There aren’t many albums out there – and even fewer grime albums – for which people would happily shed £30 to hear live in full, in order, track by track. Not so Boy In Da Corner, a record as unassuming as it is influential.
After first performing the album in full as part of an event in New York earlier this year, a petition started by veteran grime scribe Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan set the wheels in motion to have the same show hosted in Dizzee’s – and grime’s – hometown.
Saturday’s venue, the Copper Box Arena in Stratford, east London, was originally developed to house handball and modern pentathlon competitions as part of 2012’s Olympic Games.
Since then, it’s played host to a range of other sporting events. As such, particularly given Dizzee’s vocal opposition to the building work undertaken in the area for the Games (and let’s not talk about the last time Dizzee got involved with sport), it felt a slightly odd choice of location – other than for its proximity to Bow, where the MC famously grew up, of course.
All such concerns were allayed fairly easily, however. The room was enormous, and served as some reminder that grime was – for a brief period in the mid noughties – a sound not unheard of in such big spaces. 2016, of course, has seen it peppering its fair share of similarly grand stages too.
After some largely straightforward warm-up sets from DJs MK and Slimzee, vox pop recordings of scene advocates’ first encounters with the album gushed out over the PA before the curtain lifted to reveal Dizzee sitting against a yellow cornerpiece in recreation of Dean Chalkley’s iconic cover shot.
The crowd was a sea of smartphone screens, which both highlighted how much the world has changed in the past 13 years – the iPhone was but a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye back then – and how much this felt, to the fans at least, like a momentous occasion.
‘Stop Dat’ couldn’t escape without an instant wheel-up, and was greeted on both plays with a cacophony of “wot?!” singalongs. In fact, there weren’t many tunes on the night that didn’t have a full room of voices accompanying them – the crowd, arguably unsurprisingly, was the greatest source of energy throughout.
The intro to ‘2 Far’ brought whispers of hopes that Wiley might appear for his verse, although he’d put paid to any rumours earlier that day – though not without paying the album (and show) his respects too. Needless to say, there was no Wiley feature, nor God’s Gift on ‘Hold Ya Mouf.’ This was probably to be expected but, given the crowd’s energy levels, it would have taken the roof off had either come about.
Apart from this, and some segue scratching from DJ MK, the album was played out just as you’d hear it on record. This in particular was a neat touch: transporting the audience back to how they would have originally experienced the album in a time before playlisting.
The beats, even in such a big space, hit hard and still maintained the alien edge that grabbed so many people’s attention back in 2003. To this day, it’s an album that manages to sound both iconic and innovative at the same time – and very UK.
Largely absent from the night, however, was any kind of emoting about “being home”. This did come as some surprise – though with as much money on the table for an event like this, it’s easy to be cynical and suggestive about Dizzee’s possible motivations. Indeed, the sheer budget for the event does feel far removed from the staunchly DIY aesthetic that underpinned the album 13 years ago, and made its critical success and subsequent influence, all the more notable.
Dizzee had admitted at a lecture earlier in the week, as he has in the past, to still not understanding people’s continued obsession with the album all these years later.
Before going into closer ‘Do It!’ – a reflection on the struggles involved with growing up in hard times, and how music can be a gateway from them – he reminded everyone that “this is my ends.” But the turn of phrase that followed was as intriguing as it was revealing: “I know how much this means to you,” he said.
He had left the stage before the final instrumental finished, leaving DJ MK to dash across the lit up backdrop on his own. There was to be no encore, no soaking it up, and, despite barely missing a beat throughout, the result was a lingering sense that maybe the cynics had something of a point.
There should be no doubt that those in the room on the night will have left the arena feeling fulfilled, and with a memory that will stick with them for another 13 years. But whether or not Dizzee, wearing a Boy In Da Corner hoodie on sale in the lobby, should be counted among them might be another matter entirely.
Images: Steve Stills
Words: Will Pritchard (@Hedmuk)