson samples and all.
‘Sick A Dis’ is another standout, not just because of the tight, buzzsaw instrumental but also the undoubtable feeling that you’re hearing the real, honest Dizzee – grasping for his identity amidst a crisis of one. “Sick of Balmain, I should bring back Wrangler”, he spits. It’s ‘That’s Not Me’ but laced with moody frustration rather than cocksure swagger. Similarly, ‘Slow Your Roll’ is the first time that Dizzee really takes a step back, slows things down and reintroduces the introspection that over time has become such a lauded feature of Boy In Da Corner. It’s that wanted grown-up aspect, and proof that he still has at least one more amazing record in him.
But 'Raskit', unfortunately, isn’t it. Bloated at 16 tracks, it could have been a genuinely strong EP that formed a platform for Dizzee’s return to the sound he helped birth. Alas, whether fairly or not, he appears to disagree with the notion that he should have to take time in reintroducing himself. He’s done his graft, and wants the new plaudits. But if Skepta’s recent success is anything to go by (let’s not forget that he did his fair share of work in the early days before he went pop too), it’s that you need to do more than a live stream ‘reveal’ and some branded fried chicken boxes to convince people that your heart’s back in it.
Words: Will Pritchard (@Hedmuk)
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