Album Review: Dizzee Rascal – Raskit

By Ethian Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

The career of Dizzee Rascal is a unique story. When he was just 19 he released Boy In Da Corner, which instantly became a classic, simultaneously putting grime on the map and solidifying himself as the most exciting talent working in music at the time. Boy In Da Corner was the perfect debut and, 14 years on, it still stands as the pinnacle of what grime can be.

It made Dizzee a star, earning him the Mercury Prize but as Dizzee‘s career progressed, grime as a genre failed to follow and by his fourth album he had adopted the company of heavyweights such as Calvin Harris and, in a way, it paid off, giving him four number one singles and further fame. Being as talented as he is, this stage in his career was actually better than most similar music at the time, but perhaps led him with little space to grow and this showed on his lacklustre fifth album, aptly titled The Fifth. Whilst Dizzee faded into irrelevancy, grime was making a huge comeback, presumably reminding him of what he is best at.

Regardless of his rollercoaster career, it has all led to Dizzee Rascal’s latest album Raskit. A return to grime was a risk he had to make but would either prove he is still the best grime has to offer or that the genre he had revitalised had outgrown him. Thankfully Raskit leans decisively towards the former outcome.

Not a Jessie J collaboration in sight, or any feature for that matter, Raskit showcases everything Dizzee Rascal needed to prove, both to his critics and to himself. Unlike on his debut, most of the beats are basic, allowing Dizzee‘s vocals and lyrics to stand out which would have left him vulnerable if he still wasn’t able to write witty, hard-hitting rhymes which some might have assumed given his time away from grime. However, if anything his lyrics in particular might have even improved from Boy In Da Corner. Whether he is rapping about his return to grime in Space or gunning for his rivals in The Other Side, Dizzee sounds fresh and hungry defending his name every way he can.

Sceptics may have thought Dizzee was only returning to grime because it has regained some momentum thanks to the likes of Skepta and Stormzy, and while that may be true to a certain extent, the point he makes repeatedly on this album is that he has the right simply because he is good enough, and it’s hard to argue. Where the argument falls down that he abandoned grime is that most of his contemporaries tried to replicate his success with a more mainstream sound but only Dizzee really succeeded. Dizzee Rascal has always been one step ahead until now and the one time he found himself behind everyone else, he has caught up by proving he can compete with grime’s biggest artists. Raskit has a few filler tracks but at 16 tracks, it manages to prove he has plenty to offer rather than a half arsed attempt at returning to grime that wouldn’t have been as convincing.

At its core, Raskit is essentially a statement that Dizzee Rascal can still create a competitive grime album and write clever lines, delivering them with conviction. Dizzee Rascal is versatile with fierce tracks such as Space to light and playful tracks such as She Knows What She Wants showing he has the talent that he had in 2003. Although a few tracks fade into the background and the production lacks some creativity compared to his debut, Dizzee Rascal did what he needed to do lyrically and firmly announces that he is still relevant.

7/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: Gang Signs and Prayer by Stormzy

Written by Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or you’re on the BRIT awards voting panel, you’ll be aware that the UK grime scene is enjoying a real purple patch. This is clearly evidenced when artists like Frank Carter, the ex-Gallows frontman, declaring at the NME awards that “grime is the new punk rock”. Grime’s dominance was even clearer demonstrated by the fact that Skepta’s fourth record Konnichiwa charted at number 3 in the UK albums chart, as well as managing to capture the cultural zeitgeist in a way very little music has done lately with the singles That’s Not Me and the inescapable Shutdown.

One of the MC’s who has generated the greatest hype in this golden age of grime is Michael Omari, better known as Stormzy, whose rise to fame almost perfectly personifies grime’s rapid growth. As he puts it on Cold – “I just went to the park with my friends and I charted” – referencing Shut Up, the penultimate track on Gang Signs and Prayer, which Stormzy debuted as a freestyle in a Croydon park which was uploaded to YouTube and shot to the top 10 of the UK Top 40 Chart. You may hear about this and assume Stormzy to be something of a one-hit wonder – but the remarkable Gang Signs and Prayer shows him to be anything but.

The biggest surprise while listening to this debut is how polished and well-produced it sounds, and how Stormzy manages to pull off this ultra-slick production and make a record which is unmistakeably a grime record. The lyrical content on tracks like Return of the Rucksack and the aforementioned Cold, which are essentially brag tracks, shows that Stormzy has not gone pop and abandoned the genre that he is famed within. The best grime track on this album is lead single Big For Your Boots, which opens with a sample guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. This precedes the chorus which crashes in with Stormzy reminding any challengers that he has size 12 feet and “your face ain’t big for my boot” with a lightning-quick flow in the verses guaranteed to send festival crowds into raptures.

Elsewhere on this album, however, Stormzy uses the polished nature of the production to venture into other genres and subsections of hip-hop. Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1 is an ode to God and his faith which doesn’t actually feature any rapping. Stormzy’s singing voice is average at best – but he partly masks this with subtle autotune. After all, one of the biggest moments of Stormzy’s fledgling career so far came at the 2015 BRIT Awards when he was on stage with Kanye West, and if a mediocre voice has never stopped Kanye singing then why should it stop Stormzy?

Velvet utilises trap beats (which appear on various tracks across the record) and sounds far sexier than any track ever written by a grime artist. The slower songs aren’t just on the tracklist to make up the numbers either, Stormzy uses them to convey other parts of his personality which he cannot explore on hard-hitting grime brag tracks. Cigarettes and Cush features one of the most bizarrely catchy pop-rap hooks in recent memory, where Stormzy is backed up by none other than Lily Allen in singing about his relationship with his girlfriend and the importance of weed in this relationship.

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The juxtaposition between hard-hitting grime and softer, more personal tracks is best exemplified in the one-two punch of Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2 and Return of the Rucksack towards the end of the record. The former stands head and shoulders above the earlier Pt 1, and in all honesty, most tracks on the album. It’s a stunning, gospel-influenced song which sonically leans more towards Kanye and Chance the Rapper than any of Stormzy’s grime contemporaries. MNEK’s vocals on the chorus are the best feature on the album by a country mile, and the message is so powerful that it can resonate with even the most obstinate atheist. No sooner do the choir vocals from this track bow out than the harsh beats of Return of the Rucksack barge in. This is one of the hardest and fastest grime tracks on this album where Stormzy returns to his unwaveringly self-assured lyricism with lines like “Yeah I think I’m the best I’m biased/ And I shoot for your chest like Payet”.

The final section of the record may be the strongest section, and ensures this debut goes out on a bang rather than a whimper. A standout is 100 Bags, which opens with an excerpt of Stormzy’s mum speaking to him on the phone, and the rest of the track is addressed to Stormzy’s “mumsy”, where he is brutally honest in apologising to her for his past behaviour while pledging to provide for her with the money he is making from his newfound fame. The swagger of penultimate track Shut Up sounds as frenetic on a 16-track album as it did in a Croydon park and shows just how good a flow Stormzy has when he really gets going.

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Fascinatingly, though, the album’s most confident track is succeeded by the most confessional. On Lay Me Bare, Stormzy does exactly as the title suggests and abandons the cocky persona he adopts so often to candidly discuss his struggles with depression, his relationship with his estranged father and the death of one of his childhood friends. In a time when there is so much attention being paid to male mental health (as there should be) it is refreshing to hear an artist like Stormzy tackle the issue and admit to struggling with depression so frankly, and the fact that the album ends on this track is very powerful.

While this is not a perfect record by any stretch of the imagination (it is a bit long and drawn-out at some points, and the overall running time can make it a bit of a challenging listen for more casual fans) this is an incredibly strong debut album. The production throughout is excellent, and Stormzy uses the record’s 16 tracks to dynamically convey countless facets of his personality and persona. Stormzy is undoubtedly a grime artist but the fact that Gang Signs and Prayer sees him venture into mainstream hip-hop and even gospel demonstrates that he has ambitions bigger than his 6ft 5 frame, and wants to propel both himself, and the grime genre to stratospheric heights.

8/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: Skepta – Konnichiwa

Managing to stand strong after critics called Grime’s second wind a passing fad, Skepta has proved everyone wrong on his fourth LP, solidifying himself and the genre as a cornerstone of British music. 

“We ain’t seen nuttin’ like this happen before. Who’s seen the country flip on its head like this, fam?” says fellow grime MC Chip, saying what we’ve all been thinking for months now: how the fuck did Skepta do this? Grime, a genre many thought had stagnated in the early 00’s, somehow started to dominate the charts and Shutdown was the catalyst to it all. Starting with a sample of newest member of Boy Better Know and little known rapper Drake, the track became the sound of the summer (sorry Limmy) and put the Tottenham born rapper on the radars of many.

Whilst listening to Konnichiwa, I find myself asking that same question. How is it that an album, seemingly full of tracks that have been around for at the very least a few months, manages to stand out as fresh, inventive and, most of all, memorable?

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The best way to start describing this is, surprisingly, the beginning with an eponymously titled track which reeks of Kung Fu aura before kicking off in typical grime fashion, horns blaring before Skepta begins chatting about corrupted agendas, something that makes up a large chunk of Konnichiwa’s DNA. Whether it’s explicitly about the police on Crime Riddim, which packs a delightful retro game beat, or quips about David Cameron, it’s refreshing to see that Skepta can say something worth telling rather than relying solely on Grime easter eggs.

While there’s an aggressive attitude on a vast majority of these songs, it doesn’t mean that the BBK leader isn’t fond of being a little tender. Text Me Back displays this well and acts as a rather heartfelt finale though thankfully the instrumentals don’t lost any of the cold tinge that makes this album stand out. Think of it as a juxtaposing love letter to Dizzee Rascal’s I Lov U which may make up for the rather blatant shots fired at him on Lyrics (all is fair in love and Grime though).

What really makes Konnichiwa thrive though is its unrelenting intensity. The direction Skepta took on this LP impressed me to say the least with some songs like Ladies Hit Squad feeling like they’d be out of place if there were anywhere else other than helping to establish the firm foundations of this album. Whether or not you like the nature of some of these songs, what can be stated is that Skepta manages to take heed of his brother JME’s words and keeps his integrity while not being afraid to push the boundaries.

The few gripes this album has are ones that stop it from achieving true greatness with the running time being one of them, stopping some songs achieving their true potential by aborting them far sooner than they needed to be. Despite this, Skepta has managed to provide another monumental release into the Grime narrative: Stormzy may have told everyone to shut up but what we have here is a warm, albeit fierce, konnichiwa.

8/10

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TRACK REVIEW: Skepta – Man

The unprecedented growth of Grime was one of the defining moments of British music last year. While it may have been overlooked by the Brits, which has thankfully been balanced out by the recent Ivor Novello nominations, you’ll be hard done to find someone who didn’t hear Skepta’s Shutdown blaring at any point in 2015 as the track managed to etch its minimalistic, catchy hook into the minds of everyone who listened to it.

With his fourth studio album Konnichiwa set to be the general public’s first experience of Skepta in LP form, the Boy Better Know co-founder has a lot of pressure on him which he’s managed to convey brilliantly on Man where a dynamic beat acts as the platform for him to call out friends and foes alike.

Whether it’s teachers who stated that he’d never amount to anything, the police who played a massive role in the death of his friend Mark Duggan or supposed allies who are leeching off his success, Skepta manages to do all witfully and with relative ease. Instrumentally, the track does very little to surprise though it could be that with its placement directly before Shutdown in the album’s tracklisting, it’s all Skepta’s intention to do so.

“Waking up with that on your head almost doesn’t allow you to make the best album you can.”

– Skepta speaking about the long recording process of Konichiwa in an interview with Zane Lowe (18th April 2016)

JME managed to surprise everyone when his album Integrity managed to top album lists in a way that hasn’t been seen in the genre since Boy In Da Corner, a record that single handedly pioneered grime when it first came around. Though it’s not clear what way Konichiwa will go, Man will be sure to feature in clubs and raves everywhere for the duration of 2016.

Thoughts On: The Brit Awards

When your award show is referred to as “the British Grammy’s”, you’d think it was some sort of compliment. Well, that’s until you realise that the Grammy’s themselves considered James Bay more worthy of a Rock Album Of The Year nod than the hundreds of other potential nominees. Fair do’s to the Grammy’s though since they at least have some sort of range instead of the traditional limited list of categories the Brits provide, somehow being the smallest thing at an awards show that includes Dec Connolly.

Despite the excuse that they’re meaningless and shit, the Brits are still open to criticism and after all, this is the awards show where Franz Ferdinand won two out of five awards they were nominated for so they are capable of using their brains from time to time. The latter of this statement is unfortunately false when it comes to looking at one category in particular.

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Just like Ed Sheeran before him, James Bay will be the golden child of the Brits this year, no doubt picking up every award his little permanently hat attached head is nominated for. It’s no surprise that an awards show will try and make out that they award based on quality rather than sales, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but it all becomes even more gutting when Aphex Twin finally gets the recognition he deserves only to be beaten by Jason Mraz 2.0 .

Not only that but I find it fucking laughable that the Brits will bring the likes of JME and Skepta on stage with Kanye for a performance yet when it comes to representing their genre, they’re not given a hint of recognition. Grime grew exponentially in 2015 and to act as if it doesn’t even exist is just plain ignorance, especially when you’re awards show has enough black nominees that you could count them all on one hand and give the Oscars a run for their money with their lack of representation.

Unlike the Oscars though whose problem lies within the industry they represent rather than the ceremony itself, the Brits has little excuse as they have such a large array of black musicians to choose from: Kwabs, Stormzy, aforementioned JME and Skepta, Fuse ODG (hey, I didn’t say they had to be amazing), they’re just a few and just like the film industry, a lack of diversity results in little aspiration for other POC when it comes to them wanting to achieve in an industry that is largely white dominated.

This was initially going to be my pick of who I think should win but it just got on my nerves that the Brits will claim to be relevant yet will offer a seat to Olly Murs before considering an artist who helped a genre break into the mainstream. Of course there are other categories and I’m happy to see Kendrick Lamar and Jamie XX nominated after providing the two essential albums of 2015. Some of you reading this will no doubt slate this as another “PC gone mad” article but that’s not the case: credit should be given where credit is due and that just isn’t the case with the current list of nominees.

As far as I’m concerned, the Brits is fated to continue being the Limp Bizkit of the awards world: trying to act hip and current but failing to realise they were better kept in the 90’s.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

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