It’s an album that needs little introduction: Dizzee Rascal’s XL-released, Mercury Prize-winning ‘Boy in Da Corner’ has been fetishised by grime fans for over a decade - the product of a prodigious 17-year-old Dylan Mills that earned him a meteoric rise into the upper echelons of chart success. So when he announced that he'd be performing the album live for the first time in New York, back to back, it caused a little bit of a stir. One notch on Red Bull Music Academy’s NY Festival tour, the show was held at the triple-tiered Williamsburg Music Hall on Friday night.
Here’s six things we took away from seeing Raskit bring us back to the streets of Bow E3 in ’03 for one night...
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Cover art can make a great stage set
A black tracksuit, a pair of Air Max 90s and two neon yellow walls (not forgetting the white skirting board): there’s no denying that the cover of 2003’s ‘Boy in Da Corner’ is visually iconic. Which was something that the RBMA team noted in their staging of the event. When the curtain at Williamsburg came up, the backdrop recreated that very shot. “Now I’m sitting here thinking wagwan / get me wagwan,” the Bow MC asserted, from his corner, as the crowd swelled in excitement.
The MC had never performed some of these tracks before
Prior to the show, Dizzee admitted that some of these were songs he’d never performed live before, including ‘Round We Go’. Perhaps it was the energy in the room - with people chanting the words lyric for lyric - but it didn’t feel like it was the first time he was spitting these bars in front of a crowd. Buoyed up by hype man MC Scope, Dizzee bounded across the stage with all of his 17-year-old youthfulness, despite now being 31. ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ received the biggest welcome by far, as arguably the most widely heard of the ‘Boy…’ tracks over the years. Within the context of the entire album, though, it was given a new lease of life.
The Big Apple didn’t go all in on grime
Much ink has been spilt about the transatlantic grime conversation. Take Skepta’s mass appeal across the pond, Drake’s BBK cosign, Section Boyz teaming up with, erm, Chris Brown... But it was in this space, this venue in the heart of Brooklyn, that you could observe how these cultural reference points mesh in 2016. Dizzee’s tour DJ MK chose to warm up the crowd with native beats, coaxing them gently into grime time by blending Kanye into London-rooted sounds. Yet, on an enlightening track-by-track of the album recently, Dizzee admitted that he was trying to emulate the strings of Ludacris's ‘What’s Your Fantasy’ on ‘I Luv U' - which just proves that maybe our cultures aren’t quite so distinct after all.
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It was the Brits that got the most excited
The event was part of Red Bull Music Academy’s NYC festival that included a performance from ANOHNI, talks by Madlib and an evening of spiritual jazz with Kamasi Washington and Pharoah Sanders. But this show's staging in the Big Apple had drawn some initial controversy (hence the Change.org petition that asked ‘WHY NOT LONDON?’). Despite this, the crowd at Williamsburg seemed to be overwhelmingly British, and also included some famous faces: Dev Hynes, Kindness and Stormzy - to name a few - were all there to peep the landmark show. Elijah and Skilliam were also knocking about - having just hosted the first of their new monthly grime radio slot on RBMA Radio which featured Dizzee himself as the first guest.
The LP has stood the test of time
It’s hard to believe that ‘Boy in Da Corner’ is an album that the MC made when he was just 17 years old. But it’s not hard to see how it has stood the test of time - influenced by sounds as disparate as heavy metal, kung-fu films, and Three Six Mafia-era hip-hop (predating, of course, trap), ‘Boy in Da Corner’ has been relentlessly immortalised in British culture and films, while ’Still Sittin’ Here’ recently got a 2014 makeover courtesy of Fekky and The Splurgeboys. When ‘I Luv U’ and ‘Stop Dat’ kicked in, it was a gunfinger a minute.
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Dylan Mills has been re-accepted into the grime fold after his pop missteps
As the show came to an end with ‘Jezebel’s plucky synths and irresistible offbeat, it seemed clear that grime heads have forgiven Dizzee for occupying the commercial spotlight with his foray into ‘Bonkers’ pop and EDM chart smashes. There’s no doubt about it, ‘Boy..’ is a masterpiece: an album that has been a staple in the youth of many, and the throwback showcase only served to cement this notion.
Red Bull Music Academy will be hosting a UK tour later on in the year