When did the British start rapping? The phenomenon did not begin last year, but it would be easy to make the mistake, given the recent hype. What did change was the movement by young MCs and producers like Dizzee Rascal, coming to Cat’s Cradle Thursday, April 21, to cross-pollinate homemade electronic beats with their own gritty rhymes, depicting the ragtag life of young, restless blacks in the underbelly of the empire.

Dizzee Rascal carved out a place in British hip hop, peppering his own snapshots of daily tribulations into the braggadocio common in American MCs. His style juts out like an ice pick, as he spits phrases in a crackling, potent accent. Considered a pioneer at 20, Dizzee Rascal–and his East London scene–bears the tag “garage” or, recently updated, “grime.” The music shines through the gunk; crisp beats and squiggling blips popping like pregnant kernels of corn.

As a scrappy teenager, Dylan Mills first took the name Dizzy D, spinning the kinetic beats of jungle, voraciously working in pirate radio and the nascent garage scene. He joined the Roll Deep Crew of rappers and producers and rose quickly in the underground. American hip-hoppers find Mills’ tumultuous character and poignant stories resonating within them. At recent London gigs, he opened for Jay-Z and was invited by Pharrell Williams, uber-producer and beat-maker, to join his group N.E.R.D. on stage with Justin Timberlake.

Mills’ songs lack bling-talk and car fetish, instead reflecting on gang violence, depression and, in his most quoted line, being a “problem for Anthony Blair.” At his most gripping, Mills takes the listener inside the head of a kid who wants his friends to stop killing each other and cool out. The gnarly MC clicks another link onto the chain of hip hop and British black music.