Although prefab teen pop is no longer a dominant force in the cultural zeitgeist, the idea of musical authenticity still overshadows the popular canon. Are shaggy hipster bands really starving Lower East Side garage rats, or does Daddy bankroll their bohemian, post-liberal arts lives? Do pretty girls still validate the whines of platinum emo punks by ditching them for the star football hunk? Is the blazing bling and swagger of hip-hop heroes artifice or an intrinsic lifestyle?
While such considerations rarely influence the quality of these artists' output, 19-year-old rapper Dizzee Rascal's debut, Boy in da Corner, thrives solely on the strength of its authenticity. The grimy, menacing atmosphere of his hardscrabble East London home base seeps into Corner's stealthily creeping two-step pizzicatos ("2 Far"), ominous, alarmed string samples ("Stop Dat," "I Luv U"), shadowy bass blurts ("Cut 'Em Off") and police siren and gunshot sound effects ("Sittin' Here"). England's musical diversity informs the album's stutters and flutters elsewhere, especially on "Seems 2 Be," a nimble cut-up of the syncopated insanity of early Basement Jaxx, and the brilliant cock-rock-braggadocio-meets-hip-hop-boast "Fix Up, Look Sharp," which samples Billy Squier's "The Big Beat."
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But what's truly genuine--and nearly inimitable--about Rascal is his gift for wordplay. His songs stand on their own as gritty streetwise poems, possessing an intuitive grasp of meter, rhythm and rhyme that's as worthy of study as any dead white male poet on the syllabus of English 101. Whether firing a cautionary tale involving teenage troublemaker "Jezebel" ("Missed mathematics she was doing acrobatics") or lamenting the hassles of his neighborhood on "Here" ("I'm vex at humanity, vex at the earth/I keep getting vex, till I think what's the worth?"), Rascal spews turns of phrase in a tongue-tripping, jittery brogue wired with rough grace--and even rawer visions of reality.