There aren’t many acts that get to experience three UK Number 1 singles in a row. The Spice Girls, Westlife, and probably The Beatles at some stage, form a list that now includes 24-year-old Dylan Mills, aka Dizzee Rascal, who has gone from critically adored UK grime king to mainstream pop star in the space of the last year or so. One glance at the album artwork tells you all you need to know; Dizzee Rascal v2009 is here to have fun.
So, whilst 2003’s Mercury Prize winning Boy In Da Corner was an album from the streets, complete with deliciously tinny beats and lyrics about gangs and teenage pregnancy, Tongue N’ Cheek at first seems to celebrate, if not the finer things in life, then certainly the more pleasing aspects. Sex, money (having it rather then hankering for it), having a good time and more sex are the themes that pepper the album, Dizzee using his relentless flow to create hilarious tongue-twisting rhymes. But this is just surface level and a number of tracks – most of which are produced by long-term collaborator Cage – deal with everything from the credit crunch through London’s congestion charge to the fall-out from gang violence.
But it’s the fact that Dizzee appears to be having fun that shines through pretty much every song on the album. Whether he’s spitting expletives on the fantastic Road Rage (complete with a genuinely exciting beat of sirens and chants) or delivering the simple rhymes on the sun-kissed Holiday, it’s Dizzee’s delivery that stands out. Even when his lyrics skirt perilously close to misogyny, as on the lascivious Freaky Freaky, his cartoonish delivery means you almost forgive him. Plus, that (grammatically incorrect) title can always act as a cute get out clause should anyone take the lyrics too seriously.
Elsewhere, he shows himself to be simultaneously concerned about the economic crisis and blissfully unaffected. The brilliant Dirtee Cash, which heavily samples Stevie V‘s 1989 original, criticises people’s obsession with living beyond their means; “trying to live like entertainers, want the fat crib with the acres, so they spend money they ain’t made yet, put a Benz on tick that they ain’t paid yet”. This is then followed by Money, Money, which features an almost embarrassed Dizzee waxing lyrical about his “$850 jeans” and the “Gucci shoes that make love to (his) big toe”. It’s an odd decision to put the songs one after the other, and one you can’t help but assume was deliberate. Perhaps his point is that just because he’s got money himself doesn’t mean he can’t have an opinion on it.
Contrary, opinionated and never, ever dull, Dizzee Rascal has found bona fide success at just the right time. Concerned about the future and appalled with the way things are handled by governments and the media, yet simultaneously money-hungry and attention seeking, Dizzee somehow epitomizes 2009. Dance Wiv Me, Bonkers and Holiday may represent a way of forgetting about the issues, but Tongue N’ Cheek is well aware that they can’t be ignored for long. There’s a party to be had and Dizzee’s in charge, but don’t forget to engage your brain for at least some of it.