"A Grand Don't Come for Free"
"Boy in Da Corner"
With the bulk of rap records being sold to white suburban teenagers hoping to sound "hard" while driving Mom's SUV to the mall with the windows down, the chances of a couple of British rappers making a big impact on the American scene seem slim. The Streets and Dizzee Rascal are giving it a shot though, as they tour stateside behind their latest releases.
The Streets' "A Grand Don't Come for Free" comes across as a slacker rap opera. It's entertaining and has a refreshing, sort of shambling sound, with lyrics focused on the mundane aspects of everyday life. The story line that snakes throughout the CD boils down to boy loses a lot of money, develops a relationship, sleeps with another woman, the relationship heads south. Recurring characters include his broken TV set, which appears in at least three songs.
It's an ambitious project, and he pulls it off with charm and catchy hooks, particularly on such tracks as "Fit but You Know It" and "Could Well Be In." With its unique perspective and crafted but casual feel, the CD is a fun rap ride that made a big splash in Britain as a follow-up to his much-praised debut, "Original Pirate Material." It deserves a better fate on this side of the ocean but seems destined for college radio and "critically acclaimed" cult status instead of crossing over to the mainstream.
If a British rapper does have a shot at U.S. success, it's Dizzee Rascal. That's because he has beats that are big, bumping and fresh in any country. He faces some of the same lyrical translation obstacles as the Streets with lines like "Flushing MCs down the loo" but his production work creates a sound that wouldn't be out of place pouring from an Escalade.
He's won Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize, beating out such contenders as Coldplay and Radiohead with his grimy sound and rapid-fire vocals. "Sittin' Here" makes staring at the wall sound like a frenetic activity thanks to the insistent beats. The British club hit "I Luv U" uses a heavily synthetic palette to propel its "he said, she said" teenage relationship story. "Fix Up, Look Sharp" booms along over a sample of Billy Squier's "Big Beat."
Add in the back story of having been stabbed multiple times, allegedly as the result of a beef with another music crew, and Dizzee gets bonus points because, as 50 Cent can attest, a few flesh wounds can do wonders beyond the average marketing campaign. The Britishisms may hold him back a bit, but -- if people give him a listen -- he has a justifiable chance at breaking through in America.
-- Curt Fields
Both appearing Thursday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Streets, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8111; to hear Dizzee Rascal, press 8112. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)