On ‘E3 AF’, Dizzee Rascal is not on the outside looking in, but on the inside looking out. With a title that references his borough and his family’s heritage in Ghana and Nigeria, the record stands as a London-recorded trip around the genre he helped to establish.
While grime’s usual suspects feature heavily here, the production is malleable and encompasses stylistic flourishes from across Black British music. In classic Dizzee fashion, he doesn’t take any time to warm up. The dubstep beats on first track God Knows are characteristically brash and abrasive, as are the bars: “God knows I’m a pain in the neck / God knows I gotta watch my step.”
This energy and charm continues unabashed for the next few tracks, with the delicious grime of That’s Too Much matched by the exuberance of lead single L.L.L.L, which is blemished only by a largely nondescript Chip feature.
Elsewhere, the bouncy sample of Architechs’ garage classic Body Groove on Body Loose and the icy house of You Don’t Know land nicely. Energies + Powers, despite the name, is a nice change of pace, thanks to Steel Banglez’ smooth Afroswing production and a sung chorus from dancehall artist Alicai Harley.
This is quickly upended by Eastside, a testament to the indomitable old boys of grime. Kano’s feature on the track is without doubt the best on the album, with typically impassioned lyrics and an unorthodox flow: “So gwan act like you’re the coldest one / I got plaques older than your oldest son.”
t’s a case of out with old in with the new on drill cut Act Like You Know as Smoke Boys come firing out of the blocks with chirpy and referential bars. Don’t Be Dumb, though, is reminiscent of grime’s nascent pirate radio days, with Dizzee and Ocean Wisdom trading bars of unrelenting pace and gusto. Some lyrics are, to put it lightly, questionable, but it’s wildly impressive.
Despite ending on the bland and saccharine Be Incredible, ‘E3 AF’ leaves a mark. It’s more refined than earlier Dizzee records, striking a balance between accessibility and inventiveness, demonstrating that he is nowhere near past his best.