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Dizzee Rascal - Don’t Take It Personal album review: the grime pioneer has lost all sense of innovation

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

Just over 20 years ago, Dylan Mills was the Boy in da Corner, a troubled teenage MC whose awkward, aggressive music and frenzied lyrical flow set him apart from everyone else in the room. Gaining attention well before homegrown rappers had become a fixture in the top 40, his arrival was an all-too-rare instance of never having heard anything quite like this before.

Being ahead of your time has its disadvantages though. Unlike younger men such as Dave or Central Cee, who have been able to reach number one without diluting their style now that everyone more or less speaks their language, Mills’s biggest hits as Dizzee Rascal came when he joined the pop world and shook his stuff for the dancefloor. “You’ll never see me on Strictly,” he says here. “I do what I want, why compromise?” he raps on Sugar and Spice. On the other hand, it’s a bit late to be bragging about your integrity when you’ve already done duets with Robbie Williams and Jessie J.

His ups and downs lately have been away from music: awarded an MBE in 2020, then given a community order and a restraining order for assaulting his ex-fiancee two years later. The grimmest listen here is You Can Have Dat, which finds him bitterly demanding: “Just bring my kids back” like a Fathers4Justice campaigner on a roof in a Spider Man suit. “I can't see my kids but you still want my dough though.”

Elsewhere, his eighth album is all over the place. On the previous release, named E3 AF in a nostalgic nod to his old postcode, he returned to his grime roots. Here he has it every which way, going for saccharine garage pop on the lightweight Sugar and Spice, thunderous house aggression on Switch and Explode, and hazy Afrobeats on Roll Wit Me.

His in-your-face delivery still makes him sound confident. He savages the haters on the brutal Keep That Same Energy, and dismisses anyone who hasn’t been on the grime scene since day one on the relentless clatter of What You Know About Dat. He also rediscovers his sense of humour on Jerk and Jollof, laying into anyone stupid enough to wear Adidas and Nike simultaneously (“Jesus wept! Jeepers creepers!”). But there’s also a feeling that he knows being an originator is less impressive when the real successes are elsewhere. These days, maybe one of UK rap’s iconic voices is all mouth.

Big Dirte3