In 2003, aged 18, Dylan Mills released his debut album – one that changed my life. Dizzee Rascal’s gloomy tales of inner-city London spoke to me in a way no amount of therapy could have come close to.
I had just lost my favourite person in the world: my mum, Jane. I was 15 and screaming in agony about the world I had been left in. ‘Boy in da Corner’s poetic echoes of raw pain and rage, and its brutal honesty, soothed a side of me that needed something real and truthful. The final verse of ‘Brand New Day’, for example, would consistently leave me in tears. I could tell there was one thing we both needed, and that was hope for a healthier future. Dizzee pulled me up and gave me something to believe in again.
Within a few years, I’d moved to Newham – down the road from Bow E3, the birthplace of grime – and dedicated my life to capturing the beauty of the music that saved me. I documented the scene through my blog, Hyperfrank, and began recording intimate moments through my photography, to spread the vision far and wide.
This year, amid grime’s reawakening, Dizzee chose to reintroduce his seminal LP to a select crowd in New York, playing ‘Boy in da Corner’ for the first time in full at an event curated by Red Bull Music Academy. When the news broke, UK fans were on the edge of their seats in anticipation of London tickets. Me included. Days went by as we watched the proverbial tumbleweed drift across our screens. Why wasn’t this being brought back to its roots? The significance of the album, from ‘Sittin’ Here’ to ‘I Luv U’, is embedded in our lives. Did he not care?
Feeling rejected, I drew up an online petition and sent it out into the cybersphere, calling for Dizzee to perform the album in its birthplace. After nearly 1,500 people signed it, many sharing personal stories of how it had affected their lives, I realised that he hadn’t just guided me – he had raised a whole generation. After his NYC gig, he spoke openly about hearing the pleas of the petition and coming to understand its importance to the UK. ‘I didn’t realise they wanted it that much,’ he told RBMA recently. His debut record had given a voice to a silenced youth and now, after a long wait, he’s returning to his home town to take us on a nostalgic journey through our own youthful loves, fears and dreams. There’s no doubt that I’ll be standing there at the centre of the madness.
Dizzee Rascal plays 'Boy in da Corner' at the Copper Box Arena, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, on Oct 22.