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Grime Music And Society/Politics

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Bow's message to Blair

Everyone loves Dizzee Rascal but does anyone listen to a word he says?

Dizzee Rascal's triumph in Tuesday's Mercury Music Prize was a momentous victory for one British teenager. But the 19-year-old MC's debut album, Boy In Da Corner, carries a sobering message, which is at risk of being drowned out by the applause. Listen to the lyrics and ask yourself this: how can a country with a welfare state produce an artist this angry? Someone pushed this far?

"I'm a problem for Anthony Blair," rhymes Dizzee on the album. He certainly should be.

The album depicts Dizzee's life in Bow, east London. Uncompromising, raging, it is not easy listening - but every MP in Westminster should be forced to hear it.

As a fatherless only child, Dizzee moved from school to school. "Disruptive" and "troublesome", he eventually found himself at Langdon Park in Bow. He was excluded from every lesson except music, where teacher Tim Smith saw his potential.

Today if you return to Langdon Park the football pitch is a dustbowl and Tim Smith has moved on. The school bridge over the Docklands Light Railway is encased in barbed wire.

Take the DLR a few stops towards Stratford and you'll pass Three Flats, the tower blocks that are Dizzee's old stomping ground. It was here that he wasted time hanging about, smoking and getting up to "madness". The pirate radio station, Rinse FM, on which he rose to fame, also used to broadcast from here.

All day and all night trains clatter through Three Flats without stopping, ferrying city commuters home. Last Monday evening, as they were travelling home, 3-metre flames licked up from a fire started under the viaduct. Kids stood about, watching, and the same sense of menace and despair that infuses Boy In Da Corner was palpable.

We used to fight with kids from other estates

now 8mms settle debates.

Penned in by transport links, restrained by crime, drugs and guns, Three Flats couldn't be more gagged. But in Dizzee, empowered by Mercury recognition, Bow has found a spokesman. But is anyone listening?

The street language of Dizzee and his peers evolves daily: "coch" means to move undetected; you don't say "the street" but "road"; a "sket" is a sexually derogatory term for a girl; "shotters" and "blotters" are drug dealers; a "screwface" is the scowl etched on inner-city faces. And we'll leave it to the Radio 1 playlist team to explain what a "bowcat" is. Even a traditional word like "real" gets reinvented. When things are getting "real", life is harsh or violent.

Perhaps, therefore, it's understandable that politicians and the powerful can't translate this generation's message. (The Today programme stumbled at the first hurdle, calling him "Rapper Rascal".) But they have a responsibility to learn the language, and fast.

When we ain't kids no more will it still be about what it is right now?



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