Dizzee Rascal and El P at the Middle East Downstairs, May 11, 2008
El-P and Dizzee Rascal
About five years ago, when grime came crashing through the gates, many thought that England had finally found a homegrown answer to American hip-hop. Dizzee Rascal thinks otherwise. Bouncing all over the stage a week ago Sunday night, the London MC did everything he could to make grime and hip-hop talk to each other, from sporting a glittery Trill T-shirt to dedicating a song to former UGK member Pimp C.
Over the course of his hour-long set, Dizzee leapt nimbly from the clattering speed-garage rhythms of his earliest grime work to the more straightforward hip-hop attack of his latest LP, Maths + English, and back again. The beats to “I Luv U” and “Jus’ a Rascal” jittered like magically reanimated skeletons, and they threw off interesting sparks when set against a hammering rock pastiche like “Sirens.” The latter elicited thunderous cheers from a crowd who returned Dizzee’s crackling energy at every opportunity. His one misstep was “Oldskool,” where he called for a breakdance circle that never got off the ground.
It would have been a hard act for Def Jux CEO and indie-rap king El-P to follow even without El-P’s sore throat, and then the Middle East’s chronically inadequate sound system reared its ugly head once more. Dizzee’s sonically uncomplicated tracks had sounded fine, but El-P’s beats, adhering to the principle of “never a nuance too many,” couldn’t quite squeeze their big, lumpy selves through. He didn’t shine till the beats disappeared completely for the last verse of “EMG.” For once, his cascading, cynical, free-associative indictments of capitalist complacency struck with full force. There was also a nice moment between songs where he took a little presidential poll. (I’ll bet you can guess who the college crowd went for.) “Very predictable,” he said. And then, to wild cheers: “And how many of you think they’re all part of the same computer-generated hologram?”
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