Various Artists: Run the Road

Various Artists
Run the Road

A lone novice straining to hear his voice echo can provide distinct pleasures, as might a lazy superstar consolidating fame through the aid of mercenary production hands. But few wallops resonate as viscerally as the sound of a scene just gaining wider recognition. And that's what you hear on Run the Road--the British rap variant that's settled on calling itself "grime" energized by the discovery that it's now the biggest noise in London. The opening bloody explosion of Terror Danjah's "Cock Back," gunshots and all, is sexy and gripping, in contrast to the smug machismo that secures Source covers. The MCs on Jammer's "Destruction Vip" wend through keyboard jabs unhesitatingly, rather than fumbling for context like so many American underground rhyme technicians. And almost every syllable spat, every intricate rhythm pattern that circles around every triumphant keyboard hook, sounds confident of snagging an ear.

Dizzee Rascal, though, he's maybe not so sure it's worth it. While this primer confirms a dilettante's initial suspicions--anyone for whom Dizzee equals grime will be relieved by the way his jittery cadence stands out from the clamor of voices--"Give U More" and Roll Deep's "Let It Out" prove an exception to the general mood. On these cuts, Dizzee's performance reflects not unassailable confidence, but an antic desperation that hearkens back to that moment, just a couple of years ago, when grime sounded similarly disquieted--its dancehall riddims whittled down to a Playstation chirp pinched enough for mp3, its chilly and jagged shards scraped artfully together to fill up an empty silence.

For all the bravado here, grime has begun listening over its shoulder. Inevitably, when a scene approaches its do-or-die moment in the commodified sun, some long for those simpler days at the start, which accounts for the free-floating nostalgia of Ears' "Happy Days" and the forlorn, almost elegiac guitar of Tinchy Stryder's "Move." But perhaps the future belongs to Lady Sovereign. Sure, the other ladies represented here, No Lay and Shystie, have few peers in terms of hard-edged Yank women MCs. But neither can match the versatility of Sovereign, who livens up an otherwise flat remix of the Streets' "Fit But You Know It" and dodges preliminary "Feminem" comparisons on her 2004 hit "Ch-Ching" by flipping rhymes with a similar rubbery Caucasian approach to syllable-stacking. She has the assurance of a true star, even if she's as famous as she ever gets. Most people never knew who Roxanne Shante was either. Their loss.

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