It’s low-key wild to think that 10 years ago one of the most influential grime records of all time was released by a then-blossoming young rapper-producer. At the age of 17, Dizzee Rascal burst through the gates like a seasoned veteran with ‘Boy In Da Corner,’ a visceral, career-cementing, and genre-defining album. It wasn’t just that East London native was so young; this was also his full-length debut. To make such a huge statement with a first album is obviously a blessing and a curse. And it’s one shared by plenty of other hip-hop acts, including the now-defunct Universal Soldiers (‘Street Veterans Part 1 & 2’) and even U.S. rhymeslingers like Nas (‘Illmatic’) and Blu (‘Below The Heavens’).
But for the UK hip-hop landscape, few albums have been as potent and poignant as ‘Boy In Da Corner.’ As soon as ‘Sittin’ Here’ starts up with its melodic keys, thick bass, and stuttering drums and vocal samples, you’re hooked. Then Dizzee starts rapping, blending autobiographical bars through the eyes of someone who clearly observes everything and takes the time to digest it. Yet, he’s not just delivering rhymes for rhyming’s sake. He’s also crafting hooks within his verses. By repeating “The same old story” with different observations, it’s like a verse-turned-bridge-turned hook. This is grade A level songwriting from a guy who, by all accounts, could just be focusing on his MCing. And the best part is that it only gets better from there.
The 16 tracks on this album are bursting with energy and passion, whether he’s teaming with former cohort Wiley on ‘2 Far’ or straight-up venting on closing cut ‘Vexed.’ And there are, of course, the bigger hits from the project that you have no doubt heard even if ‘Boy In Da Corner’ somehow slipped under your radar. ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ is an inescapable banger and ‘I Luv U’ deftly mixes gurgling bass, monstrous drums, and playful back-and-forth vocals on the chorus. ‘Jezebel’ also made waves on its own with its gritty narrative of the titular character who friends ‘call skank behind her back.’
For all its successes, ‘Boy In Da Corner’ still carried that aforementioned curse for Dizzee. Two of his subsequent projects were solid, if not under-appreciated, because of his debut’s universal acclaim. Both 2004’s ‘Showtime’ and 2007’s ‘Maths + English’ received plenty of love from critics and fans alike, but they were the beginning of a slippery slope for the Rascal. His fourth album, ‘Tongue n’ Cheek,’ was an unfortunate and sloppy blend of pop tunes and brushes with his grime past. And try as he might with ‘The Fifth,’ which was released 30 September of this year, he still stumbled over his own feet. It’s an attempt to grasp at the charts and radio for a bigger audience, but at what cost? Plenty, if you ask us.
All that being said, it’s unfair to tear his career apart when Dizzee’s given us enough music to keep us satisfied for at least a few hours a day with his first three records.
While you could always cop ‘Boy In Da Corner’ now digitally, we recommend snagging a vinyl copy at XL Recordings. It might be a touch pricier, but here’s the thing: Albums almost always sound better on vinyl and you can move it to your computer or mp3 player if you got the right hook-up. Over at MySmartBuy, they offer a number of different USB turntables so you can rip the album directly into your computer so you can take it on the go. They also have some choice music systems to make that record’s sounds come through crisp and deep. Be forewarned, though, you’re going to end up playing ‘Boy In Da Corner’ pretty damned loud.