With drill music from Brooklyn rappers and Chicago rappers sweeping through national and international charts, other “alt” hip hop genres have a chance to take center stage. This could be the moment for the U.K. grime-drill music culture to break into success on an international scale, and with the release of his E3 AF album on Friday, Dizzee Rascal proves that the U.K. can offer serious competition in this genre.
On the MC’s seventh studio album, Rascal stands his ground as a pioneer and leader of grime. The album seamlessly transitions between gritty, hardcore grime, drill, U.K. rap with some influences of house music. Rascal is probably one of few artists who can successfully combine all these different sounds of London so well and succinctly. He wraps 10 tracks into an album just around 30 minutes, meeting expectations of current fans and giving newcomers to grime the chance to break into the genre.
In an interview with Apple Music, Rascal explained that E3 AF highlights and uplifts everything about East London, his hometown. It’s only right, then, for Rascal to link up with other successful London MCs. On “L.L.L.L (Love Life Live Large),” two-time nominated BET Award grime MC Chip lends a verse to the straightforward and plain song. His flow is strong and amplifies the simple and plain chorus.
Some albums struggle to maintain a coherent theme across all tracks, but Chip helps keep E3 AF consistent. Rascal and Chip are on the same timing when championing themselves and unapologetically taking their own lanes. The fact that both MCs can maintain their confidence and not overshadow one another further indicates the album’s high quality production. Yes, “L.L.L.L.” is a cockney, or East Londoner, anthem, but the “Love Life Live Large” message is universally applicable.
On “Eastside,” Ghetts and Kano hop on for one of the most legendary grime collaborations of 2020. There is no chorus, but the instrumentals help to bring structure to the song. A dark and eerie organ keeps pace with light percussion to craft an authentic grime rhythm, and then sirens come in to introduce quick-paced piano and bass drums. The shift begs listeners to stay on their toes, catapulting them to the Eastside.
In early October, Rascal teased half of his album on an early released EP version. “Eastside” was not a part of that tester batch, which contributes to the appeal of the full album’s release, since Ghetts and Kano have maintained some relevance among an international audience. When Drake was accused of being a UK culture vulture, Ghetts was one of few artists to defend the rapper closely associated with Boy Better Know, a grime collective, and Kano co-starred in the Netflix revival of Top Boy series in 2019. “Eastside” is an important track to the overall album, especially as Rascal aims to re-command his space in the spotlight. Even if just the names of Ghetts and Kano reigned listeners into the full length album, the song does not disappoint.
In the United States, drill is becoming more mainstream with the help of Brooklyn and Chicago rappers, but some of their inspiration also comes from London drill. Rascal trades his grime flow for a drill one on “Act Like You Know,” featuring Smoke Boys. Still, the sound does not stray too far from the general scope of the album. Rascal even employs some irony and says that if you do not already know who he is, you “better move like dice and act like you roll.” In other words, get in line or get lost.
With “Energies + Powers,” Rascal inspires others through his vulnerability. Featuring Jamaican-born, London-living singer Alicai Harley, and hit-making producer Steel Banglez, Rascal experiments with his “defined” sound. Musically, the song feels light and airy, and it does not get boring. There are a few jumps in the MC’s flow throughout the song even though the beat remains relatively the same.
The most interesting experiment with flow of rap comes on “Don’t Be Dumb,” which features Ocean Wisdom, one of the fastest rappers in the world. Because Rascal feels like he is competing and struggling to keep up Ocean Wisdom’s wordy and speedy bars, it can be exhausting to listen to. The two rappers exchange bars for a hefty amount of time before the chorus returns with a slower beat, which does not feel like much of the intended break.
Yet, of all Rascal’s experiments and displays of variety, this song’s trial stands out. Like the rest of the album, the song still makes a statement about Rascal’s dexterity in music. Rascal has serious skill and successfully brings other talent to help broadcast the collective U.K.’s potential to the rest of the world.
Photo courtesy of Island Records