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At A Glance
“ABC,” as the Jackson Five once put it, “it’s easy as 1-2-3”: Dizzee Rascal’s third album, “Maths & English,” is the most complete, intense and thrilling British hip-hop record ever made. Bar none. From the Korn-inspired metal guitars of the barnstorming first single “Sirens,” to the vivacious Bugsy Malone-inspired backchat of Lily Allen (on the irresistible “Wannabe”), every track on this album seems to find a new way of grabbing the listener’s attention. But the amazing thing about “Maths & English” is the way the huge number of different styles and ideas that it showcases come together as the perfect vehicle for one man’s voice. Whether Dizzee is going mano a mano with American gangsta rap legends Bun B and Pimp C (“Where’s Da G’s”) or paying his dues to his UK heritage by collaborating with drum and bass legend Shy FX; whether he’s sampling Lyn Collins on the straightest hip-hop track he’s ever done (“Pussy’ole”) or going way out there to a Martial Arts film soundtrack of knives being sharpened (“World Outside”), it never takes more than half a bar of his raw, guttural, urgent rhyming to realise you’re in the presence of the Rasket. The more musical ground he covers, the easier he seems to find it to be true to himself. As if to confirm that sometimes you have to travel a long way to get really close to home, Wiz’ controversial video for “Sirens” (in which Dizzee – the fur trim on his parka marking him out as a true urban fox - is hunted through concrete walkways by redcoats on horseback) was filmed on a Romanian council estate. “They’ve got estates over there that look just like ours,” Dizzee explains, “except there are still bullet holes in the buildings and that’s in the nice part. It’s definitely being opened up a bit because they’ve just joined the EU, but away from the touristy part, it’s still a deep and eerie vibe. It’s like my friend over there was saying, the fa_ade is thin - it feels like anything could happen at any time, and sometimes it does.” You could say the same thing about “Maths & English.” On the one hand it’s easily Dizzee’s most upfront and accessible record to date – “Sirens” is a UK half-brother to Jay Z’s “99 Problems” and full on party tracks like “Flex” and “Bubbles” will soon be turning up the heat on dancefloors the more melancholic Mercury Prize-winning debut “Boy In Da Corner” might have cleared. On the other, it’s as brutally honest and potentially confrontational as anything he’s ever done. “The direction changed a lot with this album,” Dizzee admits. “It started out with a lot of more reflective tunes about how sad shit is and what a fucked up world we live in - because that was kind of where my head was at the time. But then I started listening to a lot of different music - old Outkast stuff ,Young Jeezy, Dem Franchise Boyz, D4L’s “Laffy-Taffy”: that whole Altanta snap thing – and it got me back into the mould of that jump up party shit, so I wanted to make banging tunes – tunes that people can bump to and be ignorant to.” While American influences were vital to the creative evolution of “Maths & English,” the album never compromises its distinctively British identity. Even when Bun B and Pimp C step up to the mic. “Those are two of the most important rappers in America, as far as the hip-hop scene is concerned,” says Dizzee, proudly. “These are certified gangsta rappers. The real deal. It’s not a joke... And they’re on a grime tune – respecting it, and understanding that I’m different, but in some way we come from the same place. For me, that’s a real achievement for British hip hop.” Where does the album’s title comes from? “It kind of sums up my philosophy of grafting,” Dizzee explains. “Numbers, words: that’s what I do. The writing side is the English. The notes, the beats, the deals, the money – that’s the Maths. But it’s about going to school too, and how everything I’ve learnt since then has made me look back and reflect on that. In fact everything you’re thinking, that’s what it is.” It’s not just “Maths & English” then, but science and history and art as well: a complete education in itself.
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