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Previously the darling of the British hip-hop scene, 23-year-old Dizzee Rascal has come under fire more than anyone for selling out to the masses. His English World Cup duet with a tubby comedian put together by Simon Cowell, and a TV talent show judge alongside Jamie Cullum and Sharleen Spiteri, don't exactly scream "ghetto." But his critics seem to have forgotten that given the harsh grimey beats and lyrical intensity of his Mercury Music Prize-winning debut. Dizzee has also sampled Captain Sensible's novelty '80s singalong "Happy Talk," and provided the cringe-worthy rap on the ill-advised "Band Aid 20" project, not exactly the actions of an artist afraid of embracing the mainstream. His fourth studio album, Tongue'N'Cheek, continues to straddle the fine line between voice of the street and voice of the Top 40-buying public. There are undeniably catchy pop hooks galore, particularly on the breakthrough single "Dance wiv Me," an intoxicating blend of spacy synths, disco-pop, and deadpan vocals from Calvin Harris, who also produces the cheeky, summery electro of "Holiday." There's "Dirtee Cash," a carnival-esque reworking of the Adventures of Stevie V's late-'80s club classic, and the seductive G-funk-inspired "Chillin' Wav da Man Dem," where Dizzee reveals a previously unheard smooth, sensitive side. But his council-estate rap sensibilities also filter through on the frenetic dirty beats of "Road Rage," the ska-fused, Aswad-sampling "Can't Tek No More," and the brooding, dubby "Leisure," while the chart-topping success of the Armand Van Helden-produced "Bonkers" seems to have overshadowed the fact that it's an unsettling combination of waling sirens, acidic techno basslines, and clattering rhythms which would have fit easily on any of his previous three releases. Slickly produced and relentlessly infectious, but still offering only glimpses of his edgier beginnings, Tongue'N'Cheek will only further Dizzee's remarkable and seemingly unstoppable rise from the underground.
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