On Grime

We look beyond the buzz to get to the bottom of British MC Dizzee Rascal's phenomenal rise to fame

But Dizzee's thrills are, first and foremost, sonic, from the chorused yelps to the pizzicato string samples that zip through his tracks. Three and a half minutes into "Fix Up, Look Sharp," Dizzee warns, "This could get hectic," and the beat drops out midword, leaving a gaping silence against which the final click of the "c" sounds out like a trigger, or a diamond tapping glass. Unintentional? Maybe. It hardly matters; the moment is so fraught with pure aural pleasure that it rivals both the most detail-attentive productions of "experimental" dance music and the most exquisite serendipitous moments in pure pop.

Even as a storyteller, Dizzee spits in a tone of voice that often trumps the tales themselves. Rappers are generally judged by their "flow," but Dizzee doesn't so much flow as bubble, pouring forth blobs of throaty magma. His interjections, bursts of London slang like "Get me?," aren't filler, they're punctuation marks, animal cries, gasps of uncontainable emotion. He barks, hawks phlegm, carves his syllables as though he were chomping on apples. His voice cracks, quavers, wobbles between registers with a pubescent agony that no Autotuner could ever fix. And why should it? His tone offers heroism embodied in sound – tragic, wise, hamstrung, and determined.

Given all these angles, it's perhaps inevitable that Dizzee would receive the hype he has. He certainly deserves the attention. There are damned few artists out there with such personality, talent, and an almost mythic credibility, and whose bootstrapping rise from obscurity to fame has happened so quickly and across so many cultural divides. The mistake, like that made by a recent Rolling Stone profile, is to be trapped by his back story – the stabbing, the kindly music teacher who took Dizzee under his wing -- and to worry too much about where to file him.

"I ain't garage so get used to it," he scolds on "Vexed," the B-side to "I Luv U," and it's sound advice. Forget what you know: Understanding Dizzee requires new descriptors and new categories. It's not his past that's important, you realize when you see him onstage, his small, wiry frame shrouded in ridiculously baggy jeans, his mouth contorting in impossible ways. It's his presence, a presence channeled in rapid-fire rhymes and swollen syllables that sound like the cadences of an undiscovered tongue. Dizzee's music chronicles a face-off between content and form in which neither contender is left standing; only Dizzee remains at the end, surveying the battlefield and raising his flag over uncertain turf, and it's here that even the buzz of the critics dies away.

"Being a celebrity don't mean shit to me," swears Dizzee on "Fix Up, Look Sharp." But he wrote that lyric over a year ago. Now he has little choice in the matter. (He may rap, "Fuck the glitz and glamour," but two weeks ago he was being chauffeured to Miami strip clubs in a Humvee.) How will the cryptic realist handle his fame? In the chronicles of this unlikely epic hero, that's the next test.

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