Springing out of the British garage scene (also known as 2-step, described by the Denver Post as a "percussive, invigorating hybrid of American R&B melody, groove-driven drum 'n' bass beats and a pinch of smooth reggae-style toasting"), East London rapper Dizzee Rascal eschewed a past filled with crime and danger to become an award-winning MC and, as the Financial Times called him, "one of British pop's fastest rising stars."
Born Dylan Mills in 1985, in Bow, East London, he was raised by his single mother following the death of his father. In an interview with the Guardian, Mills said, "I grew up and learnt to hold my own. My mum was doing two people's jobs. It makes you grow up early. There's less people to talk to, less close people, innit? You're going to end up being lonely because you think a bit more. I had to learn to be a man myself." On his way to being a man, though, Mills lived fast and hard, getting expelled four times from four different schools. Before rapping and producing noisy and mechanical beats, it seemed Rascal's first passion was troublemaking, and one can easily see how the artist earned his nickname. Mills said in his official website biography, "My teachers all called me rascal." According to All Music Guide, Mills was involved in fighting teachers, stealing cars and robbing pizza delivery men before he settled down, and channeled his aggression into making music. Mills told the Guardian, "In the end, music was the only option open to me. It was a blessing I pursued it. I put all my energies into it. I didn't care about no other subjects. I'd have just ended up carrying on a life of crime, I suppose. I would have done anything to get money. Where I'm from, there ain't a lot of other options, you know what I'm saying?"
Though he was an aspiring DJ, Mills began recording music on a school computer, and soon found himself dreaming about becoming an MC on a local pirate radio station. Mills was soon appearing on pirate radio, rapping over whatever beats were available at the studios. His delivery, however, was more erratic and unhinged than other MC's experimenting with the British garage and 2-step style that was becoming popular at the time. He told the Guardian, "I always ended up shouting and screaming." The Boston Herald described his style as sounding like, "Busta Rhymes after downing one thermos of coffee too many."
Mills explained the synthesis of his unique style and his schizophrenic beats to the Guardian, saying, "When you're on pirate radio, when the speakers are blaring and everything's loud and in your face, you have to shout. I just didn't sound good over garage. I had to produce my own beats, because I didn't really fit." The beats produced by Mills were influenced by British garage, but took that inspiration to a different level. The Boston Herald described it as, "skeletal computerized funk riffs abstract enough to pass as a PlayStation 2 soundtrack composed by Karlheinz Stockhausen. It's the sound of being trapped in a clattering, claustrophobic slum. Call it queasy listening music." Soon, Mills' beats were at the forefront of what the British press were refering to as "grime."
Mills first started gaining exposure as a member of the Roll Deep Crew, a multiple member grime outfit that has released singles like "Let it Out" and "Poltergeist." The crew featured MC's Wiley Kat, Breeze, Flow Dan, Jamakabi, Jet li, Bubbles, Scratchy, Pitbull, and Titchy Strider; DJ's Karnage, Danny Weed and Bionics; and vocalist Dom P. However, it wasn't until his label-less single "I Love U" started hitting the airwaves that Mills started to make a name for himself as Dizzee Rascal. Then in 2003, at the age of only 18, Mills signed with XL Recordings, who officially released the "I Luv U" 12" to the mainstream. However, in July of 2003, while Mills was getting ready to release his debut for XL, he was, according to the Phildelphia Enquirer, stabbed five times while vacationing in Cyprus. It was rumored that the stabbing was a result of a feud with U.K. garage unit the So Solid Crew.
Despite the stabbing, July 2003 would be a good month for Mills, as his debut, Boy in Da Corner was released in the United Kingdom. Eventually released in the United States via Matador Records in January of 2004, Interview magazine said, "On his debut, this U.K. garage-gangsta stutters over bass-heavy beats, tackling all the right subjects—urban plight, social protest, street violence—in his distinctive stop-and-go flow. While the record ventures into fresh territory, it's most accessible when it gets familiar: 'Fix Up, Look Sharp,' which samples the classic break from Billy Squier's 'Big Beat,' is a highlight." People magazine said, "You have to give Rascal props for what is surely one of the most original discs to hit this side of the pond in some time." Even All Music Guide heaped praise, saying, "Startling, tirelessly powerful, and full of unlimited dimensions, nothing could truly weigh down this debut."
Thanks to the strength of Boy in Da Corner, Mills (19 years old at the time) beat out British acts like Coldplay, the Thrills, Athlete, the Darkness and Radiohead to win the Mercury Prize in September of 2003. The prize is selected by an independent panel of judges, who select the "albums of the year," who then meet on the night of the Nationwide Mercury Prize Awards to choose the overall winner. Since 1997, the Mercury Music Prize has been the United Kingdom's number one arts prize in terms of media coverage, and its influence on sales is also considerable."
For the Record . . .
Born Dylan Mills c. 1985, in Bow, East London, England.
Began as an MC on British pirate radio; joined the Roll Deep Crew, early 2000s; signed with XL Recordings and released "I Luv U," 2003; won Mercury Prize, 2003; released Boy in Da Corner on XL, 2003; album was reissued in the United States on Matador, 2004; released Showtime, 2004.
Awards: Mercury Music Prize, 2003.
Addresses: Record companies—XL Recordings, One Codrington Mews, London W11 2EH, England, website: http://www.xlrecordings.com. Matador Records, 625 Broadway, 12th Fl., New York, NY 10012, phone: (212) 995-5882, fax: (212) 995-5883, website: http://www.matadorrecords.com. Website—Dizzee Rascal Official Website: http://www.dizzeerascal.co.uk/.
By the time Mills was set to release his second album as Dizzee Rascal, British garage and 2-step had registered on the mainstream musical map, with everybody from the more pop-friendly Craig David to Mike Skinner's the Streets gaining national attention with their respective releases. Mills released his sophomore effort Showtime in September of 2004, on XL/Matador, almost a year exactly after the initial release of Boy in Da Corner. Of the release, the BBC said, "Showtime proves Dizzee has a special talent, all at once sophisticated and primal, raw and eloquent. His powerful and instinctual use of percussion drives the album throughout. Proper real and as sweet as a nut."
Of his rap career, Mills has said, "To me, hip-hop should be big enough to include all kinds of different visions. Obviously, what I'm doing is different, innit? ... Sometimes people get to the point where they stop searching, stop trying to find new sounds. I'm not going to let that happen to me."
Boy in Da Corner, XL, 2003; reissued in U.S., Matador, 2004.
Showtime, XL/Matador, 2004.
Boston Herald, January 20, 2004.
Denver Post (Denver, CO), February 15, 2002.
Financial Times, November 11, 2004.
Guardian (London, England), September 12, 2003.
Interview, December 2003.
People, March 1, 2004.
Philadelphia Inquirer, January 28, 2004.
"Biography," DizzeeRascal.net, http://www.dizzeerascal.net/biography.shtml (March 16, 2005).
"Dizzee Rascal," All Music Guide, (March 16, 2005).
"Dizzee Rascal: Showtime," BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/urban/reviews/dizzee_showtime.shtml (March 16, 2005).
"Rapper Rascal wins Mercury Prize," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/3092520.stm (March 16, 2005).
Roll Deep Crew Official Website, http://www.rolldeep.co.uk/ (March 16, 2005).
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