In a fairly unsurprising turn
of events, Dizzee Rascal’s third album—and first to be released
without an accompanying flurry of grime hype—has received nowhere
near the amount of critical praise or media attention as his first two.
Hell, it hasn’t even gotten its own CD pressing yet.
So you can be forgiven for failing to notice that Maths + English is
the most accomplished album of his young career, and the first to establish
Dizzee Rascal as a career artist as opposed to a genre mascot.
The album arc is simple: First, Dizzee dabbles around in the past.
Then, he lingers for a second in the present before blasting off into
the future. The opening act of Maths + English pays tribute to
rap music circa 1988. You couldn’t pick two pieces of music
more diametrically opposed and equally emblematic of that year than
Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” and Public Enemy’s
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Dizzee tweaks the
former’s groundwork for the dazzling “Old Skool (Pussyhole),”
and follows it with a subtler homage to the latter with “Sirens.”
The album’s middle act takes a genre-baiting victory lap, with the
highlight “Suk My Dik,” which pretty much nails the subject right
there in its title. Then, things start to get crazy. “Da
Feelin’” sounds as if it could have been produced by Felix Da Housecat;
it’s an uncharacteristic, sunnier-than-Springsteen ode to girls in
their summer dresses. That track sets both the album’s high
mark for genre-expansion and the pace for the closing act. Amidst
the wacky singalong “Wanna Be” (Not a Spice Girls cover), the spacious
“Excuse Me Please,” and the familiarly titled “U Can’t Tell
Me Nuffin’”, he sneaks in what could be the most pragmatic industry
advice song ever. “Hard Back (Industry)” advises young MCs on minutiae
such as how to pick a good manager and why to buy your house before
your car. Most importantly, he warns, “Keep your shit original”—which
is twice as powerful because he’s just spent an entire album doing
just that. -Marty Brown, 2008