what we learned at dizzee rascal’s rbma boy in da corner performance
“It was unadulterated, 100% expression…” Williamsburg forced to fix up, look sharp as Bow’s finest performs seminal debut album in full for the first time….
1. Boy In Da Corner deserves all the awards, acclaim and accolades
On its release in 2003, Dizzee's debut was awarded the Mercury Prize and won widespread critical acclaim. Going on to sell over 300,000 copies - incredible when you think how bonkers Boy In Da Corner was/is - the record bought grime international attention and made a star of its then 18 year-old progenitor, who played shows in the US years before the Skepta, Simz and Stormzy invasion of late. Invited to perform the record in full for the very first time by Red Bull Music Academy in New York, it was always going to be interesting to see how well Boy In Da Corner stood up in 2016, particularly given grime's recent, and very enthusiast, return to its roots via the likes of JME, Novelist and Skeppy. From the contemplative opener Sittin' Here to the surreal Eastern instrumentation of closer Do It! the energy of both the album, and its maker, is palpably apparent - on record and onstage. Over the course of an hour and change, it became clear just how utterly brilliant and incredibly important this record was - is. It sounds perfectly of its time and also still so futuristic. It's an album that could be released in another 10 years and still feel ahead of itself, perfectly relevant, sonically far out front. There hasn't yet been a record that quite encapsulates the experience of young, black, working class Britain quite so provocatively, so imaginatively and in such a genuinely unique manner. Dizzee casts himself as a troubled, depressed, cocky, angry kid trapped in the shackles of the street, surrounded by a soundscape of ice-cold anger and despair. From the furious bark of Stop Dat to the orchestral choral stabs of Jus' A Rascal to the Wiley featuring 2 Far, it's the grime album every grime artist would kill to make today.
2. It may have been the first time Dizzee performed the entire album, but he was calm pre-show
If he were nervous about performing songs he had never done live before, Diz didn't show it. Speaking to i-D backstage minutes before the show started, he was incredibly relaxed. "I feel calm, innit, cos we've done a bunch of rehearsals. We done two at home and we done one today on the stage, so I'm just gonna have fun out there," he grinned. "[Boy In Da Corner] was unadulterated 100% expression. It was when I was at my most hungriest and without inhibitions because as you get older, the music business, you become aware of it, I was aware of that for a long time," he reflected. "That [album], it was just going all in and not really knowing where it could go cos there was nothing else like it."
3. London was most definitely in the house
As well as Beats 1's Julie Adenuga, other Brits abroad included Riz Ahmed, Butterz' Elijah & Skilliam (who came out of radio retirement to host a show with Diz on RBMA radio), SBTV's Jamal Edwards, and Big Mike aka Stormzy who chilled backstage with Raskit before the show.
4. The set was simple but incredibly effective
Yellow lighting, wooden frame to depict the 'corner', Dizzee began the show sat on the floor, hunched over, fingers styled as horns in true homage to the cover. His command of the stage was instant. 'Live-O,' he grinned. 'I'm just sitting here, I ain't saying much I just think/ My eyes don't move right or left they just blink'. For a 17 year-old to have that level of introspection and to be able to convey is so succinctly is still pretty astonishing, even echoing from the mouth of a man now 31 years-old.
5. Stop Dat was everything
'Stop dat, start dat, get dat, what?/ Been dere, done dat, had that, what?/ He's got a Nokia, take that, what?/ Rude mouth, loud mouth, what?/ Pretty girl, buff girl, doggy that, what?' Tbh, DJ MK could have pulled this one up at least another 15 times.
6. Jus A Rascal also sounded incredible
Every record sounded amazing, really, but there was something about seeing Raskit performing Rascal - a song he never particularly liked and rarely played live - that felt just really great. It has such a joyous chorus - at total odds with it's rebellious rhymes - that it's an instant crowd-pleaser. Other high points included Jezebel and Fix Up, a rendering of which contained such frenetic energy that Williamsburg Music Hall was in danger of imploding on itself.
7. Years of festival performances have put him in good stead
Mills is a practiced performer, without being overly polished. Having supported everyone from the Chili Peppers to Timberlake, played second headline slot at Glastonbury and performed the world over, Diz knows what he's doing onstage. It's tight but also fluid; there's an air of spontaneity as Rascal performs, that manages to give the impression that anything can - and might - happen but either way, Diz has got it covered, worry not.
8. Williamsburg might have out-hipstered itself
While waiting to see Dizzee perform, we had a drink at a bar next door. There was a skateboard ramp. In the bar. With people skateboarding. Long live Brooklyn, Brooklyn is officially dead.
9. We do wish this had happened in London
As powerfully dynamic as the show was, we can only wish we got to see BITC played at the Troxy, or a similar east London venue (reckon we could get Oceans or Palace Pavillion to re-open for a night?). Boy In Da Corner is such a brilliantly British album, and so particularly London - east London at that - that it cried to be heard amongst its own people. This isn't' to say the US crowd wasn't enthusiastic, but it missed that Londoness of a homegrown crowd. Help is on the way though, with vague plans to bring the show here. Ther'es also been a petition, started by Laura 'Hyperfrank' Brosnon, which has clocked up a few thousand signatures on Change.com. Following Friday's show, we're sure a few thousand more might want to add their voices to the cause.
10. We're really, really like Dizzee to drop another grime album. But it doesn't seem likely.
"I'm Dizzee fucking Rascal" he barked at the show's beginning. Yes, Dizzee, you are. And we're fully ready for the return of Captain Roscoe.
Text Hattie Collins