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Speaking Volumes: Dizzee Rascal Live

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Michael Crumsho takes in the sights and sounds of Dizzee Rascal's first trip to these United States at Volume in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Speaking Volumes: Dizzee Rascal Live

For all intents and purposes, 2003 was Dizzee Rascal's year in his homeland of England. There, he snatched the spotlight from all other heirs to the throne in London's rough and tumble garage/grime scene with the release of his debut long-player Boy in da Corner. Having topped numerous critics' year-end polls, moved copious units, and received national recognition as the winner of the country's Mercury Prize, a U.S. domestic release at the beginning of this calendar year thus set the stage for the phenomenally talented 19-year-old (!) to scale equal heights in this country. Given the relative monotony of American commercial hip hop radio, one would have to wonder if a kid from the streets of London with a rubbery British accent would have even half a chance of competing against the likes of the Family Roc or Lil Jon's ever expanding clique. However, based upon his debut American performance at a new club called Volume in the hipster enclave of Williamsburg, one would be inclined to think that the spins are his for the taking.

Nestled near the East River amongst several other industrial-type warehouses, Volume, with its vaulted ceilings and bleached white walls, gave off trappings of the sterile environments of clubs gone by in recent years. With no stages in either of the spaces' two rooms, performers in the smaller of the two are left to traipse about the floor while the larger’s spotlight falls on the back of a flat bed truck. Meanwhile, the lobby joining the two was given over to projections of varying interest and quality, most enjoyably in the guise of a hi-jacked version of the old Wolfenstein 3-D video games, with this version featuring George Bush instead of Adolf Hitler.

While various DJs spun through familiar American thug and Jamaican roots/dancehall anthems, Lex's Tes warmed up the crowd in the smaller space. Stalking around a small semi-circle he had carved out in the front of the crowd, he tore nicely through a set of songs from his somewhat overlooked X2 record from last year, with accompaniment from DJ Raedawn. It wasn't long before he had a mass of heads nodding in agreement to the beats and his capable rhymes, thus setting the stage for what would follow as the evening progressed.

After catching Tes' spirited set, the Campanelli brothers (respect to John and Jeff) and I set about the task of positioning ourselves directly next to the flatbed in the main space in anticipation of Dizzee's inaugural stateside set. The Federation Soundsystem took care of the music while a noticeable feeling of anticipation built throughout the crowd that was steadily gathering on the floor. After numerous shout-outs to "Jamaican Music" (as well as a brief appearance by Baby Sham) and a spirited beat-jacking of "Hey Ya" (renamed "Ganja", thus allowing the "shake it like a Polaroid picture" part of Andre 3000's original to be used in reference to the proper remedy for a loosely rolled joint), the crowd erupted at the sight of Dizzee Rascal climbing onto the truck. He looked a bit nervous at first, possibly taken aback at the roomful of Americans preparing to wyle out to his beats and rhymes. Butterflies, however, were no match as he tore into "I Luv U,” amping the crowd and stalking about the stage as revelers' hands remained in the air. He stuck mostly with material from the full-length, breathing new stage life into tracks such as "Stop Dat" and the infectious "Fix Up, Look Sharp" to a more than receptive crowd. Even more impressive than these songs were the few freestyle acapellas he sprinkled throughout his set, rebuffing any that dared doubt his flow or ample skills as an MC. This trend culminated amazingly at the end of his unfortunately brief set, when during a version of "Brand New Day" the record began skipping. Unfazed and with a smile on his face, Rascal instructed the DJ to cut the music and then proceeded to finish the song sans instrumental, almost reminiscent (and I know this borders on blasphemy) of a move KRS-One himself has pulled a couple of times. Aside from mic skills, Dizzy also brought a refreshingly subdued confidence with him on stage, saving all masturbatory boasts and self-references for another time, choosing instead to slap hands with the crowd while he ambled back in forth in front of a throng that was clearly happy they had braved the frigid night. In this era of shiny MCs and constant rhymes about jewelry and clothes, such an introspective voice proved increasingly welcome throughout the course of the evening.

With the crowd still trying to catch their collective breath and freshen up their drinks, Matthew Dear hit the decks next to continue the party. And while I personally enjoy much of the material that made up the bulk of his set (mostly stuff from his full-length Leave Luck to Heaven) it was too much of a mood change for me to consider sliding across the beer soaked floor like some of the other dancers in attendance. Whereas Dizzy Rascal had fueled the crowd's energy with his grimy soundscapes, Dear's set relied heavily on the sexy sheen of his own clicks and pops. Nice music, to be sure, but on that given night it seemed a bit out of place.

It remains to be seen whether Dizzy Rascal will scale the heights of fame in this country that he's already navigated in his own, but with a tour in the works for this summer, people should have ample opportunity to evaluate the hype themselves.

By Michael Crumsho

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