Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dizzee Rascal - Tongue N Cheek

If you’re at all familiar with Dizzee Rascal, you might be surprised by the kind of company he’s keeping these days.

Club circuit mainstays Calvin Harris, Armand Van Helden and even Holland’s euro-cheese extraordinaire DJ Tiesto all contribute to his latest record which is a kind of hip-hop/rave fusion that has already spawned three #1’s in the UK. His usual standby Cage did make about half the tracks, but even most of these have a decidedly club-y bent.

Initially it may seem a far cry from the moodiness of Boy in da Corner. It's true, he's mellowed slightly into a more comical persona (hence the Cheek), but Diz is still as verbally dexterous as anyone in the UK (hence the Tongue). He’s sort of like a British Weazy in that respect: a pop star that dabbles in silliness but has a street pedigree and the skills to back it up. Listen to the way he attacks his beats lyrically (especially on the Tiesto produced Bad Behavior) - the posturing may have changed, but the attitude is definitely there.

Not one to waste time with subtly, album opener Bonkers (produced by Helden) hits the ground running with little more than a single synth note preceding its full-on house beat. Both of the Calvin Harris produced tracks are anthems – all electro-house bass, arpeggiated leads and big hooks - that manage to be incredibly accessible without sounding paint-by-the-numbers. The infectious Dance Wiv Me is probably my favorite cut on the album. Holiday, which is equally addictive, avoids cheesy cliché even when straying into trance territory with that epic ‘90s-esque breakdown. The breakbeat-driven Road Rage, produced by Aaron Lactate and Samir, takes the club music theme in a tech-ier direction. Full of jittery synths and brooding atmosphere, it’s an adrenaline-soaked, low-end assault a la Baltimore, that's rendered almost ridiculous by it's subject matter - i.e. Dizzee making threats from a Mini Cooper

There are some slower jams too, presumably to keep things interesting. Chillin Wiv a Man Dem is Diz doing his best impersonation of an American rapper circa ’94. Kicking out rhymes about pot smoke and video games over a laid back beat anchored with a funk bass line, R&B synths, acoustic guitars and a sparkly keyboard lick - it’s like a British take on one of those classic summer-time West Coast jams.

And lest anyone accuse him of turning his back on the streets or his Roll Deep past, there’s the Aswad-sampling Can’t Tek No More produced by old-school junglist Shy FX. This bass heavy, syncopated riddim - complete with dubbed out horns, gunshots, and Dizzee waxing political in double-time - has all the skank of East London’s sound-system culture.

If the goal was to cross over without sacraficing quality, Diz pretty much knocked it out of the park with this one. Even if the kind of recognition he's received in Europe has yet to materialize on this side of the Atlantic, it doesn’t take anything away from the viability of Tongue N Cheek as a pop record that crosses barriers. Take note Kanye, this is how to merge street swagger with up-tempo dance beats and not come off like a blatant try-hard.

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