Back in 2003, a young MC named Dizzee Rascal released a furious, fantastic debut album entitled Boy in Da Corner. Although just 18 years old, and relatively unknown outside the London pirate radio underground, his album was immediately hailed as a classic and earned him the prestigious Mercury Prize that same year. Ahead of his first-ever live performance of Boy in Da Corner in full, Dizzee breaks down the origin of each track on the album.
That song was about sitting outside the shops on my estate [project], lean [stoned], watching the world go by. It’s a bit like my version of “Project Windows” by Nas. I’m from Lincoln Estate in Bow [in east London] – we would all hang out by the off licence and the shops out there. Obviously I feel far removed from that mindset now, but because I’ve been rehearsing it, I feel it again when I’m performing it.
“Sittin Here”’s been the hardest one to remember, because the beginnings of every verse are the same, and then I get the ending wrong and fuck it up. We had to do it 20 times, because we wanted to get it right. There’s songs on this album that I’ve never done live before.
I made that when I was doing all those [early grime] raves like Young Man Standing, so that’s why that had that energy. But it also had that rock element, because I was into grunge when I was younger, so it had those kind of Black Sabbath-y riffs. The whole album was all made within about a year – except “I Luv U,” which was made before all of it.
It’s mad how all this grime stuff has come around again, out of nowhere, because obviously I’ve been doing shows – and big shows, like festivals – for the last 13 years, and there was a period not too long ago, like two or three years ago, when I was playing the older stuff, and it wasn’t getting the response that the new stuff was getting. Maybe that love was always there, and those people just weren’t coming to the shows, and it was more people who wanted to hear the big, dancey stuff that I was doing.
I Luv U
I remember being in the studio, with the samples all laid out, and just hearing that dirty bassline. And that kick...I’d never heard a kick like that before. I put it together, the baddest beat I could make. And the actual structure of it was trying to emulate “Is That Your Chick?“ and “What’s Your Fantasy?” those boy-girl call-and-response tracks that came out around the same time. I actually wrote the lyrics to “Is That Your Chick?”; I didn’t have instrumentals. If you listen to the strings on “I Luv U,” that was me trying to do the strings on “What’s Your Fantasy?”
I had just dropped out of college when I made “I Luv U.” I just thought “why am I still here?” because by that point I was already on Deja [Vu FM, famed grime pirate station], I was known through NASTY Crew. With “I Luv U” I remember getting [the vocalist] Janine in, and telling her “I’ve got a song for you,” and telling her what to say. And she was like, “what the fuck is this?” She was miffed. But it worked out.
Brand New Day
That strange instrumental sound on the beat partly comes from the fact I was really into kung-fu films. I can’t play music, really. I’ve never been classically trained; I was just feeling it out as I went along. But I always loved those sounds, I loved Blade of Fury and films like Barefoot Kick. I grew up watching those. That’s why I did the Pagans video, too.
2 Far feat. Wiley
That was just fun to make. I was always into up-tempo stuff; you keep hearing about grime having to be 140 BPM, but I don’t think there’s one song on this album that’s 140 BPM, I don’t know where that came in, maybe later on. [Live], I don’t think anyone could do Wiley’s verse.
Fix Up, Look Sharp
To read the full history of The Big Beat loop, click here.
I remember someone said it on my estate, when we were joking around, “fix up, look sharp.” And it made me laugh on the spot, and it always stuck with me. And then when [manager and occasional producer] Cage played the original record [Billy Squier, “The Big Beat”] on vinyl in the studio – we were just randomly going through records, he had a crazy record collection – and I was like “what’s that?” and I just started writing around that. Put that there, the “woo.” I’d never heard it before. I’d never heard the Run–D.M.C one before, it was all new to me. I did it because I wanted something I could give to [leading UK hip-hop DJ Tim] Westwood, so it started as a dubplate for Westwood, because I wasn’t getting much love on his show. I knew I had the grime thing, although it wasn’t called grime at the time. But I still saw myself as a rapper as well as an MC.
As soon as I heard that riff I gravitated to it, because I liked rock, I liked heavy metal [like] Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana and Iron Maiden even before I liked hip-hop. I loved to see the mosh pits, I think MTV 1994 through 96, and the grunge era. That was my thing.
Cut ’Em Off
That was such a fun beat to make. A sparse, dark beat. That was my attempt as hip-hop, but it obviously came out as something else.
[During my first U.S. shows] I would have done “Fix Up Look Sharp,” “Jus a Rascal” obviously. Probably “Brand New Day,” “I Luv U,” “Jezebel,” “Stop Dat.” My first show in the US was in Williamsburg, in 2004. That’s why when they asked about doing this show, and it was in Willamsburg, I thought, “Ah, so it’s full circle.” Some people feel like this show should have been in London, and that’s cool, I understand that. But it was just because Red Bull asked, and based on what I saw them do with the Culture Clash. That was brilliant, that got me excited.
Hold Ya Mouf feat. God’s Gift
I was always fucking about with some weird noise, this is a good example. All the samples were just lined up on the keyboard, I never used an MPC. I saw an interview with Timbaland recently [and] I was pleased to see he did it the same way, with all the samples laid out on a keyboard, so each key is a different sample. Those times I would usually start writing with the drums first, and then build around it.
Round We Go
It’s a story song. I grew up in such a promiscuous little culture. Even though I was still quite young then, all my peers, everyone around me, it just seemed to be about how many girls you could fuck. [That sing-song nursery rhyme vibe], I think it was Chubby Dread’s beat that made me do that. Chubby Dread made “Oi” for More Fire Crew, and I was tight with them, and I wanted to do something with them.
Jus a Rascal feat. Taz
That’s that dude Taz. But the dude who made the beat was this Norwegian [guy] Vanguard, he lived in the studio here. It’s not a sample. Vanguard played guitar, did everything on it. I can’t even remember his face, I just know he lived in his unit. I remember going in there, it was kind of funky smelling, he had a clothes line in there. He was a proper recluse. Taz showed me the song, and I didn’t like it. I thought it was corny, the singing, the opera thing. I just didn’t like songs with singing on it. But it’s actually a bit of an anthem.
Wot U On?
That was my favourite one, as far as the beat goes. Again, I didn’t know what the fuck I was making, I thought it was kind of drum n bass-y, to an extent. But it didn’t sound like anything, but it was the other track where I got to use that same kick as “I Luv U,” I loved that kick.
That was like the Eski sound. A lot of people don’t know that I used that before Wiley; I was doing that first. Their sound changed. They were making garage, like “Nicole’s Groove.” And then they started changing the way they made music, because of the way I put it together. Even the Roll Deep song “Terrible,” it’s a garage tune. A lot of people don’t know, that’s why some of these kids wind me up with all this “godfather of grime” stuff, when they keep on comparing us.
You know how to set the record straight? You have to keep making music. You can whinge about it all day long, and fight and argue. But people pick their heroes innit? So you could tell them the truth until you’re blue in the face, but they’ve got their truth now.
With “Wot U On,” I had this thing for putting girls on tracks, and making it sound rude girl-ish, but catchy. I should do that some more. I think that was because of Three Six Mafia, because I was really into them.
Same as how “I Luv U” was based on “What’s Your Fantasy?” I wrote this to Foxy Brown and Blackstreet “Get You Home” playing in the background. Sometimes that helps, because there’s some life on the tune, it’s not just an instrumental, you can get lost. For tracks like this I would write the lyrics first – back then I wrote them down on paper – and bring them to the studio and try and make a beat for it.
Seems 2 Be
I remember doing the beat, and it just being really raw. With tracks like this and “I Luv U” I played the drums for three minutes, or however long it is, I played it all the way through. Now you’d maybe loop 8 bars, and make little changes along the way. Some of the lyrics on it – Frank Fraser, dot lyrical tank – some of them were my old radio bars.
Some of them were radio bars, and the beat was just a mad one. It’s just fun, a lot of percussion. Definitely started on the drums with that one.
I started with the keys on that. They’re my Tupac moments. Tupac had some ignorant shit, but he had some thought-provoking shit too. This was me trying to do R&B, in a way. But I didn’t know R&B chords, and I couldn’t play. This is like my version of soul.
Vexed (U.S. version only)
We haven’t rehearsed [this one]. Maybe if I come back and do it in London, I’ll do it here. I saw the petition to get me to perform it in London. I didn’t realise it was that deep. I understand what it means now to this country. But it was never meant as a “fuck you” to the UK. But actually it would be cool to do it in London, I didn’t realize they wanted it that much here.
It’s all crazy to me, I’m trying to make a new album, and this is cropping up now. No one’s in a hurry for me to fling out an album out right now, and if this is what the wave is...grime’s really big right now. It’s like getting a second chance to come, put your foot down and say “this is how it started.”