Dizzee Rascal’s debut Boy In da Corner came out in 2003. In the 15 years since, the grime/two-step/garage revolution of the early aughts has come and gone, the genres they describe have become far more well-defined, and Dizzee, well, he’s been around the whole time, even if there was a period there — around the time from Tongue ‘n Cheek to The Fifth — where it sounded like he might be making the transition from trailblazer to semi-complacent elder statesman. He found his hunger again on last year’s brutal and dark Raskit, though, and now he’s back again with five more tracks that might even outdo that album in terms of pure skill and invention.
The EP is called Don’t Gas Me, and it feels like the best kind of victory lap, one where the artist is freed to experiment, to take an anything-goes approach that could result anywhere from transcendence to disaster. The EP format allows for this, removing the pressure of grand statements and allowing for a collection of songs that can exist as tiny worlds unto themselves.
To be sure: every single one of these five tracks is a hit.
The opener and title track may be the biggest hit of them all, a breakneck bassline banger that seizes substantial forward momentum from the outset and quickly becomes a boulder rolling downhill. The four-on-the-floor beat, the sirens, and perhaps most importantly, a bendy, constantly descending bassline combine to create a high-BPM backdrop to Dizzee’s high-speed rap. Dizzee doesn’t say much — it’s an ode / kiss-off to fame, more or less, but really, it’s a bunch of bars tacked together for the sake of having bars. This is fine, of course, because a track like this isn’t for hearing in headphones, it’s for the club, it’s for the dance floor. Dizzee never falters, that beat never slows, and the whole thing is a taut three minutes of bliss.
The other highlight is also one of the primary draws of the EP: Dizzee’s collaboration with Skepta, one of the only grime artists out there with cachet and ability on the level of Dizzee himself. The track is called “Money Right”, and it’s about making money, and that’s fine, but what it’s really about is watching two artists at the top of their game trading verses over an absolutely devastating beat. It’s relatively simply constructed, consisting of the keyboards from Ray Keith Renegade’s drum ‘n’ bass classic “Terrorist” laid over a thick, mid-tempo backbeat, but expert deployment and withdrawal of that beat keeps things interesting while Skepta and Dizzee put on a rhythmic vocal clinic.
The other three tracks on Don’t Gas Me are a step down, if barely. “Quality” retains Dizzee’s high-speed vocals and elastic cadence, but the beat is a little bit more traditional hip-hop than Dizzee typically employs. “Spin Ya” is pure speed, a show of virtuosity with verses from P. Money and C. Cane, the latter of whom steals the show with a tongue-twisting series of lines that take multiple listens to fully absorb. Finally, “Patterning Vibes” is a little bit like the title track in its four-on-the-floor approach, but it’s almost sunny in its disposition. The vocals feel a bit like autopilot, but the upbeat feel of the track doesn’t take long to get under your skin and stay there. It’s enough to make you want to hit “play” again.
All of it adds up to not much of anything, but that’s okay because every minute of it is a new thrill, exciting and unpredictable. Don’t Gas Me is a palate cleanser, something that removes any of the expectations that Raskit might have inspired for Dizzee Rascal’s next album. Not only is it five brilliant tracks, but its very release is a shrewd move, the type of sound business decision that a veteran can make without it sounding like he’s losing his hunger.
This is important, because the strongest trait throughout Don’t Gas Me is that very hunger. Fifteen years after he exploded onto the UK scene, it is crystal clear that Dizzee Rascal isn’t going away any time soon.