Trans-Atlantic B-Boy Apocalypse: El-P & Dizzee Rascal at the Triple Rock,
El-P & Dizzee Rascal
Triple Rock Social Club, May 16
by Nate Patrin
What kind of MC uses a mic stand? That’s the first thing I asked myself when El-P took the stage on Friday night’s headliner half of this underground hip hop double bill, and as questions go it was pretty quickly-answered: the kind of MC that spends his time minutes on stage convulsing, slapping himself in the face, throwing elbows like a malfunctioning Bill Laimbeer robot, pantomiming self-strangulation with the mic cord, falling flat on his back, flailing around madly and throwing his entire goddamned body into spitting fire. There’s a lot of vitriol and savagery and all-out doom on El-P’s 2007 record I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and its 2002 precursor Fantastic Damage – not to mention Company Flow’s classic Funcrusher EP and its LP expansion Funcrusher Plus, represented briefly in his set by indie rap anthem “Vital Nerve”. El's mile-a-minute flow is intimidating but thrilling, and his dark, blunted but headbanging production work makes him sort of the Tony Iommi of the post-Wu-Tang set. And at full throttle, with DJ Mr. Dibbs ramping up the metallic roar of El-P’s beats with diabolical cutting and an assist from a plastic baby-head theremin, it’s brutal as fuck.
Half the time I was flashing out to the unhinged intensity of frontmen like Henry Rollins and Trent Reznor as I watched El Producto strangle the mic and hemorrhage out verses like a man with more ideas than time to explain ‘em. But then Dibbs dropped in some classic ’88-’94 beats – Slick Rick’s "Children’s Story"; Masta Ace’s "Born to Roll"; Eric B. & Rakim’s "Juice (Know the Ledge)" – and yeah, El flowed right on point, just in case you mistook him for somebody who couldn’t, and was ably backed by this amiable cat named the Mighty Quinn, who covered him on hook duty when he was busy thrashing around the stage. Anyone who caught this show saw El-P mutating hip hop into something more clamorous and grungier and weirder, but still definably flowing through b-boy veins.
The other man at the top half of the bill was Dizzee Rascal, fresh off the United States rerelease (via El-P’s Definitive Jux label) of last year’s excellent Maths + English. That record and his 2003 debut Boy in Da Corner were represented amply during his set, though his 2005 sophomore release Showtime only had one track performed, the hyperactive, uprock-vs.-rave "Stand Up Tall". In any case, Dizzee’s rudeboy charisma – splitting the difference between early gangsta icon Schoolly D and British breakbeat pioneers the Ragga Twins – was undeniable, even if the crowd seemed to react a bit too statically for music with that much bass. I was the only one nodding his head in a 30-man radius, and I figure at least one person was wondering what the fuck was up with this overenthusiastic beardo in the Army jacket who was going all Flat Eric over this shit. Ah, whatever, I figure Dizzee’s set deserved at least some flip-out reactions, and I guess I was happy to provide. Not every day you get to see the greatest MC to come out of Britain since Slick Rick -- and the greatest MC, period, to actually make his name there.