November 04, 2004

dizzee rascal 'showtime'

East London rap superstar Dizzee Rascal’s debut album Boy in Da
was such a breath of fresh air. I know that I wasn’t the
only one rabid enough about the CD to purchase a steep import of it in 2003, months before Matador released it domestically this past January. Boy in Da Corner was three years in the making, with at least one song (the single “I Luv U”) created when Dizzee was merely 16 years old. Traces of the MC’s youth appeared all over the album; Dizzee spent almost as much time being silly as he did issuing stark reports of ghetto reality. Times have changed, of course, and Dizzee’s sophomore effort Showtime reflects these changes, revealing a portrait of the artist as what Cedric the Entertainer calls “a grown-ass man.” Like Tupac, Biggie and many legendary emcees before them, Dizzee has developed a rep for sick lyrics, even sicker beats and a checkered past that threatens to catch up with him at any moment. This 19-year-old has lived through things that not even most superstars in his age group could fathom. Although Dizzee’s sense of humor hasn’t completely evaporated, his new album unsurprisingly finds him in slightly heavier spirits due to these experiences.

Many critics have already called Showtime an attempt to appeal to a broader, more mainstream audience. The lyrics are occasionally peppered with American slang (“word is bond,” “what’s really good”) and multiple allusions to Jay-Z. “Face” ends with an angry woman watching Dizzee on TV and begging someone to change the channel to a Jay-Z video, and closing track “Fickle” sports a sped-up soul sample a la The Blueprint. It also has to be said that none of the beats are as flat-out weird as, say, the gamelan-meets-garage hybrid of Boy in Da Corner‘s “Brand New Day.” Despite all of this, though, I am happy to report that said mainstream ambition proves unsuccessful. Dizzee’s thick accent (from his mouth, the word “paper” becomes “pay-paw”) will still render many of his words unintelligible to unprepared listeners, and the speedier rhyming style he adopts throughout the record doesn’t help matters much. Furthermore, at least half of the beats on this record are minimal and dissonant enough to make the Neptunes blush. (Be sure to peep the cybernetic Miami bass of “Stand Up Tall” and the synthesized sitars of “Learn.”) Calling Showtime a more mainstream version of Dizzee’s sound is almost like calling Quadrophenia a slightly less ambitious record than Tommy.

As insinuated in the previous paragraph, Dizzee’s skills have grown by leaps and bounds on this album. He’s slightly toned down his crackly squawking, and his delivery is crammed with hyper-kinetic syncopation and internal rhyme. Even when the beats are slow and menacing, as on “Graftin’” and “Respect Me,“ Dizzee raps in double-time. You’ll find none of the slow limericks of Boy in Da Corner’s “Vexed” here. Lyrically, Showtime‘s three main themes can be broken down as such: 1) The streets from which Dizzee came are still as gritty and grimy as ever, and 2) The list of closet haters and public enemies has grown since his rise to fame, therefore 3) Dizzee will hurt anyone who poses a threat to him without thinking twice.

“Graftin’,” “Get By” and “Imagine” fit under the first category, as they outline Dizzee’s internal struggle between transcending his upbringing and alienating the people he grew up with. “Hype Talk,” my personal favorite, addresses the various rumors that have sprung up since Dizzee’s ascension. It boasts both the album’s most memorable hook and a beat that sounds like it is running forward and backward simultaneously. “Face” addresses leeches who try to use him for his fame. On two songs (“Respect Me“ and “Knock, Knock“), Dizzee vows revenge against the unnamed man who stabbed him shortly before the release of Boy in Da Corner. Ironically, the threat on “Respect Me” is followed by a verse in which Dizzee pleads with his acquaintances to stop trying to drag him back into an illegal lifestyle. You can hear the desperation in his voice when he commands, “Stop that so I can do this!” “Knock, Knock” finds Dizzee ranting about promoters and bouncer who hassle him at his own shows, and audiences that consist of men who want to shoot him and women who ignore him. I’m not even going to count the number of songs in which Dizzee threatens an imaginary antagonist physical harm.

The two songs that stray furthest away from defensive braggadocio are sequenced right next to each other. “Dream” is a beat-less ditty that’s cheeky enough to sample Captain Sensible. The sample reeks of intentional treacle, but Dizzee counters it with a rap that thanks and encourages his fans with all of the sincerity he can manage. “Girls” is a typical ditty about having sex with gorgeous women in the club, but Dizzee manages to be lascivious without being misogynistic (Ludacris is one of the few American rappers who can pull this trick off). Also, “Girls” boasts a guest appearance from Marga Man, whose light, octave-leaping voice delivers some sorely needed comic relief. Judging from his contribution to this song, I look forward to hearing an entire full-length of Marga Man material.

Showtime isn’t a perfect record. First of all, a couple of songs suffer from hooks that aren’t up to the quality of the beats of the verses. Second of all, Dizzee created most of the album by himself in the studio, and it sounds like it. There aren’t as many guest appearances as there were on his debut. The solitude in the music and the paranoia in the lyrics occasionally make Showtime sound claustrophobic. These quibbles aside, the album is definitely an improvement over Boy in Da Corner, proving once and for all that the cross-continental hype attached to Dizzee Rascal’s name is completely justified. Discover his genius for yourself. The album’s available in the States NOW at a reasonable domestic price.

--Sean Padilla

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