Dizzee Rascal meant a lot to me growing up. At the time of the release of the seminal Boy In Da Corner I was 11 years old, having grown up predominantly on hip-hop from the US. But one night, skimming through the TV I came across the Mercury Awards of 2003 and witnessed a teenager claim the top prize of Album of the Year, and that was the start of the intrigue.
Being so young, I didn’t have a clue of the significance of the moment but later down the line, Dizzee’s visuals for ‘I Luv U’ and ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ had me hooked. Here was a guy who walked and talked like me, and was at the top of the world in this thing called grime. Even listening to the album as I got older, it began to click more and more that it was an anthem symbolising the rage and anger, but also the flair and style of black youth in the UK. The ice-cold synths and murky production stayed with me and sounds just as fresh now as it was back then.
The grime genre was at its genesis in 2003, and BIDC provided the mainstream credibility the scene got to have heads turn towards the tower blocks of East London where the music was festering. Suddenly, a whole movement that was getting louder and louder by the day was gaining attention, and it was all through Dizzee’s debut. I tend to call the album the Illmatic of grime, because it really felt like it made the same impact as Nas’ legendary debut.
Now, what Dizzee chose to do after BIDC has been heavily critiqued, perhaps unfairly, and tracks like ‘Bonkers’ and ‘Dance With Me’ couldn’t be any further from BIDC if they tried, but there was always an inkling from fans that he would return to his roots. So, when he announced his Red Bull Music Academy show, performing BIDC in full in his hometown of London, dreams became reality. Finally, the emcee born and bred in Bow would make a triumphant comeback and tear Stratford’s Copper Box Arena down, grime style.
Arriving at the gigantic venue, excitement levels were manic, as younger and older faces colluded for what would be a special night. Suddenly, the voices of people expressing their first impressions of the album descended as the lights cut out, before the legendary opening of ‘Sittin Here’ played, with the album’s iconic colours behind Dizzee as he literally sat there and rapped away.
Moving onto ‘Stop Dat’ and ‘I Luv U’, the madness truly ensued. Probably the highlight of the night, the energy of the crowd was almost volatile as Dizzee spat his iconic bars. Then came a hypeman, who would stay on stage for the remainder of the performance. It felt right at the time, though. Sure enough, the show was incredible at these moments, but it was after ‘Jus A Rascal’ that I began to see things more clearly.
Once he was over the more popular tracks and transitioned to cuts like ‘Round We Go’ and ‘Live-O’, I got the intense feeling that Dizzee was a passenger at his own show. He did very little to carry the crowd by way of reciprocating their energy, leading to a serious lull once he got through the bangers. A great performance is going to have those moments, and it’s up to the performer to keep everyone hyped, a duty he left to his hypeman. His presence became more of a burden, because he was merely disguising the fact that Dizzee wasn’t doing much.
It reached confusion point when, in the middle of ‘Jezebel’ a song that had re-up’d the crowd’s gassed levels, only for Dizzee to stop the song halfway through, seemingly forgetting the words. The performance didn’t recover after that and ended somewhat anticlimactically. Leaving the stage Dizzee would give thanks to everyone who came out, proclaiming: “I know this means a lot to you.” That struck me, confirming in my mind that it wasn’t important to him to perform the album that put him on the map, just around the corner from where he grew up.
So here I am, ultimately disappointed with a show that promised so much. But I wasn’t the only one, and the sentiment was shared with many. Though the best bits were truly sick, they had nothing to do with what Dizzee was bringing to the table. The audience made the performance what it was and, once you got over the importance and excitement of the occasion, it left so much to be desired. Saturday even presented a wonderful opportunity for Dizzee to make a real statement and bring out his former bredrin, Wiley, for ‘2 Far’, something fans were clamouring for, but it never came to pass. Not even God’s Gift for ‘Hold Ya Mouf’ either.
And, I’m not going to outright state that he performed BIDC in London just for the paycheck, but think of it this way: Why would he perform it in full in New York before London? Would Jay-Z perform Reasonable Doubt in its entirety in London before hitting New York? Unlikely. Dizzee gave an exclusive performance of his greatest work to an audience that would not have understood its gravity. If that isn’t a slap in the face of UK grime fans, who have followed Dizz from day one, I don’t know what is and, at this point, his regard for grime must be so low that he wouldn’t think to give London the show first, or even put on a great show.
He’s probably going to earn of hundreds of thousands and that’s wondeful for him, but at a time when grime is gaining more attention than ever, Saturday night could have been legendary but in the end, it fell flat. Dizzee will always be a legend but if that was his last meaningful contribution to grime, it would be a great shame.