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The rapper changed the face of British music before he went pop. His influence is stamped on the charts, but he’s not impressed by the current crop of stars – or #grime4corbyn
On the roof of Google’s offices in Kings Cross, Dizzee Rascal is excitedly taking in the London panorama. “Look, there’s Stratford,” he says, picking out Anish Kapoor’s Orbit sculpture before spinning around with puppyish excitement. “Canary Wharf … Alexandra Palace … Wait, where’s Wembley at?”
Fifteen years ago, Dizzee only really knew a tiny part of this city – his hometown of Bow, the place where he, with a little help from a school computer and a handful of peers, helped sculpt the sound of grime and changed the face of British music for ever. He was just 18 when his debut, Boy in da Corner, was released, a record that for once justified a music journalism cliche: it sounded pretty much like nothing else that had gone before it, a spray of ricocheting beats and lo-fi computerised bleeps that underpinned his lyrical gift for sharing the thoughts of an edgy, paranoid, smart, frustrated, vulnerable kid from a council estate. It was the sound of the future, of critical acclaim and awards. And then Dizzee went pop. By 2008, he had hooked up with Calvin Harris and embraced EDM; his fourth album, Tongue N Cheek, scored a string of No 1 singles. The boy from Bow, born 32 years ago as Dylan Mills, had conquered the city, and then the world. But hadn’t done so without his share of criticism: those saying he had sold out, abandoned his roots and headed too far down the pop mainstream. His follow-up to Tongue N Cheek didn’t help matters: 2013’s The Fifth saw him teaming up with the likes of Jessie J and Robbie Williams. It felt like his first proper misstep.