Dizzee Rascal is in uncharted territory. Little has been written about the short careers of British rappers, at least ones that crack the charts and become household names. In the UK, you’ll often see the likes of Professor Green, Big Narstie or Tinchy Stryder on panel shows. Dizzee is arguably the most familiar rapper to a British audience outside of Stormzy, but “E3 AF” peaked at #13 on the UK album charts (his lowest charting album yet) which suggests that maybe fans are tiring of his warm personality and tendency to apply one of rap’s most unique voices to glorified party records.
Kind of. As much as I personally want a dark Grime record from Dizzee, it doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon. BUT, the London emcee flirts with that style a couple of times on “E3 AF” and they are the record’s highlights. The artwork signifies a willingness to return to his roots, the title “E3 AF” referring to the E3 postal region of London (East) and the yellow square looking like a moped’s numberplate. It’s as if no matter where his music takes him, Dizzee is always that East End boy at heart, and you’re reminded of it as soon as he starts spitting on “God Knows” with P Money.
There are a lot of collaborations on “E3 AF” and some nice fan-service thrown in too. The single “Body Loose” samples the classic garage track “Body Movin'” by The Architechs acknowledging just how far Dizzee’s career reaches (back to 2000 when the original released). “You Don’t Know” also flirts with Two-Step.
The best tracks are when the heavyweight bar-spitters pop by. “That’s Too Much” with D Double E and Frisco is grime royalty, reminding us that, much like Method Man, Dizzee can murder any beat but when he has company he definitely steps it up. A full album of this would have any fan of rap salivating, but the rest of the record doesn’t really reach these heights. Except for one song.
Kano might well have the perfect career in UK Rap, given his most recent albums have been exceptional (“Made in the Manor“, “Hoodies All Summer“) and he is now famous for his role in Netflix drama Top Boy. He comes through on “Eastside” for what is one of the best performances in recent memory:
“You couldn’t live in the area with these fellas
This is Hagler and Hearns and Leonard
This is Wrighty, Merson and Dennis
This is Bad Boys, New Jack and Menace
So gwan act like you’re the coldest one
I got plaques older than your oldest son
I got the Bond suit and I got the Golden Gun“
Ghetts similarly, tears it down with a ridiculous verse and it’s great to hear Dizzee go toe-to-toe with two of Britain’s best. There’s also Chip on “Love Life Live Large”, who was feuding with Stormzy when this album dropped in October but this is a snappy collaboration that is feel-good and celebratory whilst also possessing some bass that will test the best sound systems.
Unfortunately, the likes of “Don’t Be Dumb” veer too far into try-hard territory, seeing Dizzee trying to rap as fast as possible alongside Ocean Wisdom on a horrible beat. At ten tracks, “E3 AF” certainly has its moments but it’s not quite the return to the throne it could have been. There’s a bit of everything, ranging from lighter dance tracks like “Body Loose” to heavy slugfests like “Eastside”, but for any discerning fan of rap (or grime in particular), it strives to cater to too many different styles.
Hardcore fans will be glad there are no unadulterated grasps for chart success like “Bonkers” or “Holiday”, but then that’s probably why this isn’t charting like Dizzee’s earlier work. You can’t have it both ways it seems, but “E3 AF” certainly has its moments. The filthy Grime collaborations are brilliant and overshadow everything else, for better and worse.