Copper Box Arena
The year Dizzee Rascal dropped out of college in 2002 he sat down with producer Nick Cage in his Bermondsey-based studio. Having enrolled in music studies, the then seventeen year-old felt muzzled by the education system he was shackled to.
It was a time of both disquiet and fruition for the MC. Far surpassing the days of meticulously aligning rubber bands around the belt-drive of his first turntable, Dizzee had already seen moderate success as a Jungle DJ and occasional spitter on pirate radio. His intrepid allegiances to DJ Target and Wiley were as publicly revered as his slow-broiling discord with ‘rival’ MC Crazy Titch. Roll Deep were gradually establishing their commercial footing and Dizzee’s own Dirtee Stank imprint had already released two of proto-grime’s most advancing instrumentals, Ho and Go. Club nights like Sidewinder and the growing popularity of Wiley’s Eski beats were starting to enable MCs to practice their craft to larger regional audiences. So nothing really seemed to be willing Dizzee to stay in school when his career was outside of it. The result of this decision to leave eventually led to the release of his debut album Boy In Da Corner a year later.
The record itself was an electrical jolt to the corporate yawns of a politically centralised Britain. Through genuine poetry, anger and bravery, Dizzee’s debut exposed the real-life socio-economic cavities throbbing at the back of a jaded youth culture’s gullet. As they sat and worked in that Bermondsey studio, Cage’s database of sounds became Dizzee’s own sonic schoolyard where he would soon reshape the commercial credentials of U.K.’s underground forever.
But what does thirteen years do to an album that resonated so strongly in a pre-Butterz, pre-Brexit, pre-Bonkers landscape? Is it trumped by its own saccharine nostalgia factor? Or does it retain its legitimacy? Having already performed the album in full in New York earlier this year to rapturous audiences, it seemed this legitimacy needed to be put on trial where it all started over a decade ago. London crowds have a reputation as being some of the most critical, most damning in the world so to perform at Copper Box Park Arena in Stratford – just a click away from Raskit’s home estate in Bow – nothing short of exceptional would suffice.
Red Bull Music Academy put this historic show on in a 3000 capacity basketball stadium, pocketed with some of grime’s most illustrious names from past, present and future (Jammer, Slimzee, Skepta, Kurupt FM, Shy Snoochie, Oneman to name a few), Captain Roscoe escorted us back to a historical turning point in our lives. And, aside from a potentially intentional misstep of flow during Jezebel, we were witnessing Dizzee forcibly rekindle the fiery embers in his cash rich belly.
The sounds of Boy In Da Corner were regarded by many as ‘futuristic’ on first listen. Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin referred to I Luv U as a ‘brutal headfuck. London distilled to pure rhythm and spite.’ Tonight, that headfuck is played back to us louder and with more rhythmic spite than a Katie Hopkins LBC livestream. Stop Dat instigates a momentous wheel-up as bodies drape the arena floor. Round We Go Do It and Wot U On – rarely performed live by the artist – quake with deliberate extremity as the stage’s simple geometric refashioning of the record’s corner silhouette beams from yellow to blue. Subtle as much as it is knuckle-whitening.
Commercial favourites, Jus A Rascal and Fix Up, Look Sharp are welcomed with an anticipated buoyancy by which point, Dizzee’s already proven his point twice over. The MC’s primary function tonight was to remind us that while he is unashamedly fortunate to be one of grime’s mainstream crossover acts, he’s still that boy from Bow who took a risk at making music his profession; going from Boy In Da Corner to main man in the arena. Tonight will be known as one of grime’s most important highlights in its timeline.