Sittin Here: A Boy In Da Corner in 2016
Bow, London. Council estate living at its finest. Just 5 miles east of Trafalgar Square, brutalist structures leer over morbid living conditions, where drug dealers and criminals ply their wares, oblivious to a greater world outside their purview.
Rewind back to Tony Blair’s Britain in 2003, and the biggest rockstars are catered towards middle class tastes with Keane and Coldplay releasing their debut albums, and avant-garde rockers Radiohead drop Hail to the Thief to much critical and commercial success. Economic growth is steady and the highest in UK history, but the gap between the upper and lower class continues to widen with no end in sight.
As a result, the youth of these council estates are jaded, feeling discarded by their own country, coming from broken homes, fighting off poverty on a day to day basis. Dizzee Rascal was one of these kids. Disenfranchised with what was happening around him and Tony Blair’s call for “Education, Education, Education” ringing hollow, he snarls on “Hold Ya Mouf”
Dizzee got a masterplan (I mean)
I’M A PROBLEM FOR ANTHONY BLAIR
Or feeling alienated and jaded by the powers that be in Buckingham palace?…
Queen Elizabeth don’t know me so/
How can she control me when I live street, and she lives neat?/
What happens when you’re stuck in that never ending cycle? How do you stand up and be counted? Is there any point fighting anymore? The front cover of Boy in Da Corner is a good entry point to his mindset. Neon yellow walls background a precocious youngster, draped in tracksuit top and bottom with a pair of Airmax 90’s, fingers trying to pick up a radiowave to some foreign borough just a few estates over. Is anyone listening???
And that’s the thing. We couldn’t not turn our heads away. This album sounds fucking ALIEN. The majority of production is handled by Dizzee himself, with beats being made through Logic while rumours floated constantly of him running programming through a Playstation console(!), until he unceremoniously shut them down. Grime as a genre as what its known today is palatable, straight forward and polished for the middle class consumer (HI TINIE TEMPAH, HI WILEY!!!), but these beats are plastic, elastic and bouncing on a parabola curve of synths, drums and deep bass. Some blitzkrieg into razor-edge guitar samples (Jus A Rascal), while others pay homage to Boom-Bap culture of late 80’s breaks (Fix Up, Look Sharp).
Take “I Luv U” for example. The simmering hi-hats push through the first 15 seconds of the song, when all of a sudden, screaming synths vascillate up and down, reminiscent of some futuristic 64 Impala hydraulics, grounded down by sludging bass and slick handclaps, Dizzee bleats and rants about a cautionary tale of underage pregnancy gone wrong.
Through the entire 57 minutes and 21 seconds, We’re entrenched into Dizzee’s psyche, navigating the treacherous pavement of Bow, warts and all. Bar two features from Wiley and God’s Gift, Dizzee’s caustic and uncompromising picture rarely relents. Violence is ever present, around every corner, and “2 Far” describes this mindset of kill or be killed, whether or not it’s justified, Dizzee doesn’t care…
Yo, I don’t promote no violence but/
If that boy gets arrogant I’ll/
Leave that boy in the basement, so/
Done with the bad boy talk, just walk/
While Dizzee paints a picture of an unrelenting darkness through trials and tribulations of promiscuity and unplanned pregnancies (Jezebel) and paranoid tales of inner city living (Seems 2 Be), moments of clarity and hope break through. While the majority of the album is set to the tremor of the day to day landmines he navigates, its easy to forget that Dizzee at the time of the album release was 18 YEARS OLD!!! So how does one of that age come to grips of becoming an adult? Dizzee tries his best to sum up that feeling on “Brand New Day”…
When we ain’t kids no more, will it still be about what it is right now?/
Like for fighting for anything anytime, and acting without a care anywhere/
And in 2003, the younger generation of Britons felt these sharp observations cut through them. Rising to #23 on the UK Albums Charts, Boy in Da Corner was an instant critical and commercial success. To top it off, Rascal was nominated and won UK’s most prestigious music award The Mercury Prize announcing to Great Britain and the world that Grime, beginning in it’s pirate radio and garage days, had planted its flag.
In the following years, the genre became less about the music, and more about the message and messenger becoming the du jour topic of British MP’s to make sweeping generalizations about inner city living. Former opposition leader and now current Prime Minister David Cameron threw his hat into the ring…
which led to this immortal op-ed headline from rapper Lethal Bizzle in response.
As for Dizzee, new sounds and styles influenced his career thereafter. 2004 was marked with the focused and polished sophomore release Showtime, praised for its honed delivery and more accessible tastes, while further release either catered towards an American audience (Maths + English) or EDM fans (Tongue N’ Cheek), a successful and happy MC, content with striving for new fans and a new direction.
Sittin here while we look back to 2003 from the year 2016, its hard to not acknowledge the aftershocks that reverberated from the seminal debut release. In 10 days time, Dizzee will perform the entirety of Boy in Da Corner in the UK for the first time (technically second, as a first concert was held in NYC in May) in it’s entirety for fans. On top of that, grime, as we speak , is more popular than ever with release of Kano’s Made In The Manor, and Skepta’s Konnichiwa, both bristling with fury and anger, even following in Captain Roscoe’s footsteps with critical acknowledgement (Konnichiwa winning the 2016 Mercury Prize) and no holds barred attitude towards the establisment…
From Skepta’s “Shutdown”
Me and my G’s ain’t scared of police/
We don’t listen to no politician/
Everybody on the same mission/
We don’t care about your -isms or schisms/
While younger fans are engaging again with the current grime superstars in a fast, evolving anarchic political mess in the UK and worldwide, the stories of teenagers on the fringes, crying out for their voice to be heard still rings just as true. David Cameron in 2016. Tony Blair in 2003. “I’M A PROBLEM FOR (INSERT UNINSPIRING POLITICAL LEADER) applies to any situation and carries the same weight as before.
Round, round, round we go/
Round, round, round we go/
Round, round, round we go/
If you love me let me know…
Boy in Da Corner was groundbreaking in 2003, prescient in 2016, and in 2029? Well, that’s too hard to answer, we’ll just have to wait and see…