By Brad Knutson
After being introduced to the new sounds of “UK garage” via Mike Skinner and The Streets in 2002, a year later another new uniquely British movement known as “grime” started to invade these shores. Combining the sounds of the UK’s dance underground with the crunk vibe of southern American hip-hop, grime had reverberated its way across the Atlantic from pirate-radio ships outside London and started to dominate docked iPods at hipster parties in Brooklyn. At the forefront of the movement was the scene’s breakout star, Dylan Mills, aka Dizzee Rascal. Emerging from the ghetto of East London, Mills first started dropping rhymes at raves at the age of 15, cut his first single at the age of 16 and by 18 had become an underground sensation with his critically acclaimed 2003 debut album, “Boy in da Corner.” The buzz quickly spread to the States, and a full tour and domestic release of the record would follow in 2004. A quick follow-up, “Showtime,” surfaced at the end of the year, but Lady Sovereign would soon take over the grime spotlight and Dizzee went on the down low.
Fans in the UK were finally treated to a new Dizzee Rascal album, “Maths & English,” last June, but as is often the case, the record’s release was delayed in the States. While downloads were made available here at the time of the UK release, physical copies of the record just hit local store shelves two weeks ago. “In America, it seems like the presence is really important…so that’s why I kind of held off putting an album out here,” Mills says. “I felt that it should only come out on download in the U.S. because I needed to kind of be here to get the ball rolling and to do proper promotion.”
For the record’s domestic release, Mills signed up with Definitive Jux Records, the indie-hip-hop stalwart fronted by New York underground legend El-P. However, the partnership wasn’t exactly by design on Mills’ end. While a huge fan of the southern hip-hop scene and acts like Three 6 Mafia and UGK, Mills was not that familiar with the Def Jux crew or even El-P for that matter. “I was actually on the label before I met him,” Mills laughs when asked about his new boss. “I just understand that they’re an indie hip-hop label that has had a lot of success in different-sounding hip-hop, and that’s probably where I fit in America for now.”
While a lot of American fans are thrilled to finally get their hands on a new Dizzee Rascal record after a four-year drought, some hardcore grime fans may be a little taken aback by the new material. Dizzee’s unmistakable lyrical style is still very much in check, but as its bright pink cover hints, musically “Maths & English” has an upbeat and glossy sheen that’s a bit of a departure from his previous work.
“It sounds like a step up sonically, musically it’s just bigger,” Mills explains. “I wanted to make an album you could have a party to, or have a rave to…[it’s] really festival-orientated with songs like ‘Sirens,’ although people might think it’s about one thing with the content, the actual purpose was to make a tune that the people could go nuts to at the festival or concert.”
Mills has lofty ambitions to get his crowds moving this summer, but he’s keeping the presentation simple. “It’s just me, my hype-man and a DJ,” Mills asserts. “Real simple, like Run DMC. No props to take the people’s attention away, just straight-up energy.” Joining him on this current leg of the tour will be none other than his new boss and labelmate El-P. The pairing creates a cross Atlantic dream ticket of underground hip-hop, which is undoubtedly leaving fans drooling at the possibility of the two dueling it out on the mic live on stage. Nothing has been promised, but when pressed about any such collaboration, Mills says slyly, “I wouldn’t write it off…”
Dizzee Rascal joins headliner EL-P, with Busdriver and special guests at Abbey Pub, 3420 West Grace, (773)478-4408, May 15 at 9pm. $20.