Brash, swaggering UK rap from a true legend...

Dizzee Rascal’s return to pure rap on 2017’s ‘Raskit’ seemed to divide audiences. While his technical excellence was rightly praised, some viewed the endeavour cynically, with much of the criticism pointed towards the lack of features – this wasn’t about the culture, the argument went, so much as the MC’s branding.

Since then, though, Dizzee has embarked on a string of collaborations, showing his dexterity through studio work with Skepta – on 2018’s ‘Don’t Gas Me’ EP – alongside drill risers, road rap heroes, and more. New album ‘E3 AF’ continues this appetite, and it’s a more rounded affair, building on the rap assault that fuelled the best moments of ‘Raskit’ while also offering more stylistic variation, and potential pathways to the future.

Lead single ‘Love Life Live Large’ is about as subtle as a brick to the face, but then with an album title like ‘E3 AF’ perhaps that’s almost to be expected. Brash, bolshy UK rap with direct grime roots, it finds Dizzee sparring with Chip, and the pair cause a ruckus over the bulging, low-end saturation.

‘Eastside’ offers pure grime, the square-wave production sitting in that 140 BPM trench, a classic sound that Dizzee helped invent. The fizzing Get Loose’ is all Ibiza 2-step vibes, a weekend bubbler that leaves its worries at the door. By contrast, ‘You Don’t Know’ channels the darker end of the garage spectrum, with its 8-Bit sounds pointing to first wave grime while retaining the swaggering groove that UKG mastered so well.

It’s not all a roll-call of Millennial East London sounds, though. Smoke Boys spar with Dizzee on the drill burner ‘Act Like You Know’, a rugged workout that sees the ‘Boy in da Corner’ embracing new sounds. Indeed, the quest for fresh audio results in the record’s most nakedly personal moment, when the drifting synths on ‘Energies + Powerz’ - sculpted by Steel Banglez – lead into some of the most personal, poignant bars in Dizzee’s career.

Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects about ‘E3 AF’ is just how good it sounds. The production is on-point throughout, the various strands of underground beats moving in tandem with one another, whether that’s the bruising grime of ‘God Knows’ - featuring P Money, and produced by Dizzee himself – or the rather more 2k20 sounds of soulful album closer ‘Incredible’.

Sure, there’s a few lyrical clunkers on show, but taken as whole ‘E3 AF’ finds Dizzee Rascal navigating the perilous landscape of 2020 with remarkable assurance. Few other UK rappers can genuinely say they’re making some of their best work 20 years in the game – staying true to his roots while absorbing the sounds that currently defined East London, Dizzee has pulled off something special.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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