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What do you get when you take the greatest living rapper and the greatest hip hip producer. You get one hot album. Sign the petition and lets make it happen.

by kenn on 4/02/2004 12:02:00 PM

British Rapper?

Dizzee Rascal got more press around the holidays than Santa.

The British rapper's brooding, semi-autobiographical album, "Boy in da Corner" started with the techno/ragga/hip-hop gumbo known as "garage." Dizzee fused that style with chaotic, cerebral lyrics, offbeat samples and an urgent delivery. Then, just before its summer 2003 release in England, his story took a very 50 Cent turn.

Dizzee Rascal was stabbed. But all press is good press, and Dizzee's background as a troubled kid raised in a poor, drug-infested, East London council estate suited his musical persona.

Next came instant fame.

The album garnered the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Prize. International attention and praise followed, much more than previous British hip-hop acts such as Ms. Dynamite or The Streets generated. Dizzee toured with Justin Timberlake. He appeared on last year's acclaimed Basement Jaxx album "Kish Kash." "Boy in da Corner" hit the States in January.

All of this exposure begs the question: Is it time for the hip-hop equivalent of Beatlemania, a new British Invasion?

The last decade has seen the purveyors of American hip-hop culture become media moguls. Even though hip-hop, like jazz, is quintessentially American, there have long been an abundance of rappers from abroad. Perhaps Dizzee Rascal's success will open a door for other international hip-hoppers.

Or not.

"I think it's a hard sell," said Rashaun Hall, R&B editor for the radio industry trade publication Airplay Monitor and the rap columnist for Billboard magazine. "Hip-hop is such an elitist music. There's regions of the United States that still aren't producing mainstream (acts)."

Like Colorado, for instance.

Despite the critical success of "Boy in da Corner," Hall said the album hasn't done well with radio, the key to accessing the wallets of American music fans.

"For Dizzee, radio doesn't know where to place him," Hall said. "He's too strange for R&B radio, he's not pop and he's not rock."

Dizzee Rascal and other British rappers face an obvious cultural barrier. Not only is their music more experimental than the hottest hits by the likes of The Neptunes, Jay-Z, P. Diddy or Missy Elliott, rappers from abroad also have those funny accents.

"There are artists who've had nominal success here, like The Streets," Hall said of the British garage producer and rapper born Mike Skinner. "But it's among very high-minded college kids with a taste for experimental music."

For his part, Dizzee Rascal welcomes the American exposure, even though he wrote "Boy in da Corner" for kids who can relate to his "immediate surroundings."

"The way (American hip-hop) came around, a lot of people can relate to it," Dizzee said recently from New York City after appearing on Last Call With Carson Daly. "There's a lot of suppression. People can feel that all over."

Dizzee Rascal grew up listening to American hip-hip. He said Jay-Z is his favorite rapper. A high school music production class rescued the once struggling student from street life, just as hip-hop does for disengaged teenagers in the States.

At the same time Dizzee learned to "make beats," he was rapping on pirate radio in London and DJing in the rave scene. He and his crew caught live hip-hop shows by "busting through the back door at London Arena," he said.

"I saw Eminem. He smacked it. I've seen Jay-Z. R. Kelly was the best live performer I've seen."

Dizzee knows some American hip-hoppers don't know what to make of his music. That explains his mixed experience taping the show with Carson Daly.

"It was weird because after we did the sound check (everyone in the) ... the studio ... was just standing there, staring," he said, noting that the audience was filled with teen-pop types. "When it came to the show, it went really well. They applauded. I was surprised."

Dizzee suspects that fans of the Dirty South sound will warm to "Boy in da Corner." "They're kind of the most progressive," he said.

British singer/rapper Jack Allsopp, 24, performs under the moniker Just Jack. His 2003 British debut, "The Outer Marker," blended hip-hop, pop and soul, resulting in an easily digestible sound.

The Camden-born entertainer and DJ has been a fan of black music since he was a kid.

"'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' is definitely in my top three favorite albums," he said recently.

Allsopp acknowledged that British hip-hop and its spinoffs are a hard sell to the American mainstream. Hip-hop in general is a hard sell in the cotton-candy-pop adoring U.K., Allsopp said.

"In Britain, you would not get a straight-up hip-hop track on the charts," he said. "People like The Streets and Dizzee did so well because it was quite fresh."

Allsopp said his album received lukewarm radio response.

"It's quite hard to pigeonhole it or put it into a genre," he said. "That makes it hard to market."

The entertainer praised the U.S. as hip-hop's breeding ground. He said rappers from other countries generally haven't been able to reproduce the energy and innovation found in American hip-hop. "(American hip-hop) has far more depth in terms of the amount of artists that have come through," he said.

But at least one English music executive is more optimistic about the marketability of Brit-hop.

James Ginzburg is the director of Multiverse Ltd., a music company based in Bristol that focuses on dance and hip-hop. He argued that, like American rap, Brit-hop's appeal is in its distinct flavor.

"Things in the U.K. hip-hop culture are very reminiscent of what American hip-hop culture was like in the beginning," he said. "It was a very grassroots scene - a communication of an urban culture that wasn't being represented. "

Ginzburg recently returned to England after living in the U.S. for several years. He said because England is smaller, the independent music scene is stronger, so more and more Brit-hoppers are going to bust out. Those who team up with American producers have an even better shot.

"The best example of U.K. hip-hop would be Roots Manuva," Ginzburg said of British rapper Rodney Smith.

"A lot of U.K. artists think they have to imitate an American style," Ginzburg said. "Until (Smith) let go of pretending to be American, he really didn't come into his own."


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