Three years without an album, believe it or not – but the signs are Dizzee Rascal‘s not been one for resting on his laurels. His record label Dirtee Stank is up and running, but so far he’s resisted the temptation to become it’s highest profile act, instead churning out another dazzling opus to add to his XL canon.
Yet not all’s exactly sweetness and light, particularly in his perception of the record industry. Dizzee seems intent on passing on lessons learnt from his own career – and several painful truths emerge. “People want something they never heard before” he says in one of many observations on Hard Back. “Find a record label that ain’t full of pricks” being one of the first things. Not an observation on his current label, you understand, but a painful realization that all is not well with burgeoning artists on the grime scene.
Nor is Dizzee always in the most chipper of moods. Suk My Dik freely admits to a long standing chip on the shoulder, while Where’s Da G’s goes off at length on a mate who completely fails in his quest to be a gangster.
As always, the rapper has a lot to say, but his patter always has vignettes to bottle and repeat at later musings. Da Feeling is the summer record in waiting, starting off as if intent on emulating Jazzy Jeff and his Summertime, before moving into a post Roni Size breakbeat, glorifying his home city in the hot season. “Summer in the city such a very special time, if you put aside the traffic, air pollution and the grime”, he exalts over the quickfire strings.
He casts several glances back at the old school of modern dance, if that’s not too much of a cliché. Pussyole (Old Skool) is the most obvious hark back, an update of Rob Base for the 21st century. But Sirens is something else, a skittish rap track that plunges into heavy guitar oblivion half way through, a spectacular volley of fireworks thereon for the most striking track on the album.
At every turn the Rascal’s blend of eye-opening sounds (Paranoid) and insightful raps (World Outside) take his quest for the world far beyond the ghetto. On his travels he enlists help from Arctic Monkeys‘ Alex Turner and Lily Allen, both taking supporting roles in Temptation and Wanna Be respectively towards the end. Alex, in fact, sounds like a dub specialist in waiting with his reverberant vocal.
So that’s Maths & English – not exactly the two most popular subjects at school. But in Dizzee Rascal’s hands, they’re definitely things to study and appreciate.