El-P, Dizzee Rascal
The El Rey, May 22, 2008
By Jonah Flicker
Last night’s double billing at the El Rey, the final stop of the “No Chiefs Allowed” tour, was an indie rap nerd’s match made in heaven. But don’t get it twisted, son; this was also synergy, as Def Jux label head/flagship artist El-P recently issued the domestic release of Dizzee Rascal’s latest, Maths + English. We all should be so lucky to have a boss who’s unafraid to share the spotlight with his employees.
El stormed the stage after a dramatic musical introduction complete with Orb-like vocal samples, only to engage the crowd in some promotional call and response that went something along the lines of: [El-P] “When I say Def, you say Jux. Def.” [Us, aka The Crowd] “Jux.” You get the picture.
The mix may have been a bit muddled and slightly murky, but don’t blame the sound guy. The cacophony of El-P’s future-rap beats and the paranoid THX-1138 tone of his rhymes are too much for most speaker systems. The compact, redhead MC blazed through tunes from both of his albums – highlights included “Deep Space 9mm” and “Smithereens” – backed by the admirable talents of DJ Mr. Dibbs. El knows how to perfectly blend the backpacker mindset with old-school flair. Even his tendency to repeatedly smack himself in the face in mid rap feels like showmanship. Dibbs was given ample time to showcase his skills as well, cutting up A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It,” lacing El’s originals with beats from Eric B & Rakim’s “Juice” or even Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It,” or fucking around with some kind of hip-hop Theremin.
London town’s Dizzee Rascal may have shared the marquee billing, but the crowd thinned out quite a bit before he took the stage. It’s the Thursday night before a holiday weekend, people, what’s your damage? Truth be told, Dizzee’s set, while better than 99.999999 % of your average American rapper’s set, felt a bit uniform after El-P’s frantic warnings of the approaching apocalypse and Matrix takeover. Or maybe it was the Dirtee Stank record label insignia hung above DJ Aaron LaCrate’s turntables: a steaming pile of poo with a few flies buzzing around it.
Nevertheless, folks who left missed out, as Dizzee once again proved himself to be the consummate pro, jumping from tune to tune with practiced ease. Although his rhymes can be next to impossible to understand for us Yanks, especially live (something Dizzee acknowledged during his set), there’s something extremely accessible about his music. The throbbing garage beats, the wildly dipping jungle basslines, the hip-hop on the verge of techno production satisfies even the most coordination-challenged hip(hop)ster’s urge to dance. And dance they did, as the weed smoke grew thicker and the clock neared 1 am, ending a smartly put together hip-hop show that should be the rule, not the exception.