The early ’00s saw a completely new, innovate genre of music arise from the deprived estates of Bow, East London. Grime. With many young teens becoming fed up with the simpler, sing song vibe that came with garage, a range of young emerging artists decided to develop a much more gritter, harder sound which matched how they lived their lives. Among this ever-growing number of young artists was a hungry, aggressive MC by the name of Dizzee Rascal A.K.A. Raskit, who had been catching the attention of many, through him killing set after set on pirate radio stations alongside, grime originators, Roll Deep. Around the age of 16, Dizzee released self-produced the track ‘I Luv You’ which grabbed the attention of music fans and critics alike, eventually leading to young Dizzee being signed to XL Recordings. In 2003, Dizzee dropped his iconic, debut album ‘Boy in Da Corner’ to widespread critical acclaim and woke the entire UK up to the sound of grime.
13 years later, and while grime is gathering fans by the day, gaining worldwide recognition, the genre is still yet to see a project match the quality, and impact of Boy in da Corner. The likes of Kano’s ‘Home sweet Home (2004)’, Skepta’s ‘Blacklisted (2012)’, Wiley’s ‘Playtime is Over (2007)’ and even Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ have all managed to come close but they still do not match the intensity and frankness found in Dizzee’s debut and we decided to look into why exactly it this project still yet to be topped.
When Boy in da Corner was released in 2003, grime was very much in its early stages and wasn’t even officially labelled as grime. This album brought the no holds barred, unapologetic sound of this emerging scene to the mainstream and it was a ferocious kick in the face to anyone who listened. The closet song to a radio track was the single ‘Fix up, Look sharp’ and even this had a hard beat as well as lines such as: ‘being a celebrity don’t mean sh*t to me, Fu*k the glitz and glamour hit ‘em with the blitz and hammer’.
The reason this was all so original is the mainstream had not heard such a ruthless, raw rap album from a UK rapper and the simplistic, stripped down production paired with Dizzee’s high-pitched delivery made for a completely new sound. It wasn’t just simply a UK equivalent to a US ‘gangsta’ rap album, it was so much more than that. The creativity and fast pace matched London streets perfectly, and gave the capital a new sound, with the likes of garage and jungle, speedily losing popularity. This type of originality is still yet to be seen in the grime scene and is a huge part of the reason, grime projects have lacked the impact of this album.
From the first track of Boy in da Corner, ‘Sittin’ Here’, the listener is instantly sucked into Dizzee’s world of council estate living and the overall dark side of London. ‘It’s the same old story, shotters, runners, cats and money stacks; it’s the same old story, ninja bikes, gun fights and scary nights’. In this song, he shares his observations of what’s going around him and the deterioration of his local area. ‘Sittin’ Here’ sets the dark, gritty tone of this album perfectly, and as a whole, the social commentary on this album provides the listener with an insight into the poorer side of London, as well as the mind state of the younger generation, which is still relevant to this day. ‘I don’t obey no policeman cos; they forget they’re human uh; Get excited quickly but; He ain’t got a gun, ill kick him and run’ (2 Far).
Dizzee Rascal also has refreshingly, personal songs on this album, like ‘Do It’ where he discusses his mental struggles caused by what he has seen and been through, but at the same time motivating those in similar situations to work hard and reach their dreams. Jezebel shows off Dizzee’s storytelling ability with a tale of a sexually promiscuous girl, which is a represents of misguided young girls’ of his generation and their bids for attention leading to malicious labels.
Lyrically, this is a very hard hitting album and captures what was going on in London at the time, with a lot of it still occurring to this day. It showed what many young people are faced with growing up in London and does not hold back any punches. 13 years later and you will be hard pressed to find an album that depicts London street life better than this album.
Another amazing fact about this album, is it was almost entirely produced by Dizzee Rascal himself along with producer Cage. The instrumentals are far from complex on this project, however the simplistic, industrial sound of Boy in da Corner just adds to it’s raw, dark tone. Sonically, this was different from anything else that had been heard up until this point, and couldn’t be compared to other genres. The beats sound aggressive and erratic with Dizzee’s speedy, hostile flow, creating a wild experience for the listener, and far removes it from the US hip hop releases of the time. What is also incredibly impressive about the production of this album, is the way that each instrumental sets the tone for the track impeccably, whether it be the dark, atmospheric ‘Sittin’ Here’ Beat or the light, clunky ‘Brand New Day’, and this is no easy feat.
Although there has been an abundance of grime records to come out since this release, it is still hard to find an LP with instrumentals that perfectly set the mood, and match the MC as well as those on Boy in da Corner. Dizzee and Cage need a tremendous amount of credit for putting together this project.
Boy in da Corner was a turning point in grime culture and forced itself into the mainstream. In a time where grime was not being taken seriously, Dizzee managed to win over critics, ultimately leading to the win of the coveted Mercury Prize, which for a 17/18-year-old MC from Bow, is a pretty big deal. It launched Dizzee into stardom and although he did end up straying away from the genre, gave him legendary status in Grime. Dizzee went on to become a household name and eventually led to him gaining numerous number 1 hits, albeit not from grime songs.
It could be said that Boy in da corner opened the industry door for grime music, even if only for the genre to get pushed away from the mainstream years later due to a range of reasons. However, Boy in da Corner brought grime to the attention of a completely new audience, taking it further than pirate radio stations and tower blocks.
Boy in Da Corner is an important album for grime, London, The UK and music in general. It is quite frankly a must listen and is as potent as a shot of vodka in the morning, even now. It is honestly unmatched by any grime artist and I will continue to wait for a project to outdo Dizzee’s gritty masterpiece.