Dizzee Rascal, one of grime’s original stars, has in his music come to resemble Eminem in recent years: having indulged in some crossover hits and light-hearted silliness, he then realised he’d lost sight of his roots and is now trying very hard to recapture the old spark. This comparison might be a bit harsh on 2017’s Raskit, which was perfectly listenable, but there was a laboured feeling to the performances, a desperation in the internal rhymes that cascaded endlessly on.
E3 AF opens with one of its strongest tracks – God Knows, with its dubstep-style bass and fiery hook set against a chilling synth pad. Dizzee’s flow here is lucid, his lyrics sound natural, and the song successfully rekindles that visceral impact of early grime. Meanwhile Body Loose flips Architechs and Nana’s brilliant Body Groove for a fun, poppy track, syncopated percussion and catchy lyrics (“I gave the whip a little spruce / come like I got the golden goose”).
If the whole record featured Dizzee on this kind of form it’d be a real keeper, but then there are tunes like L.L.L.L. (Love Life Live Large). The stilted delivery of the hook coupled with the return to compulsive internal rhyming undermine the track’s breezy flute-line, and the unnatural lyrics creep into other tracks a bit too often (“It won’t be fun / you’ll be glum / I’m not your chum”).
Whereas Raskit was a solo affair, E3 AF features lots of collaborations with artists old and new. The chemistry on Eastside between Dizzee and fellow veterans Ghetts and Kano is infectious, 16 bars each and dramatic chords setting the scene aptly, and generally it seems Dizzee fares better when bouncing off others’ contributions. This makes E3 AF a step in the right direction, and while it doesn’t quite display the finesse of his first three albums it’s a welcome trip down memory lane.