Dizzee Rascal in Bed

So Dizzee Rascal is doing his thing with Justin (BIG pals, sit around together listening to old Greenslade albums) and the show comes to Sheffield… and WE, the beautiful people of South Yorkshire, get a one-off club date? Why are we so favoured? Cos Dizzee’s album — widely revered as the sound of Bow — was ACTUALLY recorded here, in Sheffield. Round the corner from me in a studio in Nether edge, as it happens. Well, mixed, anyway. (Cue rapid re-appraisal of Grime as the true inheritor of Industrial’s sacred genes… not such a stupid idea come to think of it!)

Anyway, Bed is Gatecrasher’s venue, which means little other than that there are huge bass speakers under the floor, which make yer knees wobble. It was an “urban” night, seemed to be full of regulars, no aggro, and lots of people were noticeably dressed up to the nines. Sheffield women are gorgeous. This month’s hot fashion tip — trilby hats at a jaunty angle right over the face. Modtastic. The music was all hip hop and r&b with a few bits of UKG, and most tracks somehow sounded like jungle over that system. But by far the biggest sound of the night was dancehall. Whenever the energy dropped the DJs would play some and the crowd would go wild — I was really surprised by just how far dancehall has taken over the hip-hop / r’n’b axis. As you’d expect there was lots of scratching and cutting, and records generally didn’t get played to the end — good stuff. There was also absolutely no compunction on the part of the DJs about playing big hits, so Sean Paul got a good airing. This did get on my tits a bit when I was waiting for Dizzee to come on — the last DJ before him was playing solid ToTP fodder which I could have done without. I got a bit bored.

Then Dizzee came swaggering through the crowd with his fairly modest and polite entourage, wearing an outfit like Elephant Man — oversized jacket covered with huge badges. Semtex took the decks and Wiley (I think) started hyping the crowd, a real show man, bigging up the ladies, talking about the 8 hour drive to come up, giving people the mic so he could hear some sexy Sheffield accents… Then Semtex dropped I Luv U and Dizzee bounded on stage and the place just erupted. There were a *lot* of people who were seriously into him, crews from Manchester and Leeds, and the first 20 rows or so were jumping. Dizzee did a pure MC set just like he does at Eski dance or whereever, rapping over his own stuff and other records, doing prepared raps as well as Freestyle, bounding across the stage, dancing, jumping on the speakers… Semtex couldn’t always keep up, with Dizzee occasionally telling him to move on with the next track, always two steps ahead of where the crowd wanted to be, and displaying impressive empathy. Wiley and (I think) some feller from Roll Deep were up there too adding their flow to his so you got the whole rap tag team thing.

There’d been a few rappers on during the night and they were OK but Dizzee really is something else. His flow is intensely syncopated, very much like the skipping, hiccuping beats of UKG, and the lyrical ideas just fly out of him like a shower of sparks. There’s always piercing diction yet his accent means he sounds like he’s gargling with golf balls all the time. He’s totally hyped and confident but there’s not a trace of the turgid gangster braggadoccio that blunts the attack of so many rappers, instead there’s a constant volley of ideas and images – he’s got so damn much to say he doesn’t have /time/ to collapse into cliches. His beats, naturally, make SO much more sense and have SO much more groove heard live too. That stuttering, plinkety-plonk doodling transforms itself into something like jungle’s hyperkinetic breaks, but in bullet time, slowed to a stop yet endlessly oscillating. In other words, what sounds a bit ropey on record is funky as fuck live.

I was too knackered to stay til the end, but the standout of what I heard was Jus a Rascal, which was a blitzkrieg-like, its overwhelming, massed-voices monstrosity had everyone screaming. Quite fantastic. Though his freestyle over the Diwali rhythm was also excellent. I left when Semtex tried to get him to rap over PIMP — I don’t think Dizzee was much into it, and three times in one night for that track was too much for me, so I wandered off.

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