Dizzee Rascal's return to pure rap on 2017's 'Raskit' seemed to divide audiences. While his technical excellence was rightly praised, some viewed the endeavour cynically, with much of the criticism pointed towards the lack of features - this wasn't about the culture, the argument went, so much as the MC's branding. Since then, though, Dizzee has embarked on a string of collaborations, showing his dexterity through studio work with Skepta - on 2018's 'Don't Gas Me' EP - alongside drill risers, road rap heroes, and more.
Three years ago, Dizzee Rascal announced he was going back to his roots. While he'd been chasing pop hits in L.A. and Miami with will.i.am and Robbie Williams, the sound he'd birthed at the turn of the millennium had found a new elder statesman in Skepta, a crown prince in Stormzy, and a more lucrative benchmark for success. Grime was not only cool, it was charting.
Dizzee Rascal, one of grime's original stars, has in his music come to resemble Eminem in recent years: having indulged in some crossover hits and light-hearted silliness, he then realised he'd lost sight of his roots and is now trying very hard to recapture the old spark. This comparison might be a bit harsh on 2017's Raskit, which was perfectly listenable, but there was a laboured feeling to the performances, a desperation in the internal rhymes that cascaded endlessly on. E3 AF opens with one of its strongest tracks - God Knows, with its dubstep-style bass and fiery hook set against a chilling synth pad.
The warped holler of Armand Van Helden-produced hit 'Bonkers' was once pumped out everywhere, a blast of chart-scaling bombast that saw Dizzee Rascal at his most relaxed, six years after the raw Mercury Prize-winning 'Boy in da Corner'. Two albums since his late-noughties peak, number seven from the Bow-born artist shows no sign of skipping a beat, flicking between the sombre and partially pop-fused strain that cemented his rise. Harsh electronic backdrops find their place on 'E3 AF', as they did on 'Raskit', Dizzee's nimble verbal flow steering stark shifts in tone.