Dizzee Strikes Out

In July, Dizzee released Boy in da Corner to typically British critical hyperbole--''As good as any MC currently active on earth,'' boasted one magazine. Overstating it a bit, perhaps, but there's a reason the disc sold more than 100,000 copies in the U.K. alone.

Boy in da Corner brings a unique perspective to the world of ghetto-centric hip-hop. There's plenty of the typical bluster (''I'm chuckin' MCs like stones/Bad boy forever like Sean Puffy Combs,'' he brags on ''Jus a Rascal''), but instead of glorifying the hustler lifestyle a la Jay-Z, Dizzee dryly documents the casual violence (''Sittin' Here''), hollow love affairs (''Round We Go''), and teenage pregnancy (''I Luv U'') with a detached cynicism that is truly disturbing. If recent U.K. hip-hop phenomenon the Streets (a.k.a. Mike Skinner) is England's resident Beastie Boy, Dizzee is a homegrown Nas--a street philosopher whose flow carries him above the urban grime.

And the raw production only intensifies the feeling of hopelessness. Influenced equally by cell-phone rings and Wu-Tang-style beat science, the grooves charge and stomp, blip and bleep like a modem on the rampage. ''I just wanted to make something unique,'' Dizzee explains. ''While everybody was talking about champagne and bullshit, I wanted to chat about something that I cared about.''

Like its U.S. counterpart, the British hip-hop scene is now seeing beef and animosity creep into the music. In July, Dizzee's life became a tabloid headline when he was stabbed five times at a resort in Cyprus. Dizzee brushes it off with nonchalance. ''I'm from the street, man,'' he says. ''I don't say it like I'm some big tough guy...but it's not like I don't have friends who have been stabbed, or people who have been shot. It's not new to me.''

After lunch we venture outside to the edge of the Hudson River. Standing in a chilly drizzle, with overcast skies threatening even more showers, he looks over the city and smiles. ''It's gray and cold and dirty 'round here,'' he says. ''I like it; it's just like home, innit?'' With any luck, these shores will embrace Dizzee with that same enthusiasm. May his future be filled with Yankee glory, despite his failure at the plate.

Originally posted Dec 19, 2003 Published in issue #742 Dec 19, 2003 Order article reprints

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