Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dizzee Rascal / "Maths and English"

Let's get straight to the point: "Maths and English" is Dizzee Rascal's worst album. The good news is that it still might turn out to be the best hip-hop album of the year. That statement speaks not only of the hip-hop drought thus far in 2007, but also of the strength of Rascal's catalogue. So what is it that makes this inferior to "Boy in Da Corner" and "Showtime"? It lacks both the consistency of "Da Corner" and the energy and hunger of "Showtime." How is it still the best hip-hop album released so far this year? First of all, it's Dizzee Rascal, and I still don't believe that this guy can make a bad album. When the songs work, nobody can match him in either production or delivery, and despite the scattershot nature of the songs on "Maths" there are still a great deal of future classics.

The album opens with the lackluster "World Oustide". The beat is straightforward and relatively simple, and Dizzee doesn't exactly strain himself on the verses. It's an uncharacteristically ambient track. Just when you're about to be discouraged, however, Rascal delivers and outstanding four-track tour-de-force. "Pussy'ole" rides a sample from the 80's song "It Takes Two" and Dizzee rhymes as the beat incorporates more and more layers, until it explodes into the album's best track (and first single) "Sirens". Behind a beat heavy on cymbal and (obviously) sirens, Dizzee spits as good a verse as almost anything in his catalogue. Next up is "Where Da G's" featuring Houston rap duo UGK. Rascal lays down some very good rhymes in a slower drawl than usual. The decision to slow down works brilliantly as it plays extremely well off the drawl of UGK's outstanding guest verses. "Paranoid" comes in and the lyrics of paranoia perfectly suit the acid beat.

Unfortunately the next three songs ("Suk My Dick", "Flex", and "Da Feelin'") are nothing special, especially by Dizzee's standards. He returns to form with "Bubbles" which goes with a relatively minimalistic beat and lets him carry the song with his verses. He doesn't disappoint, sounding off rhymes like "Best to believe I keep it tight, / Best to believe I'm movin' right, / Keep my business on the low, you best to believe I'm outta sight." Follow-up "Excuse Me Please" is an effective political rap, as Rascal questions the logic of the world: "Sometimes I think the whole world's gone crazy. / The shit I see, it don't cease to amaze me."

The album closes with another four-track attack. "Hardback (Industry)" has a orchestral tint to the beat which gives it the sound of a noir film combined with a hip-hop banger. Rascal promises "if you take [his] advice, you'll be ballin'." He comes with such confidence, you can't help but believe it. "Temptation" has a frantic beat and Dizzee's fastest rapping combined with an effective hook from, of all people, Arctic Monkey's lead singer Alex Turner. "Wanna Be" features the oddest guest spot of all, Lily Allen (!). It's similar to "Wot U On" from "Boy in Da Corner" in that it deals with kids thinking their gangsters when they really aren't, but instead of a hip-hop hook, the one Allen provides is straight bubblegum pop. It's also hilarious! "What you know about being a hardman? / You mum buys your bling" taunts Allen. He closes the album with one of its finest tracks, "U Can't Tell Me Nuffin'". Dizzee hits hard and effective with both the beat (which sounds as though it were incorporated from a horror film) and the verses.

So, yeah, it's not up to the bar set by his decade-best "Boy in Da Corner" or hard-hitting "Showtime", but so what? By the time the disc ends, you're not thinking back about what the disc wasn't. You're starting it over and listening to it again and again, and wondering how the best hip-hop artist in the world remains a relative unknown in the U.S.

Rating: 8.7


On an unrelated side-note, I was right about M.I.A.

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