It’s a cold March evening, to the left and right people flit about the London O2 Arena gearing themselves up to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 seminal album Boy In Da Corner. Considering the album’s humble beginnings, it’s incredible to see how even two decades on it can fill one of the biggest venues in the UK.

A brief but consistent set from Backroad Gee helped to prime the audience for the experience to come, a welcome lift to help pad out the slight delay in Lady Leshurr’s appearance. But you know what they say, good things come to those who wait. Her vibrancy never wavered as the crowd begged for a rendition of ‘Queen’s Speech 4’ known best for its “brush your teeth” hook. More than making up for the hold-up by pushing for extra time.

Photography by Kat Friar

No sooner than Lady Leshurr had exited the stage did Jme rip onto it. Reminding everyone that behind the persona lies the same unshakable lyrical ability that jettisoned him to where he is now. Managing to effortlessly fold appearances from Boy Better Know veterans Jammer, Shorty and Frisco into a set that was far greater than the sum of its twenty-five minute parts. Closing out he brought the O2 alive with his high-octane performance of ‘Man Don’t Care’. Placing the crowd on an emotional and energetic cloud. The perfect set-up for the Shyamalan-worthy twist that unfolded next.

Photography by Kat Friar

What appeared to be a stripped back stage for the night was anything but. Cue the literal curtain drop, sweeping away to reveal Dizzee Rascal encompassed by an ode to the origins of his creative legacy. Towering yellow screens recreating the iconic Boy In Da Corner cover as Dizzee jumped straight into the punchy flow of ‘Sittin’ Here’. Following up with the same cadence, a quartet of soul singers added transcendental harmonic elements to his variation of ‘I Luv U’ as playful videos of lips and old-school Nokia phones spread across the screens.

   Dizzee shouts the next one out to the “OG crew, the Pirate Radio crew” as 8 bit Street Fighter characters appear on the screen for his Street Fighter Freestyle. He brings out D Double E for ‘Give U More’, stepping out in a suave yellow two piece set – very on theme with Boy In Da Corner. His gritty, slick flow chopped through the violin heavy production. Then JME returned to the stage for a new song with Dizzee called ‘What Do You Know’ and emptied a clip full of gritty bars alongside the legend. JME and D Double E do a call and response with the left and right side of the arena, JME’s got his side shouting “Serious!” while D Double E’s side does his “mwee mwee” adlibs. Dizzee then gets everyone to shout “Oi!!!!!” as he segues into ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’.

     The DJ’s vinyl scratching throughout some of the songs in the set helped evoke the nostalgia of the early 2000s, around the time of the album’s release. ‘Jus’ A Rascal’ unleashed copious amounts of energy as the music video played in the background with a comic book filter on top of it. He dedicates ‘Do It’ to heroes we’ve lost along the way such as Jamal Edwards, Stormin MC, Major Ace and Esco. ‘Stand Up’ brings the buzz back him and his hype man, Aaron dart across the stage. 

Photography by Kat Friar

 ‘Please Stand By’ is up on the screens before a montage of his music career flashes before us. Various interviews and music video snippets merged together to celebrate the Grime legend on the anniversary of his classic album. He performed an unreleased, presumably an upcoming track and streetdancers emerged hitting choreography as Dizzee ran around the stage.

His encore was so unexpected – with the sold out show being a celebration of ‘Boy In Da Corner’, the probability of him playing any of his other tunes was a complete gamble. Prior to the encore, I’d asked Naima what song she hoped would be last and as the sounds of ‘Bassline Junkie’ filled The O2 Arena, she looked at me and smiled “Guess I got what I wanted!” A huge rush of serotonin hit me as Dance Wiv Me came on, followed by Holiday and Bonkers. I felt like I was ten years old again.

GUAP’S Naima Sutton and Kat Friar who penned this review caught up about the show on the phone.

NAIMA: I did my research when I was writing and I remember people talking about how they felt like he needed to put in the last few songs, but I don’t really think he needed to in a sense. I think he wanted to, I think he knew that there were gonna be bare people that turned up and they’re happy to still see the original work, so much was put into what is a seminal album, but I don’t think it was about him doing it because he had to, I think it was him doing it because he wanted to give people that experience. I was never gonna be able to actually get to see him perform those songs ’cause I was too young when he put them out, so it was really nice. 

KAT: Honestly I just didn’t expect it at all and I was so gassed – I dunno if you heard me screaming, but I was so gassed. I felt like I’d been transported back to 2010, that’s what it felt like for me. I feel like that was when as much as like I like Boy In Da Corner, I feel like it’s slightly ahead of my time, I was three when it came out and I feel like ’cause stuff like Bassline Junkie and Dance Wiv Me etc, was more popular when I was growing up, it felt like an out of body experience being able to see those songs live. But I did really enjoy the entire show, I thought the visuals were amazing and I think he’s a really good performer.

NAIMA: I think that feeling connected to the things that came out when we were younger as well – the reason Boy In Da Corner is such an important album isn’t just ’cause it’s the best that there’s ever been because actually if you ask people what the best grime album was ever, there would be much more competition there, but it’s because it really was the first of its kind like that – something to reach that level but have that much DIY production is insane. 

KAT: I feel like it was also really interesting to see it be brought to life because when it would’ve come out and he would’ve gone on tour – we would’ve been way too young to have seen it. I think like him celebrating at The O2, 20 years later really gave a chance for people who were just kids when it came out, who grew up and found that album way after he would’ve gone on tour. It gave them an opportunity to actually listen to the songs that they loved, because I guarantee like there’s probably some songs on that album that you wouldn’t hear in his setlist for when he does festivals or stuff like that, because he’s got such a long discography.

NAIMA: I reckon he would’ve killed it when he was younger as well. He had energy on stage when he was performing now, so I’m imagining what that was like 20 years ago, I can imagine that it would’ve been insane. So I feel like we got a glimpse into the foundations of what became grime. 

KAT: The fact he brought D Double E and JME onto the stage with him as well. I feel like those were just sort of the right guests to bring on stage. I think in a lot of stadium shows at the O2 – especially ones I’ve seen or ones I’ve heard about – people do tend to bring surprise guests. It’s just part of the arena show experience and I feel like those were definitely the right people because I feel like D Double E is from Dizzee’s time and I think JME’s music resonates with our generation that slightly more. It’s nice to have legends from two different eras of Grime.

NAIMA: The people at that concert were young, so they definitely didn’t see the original stuff [and] I feel like it was a chance for people to actually celebrate that legacy.