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Standing Even Taller

 

Dizzee Rascal: Showtime

XL, 2004

Rating: 4.4

 

 

Posted: September 13, 2004

By Laurence Station

If Boy In Da Corner elicited concern for the safety of Dizzee Rascal (then teen-aged East Londoner Dylan Mills), the pressing issue behind his hotly anticipated follow-up, Showtime, is whether the talented MC has let success go to his head. Well, the short answer is, yes, of course he has. The now twenty-year-old Mills has gone from harried council estate (equivalent to a U.S. housing project) survivor to a Mercury Prize-winning upstart whose debut record sold a quarter of a million copies. Whereas Boy In Da Corner was the sound of a young man expressing the fear and frustration of growing up in a dangerous and bleak environment, Showtime reflects the confidence and ebullience of a maturing artist optimistically embracing a bright and hopeful future. Mills hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, however, and that’s what makes his sophomore effort more than a mere self-congratulatory exhibition.

Before trumpeting where he’s headed, Mills provides a mini-recap of where he’s been on the opening title track. It’s a clever way of validating the cheeky braggadocio to come, essentially pointing out that he didn’t spring wholly formed a year ago but rather has doggedly paid his way to the near-top of the music business heap. “Stand Up Tall,” with its “back off the wall” aggressiveness, answers the reticence displayed on Boy by urging listeners to step away from the corners they’ve been cowering in and get into the game. Such “who dares wins” positivism pervades Showtime, as does the sense of fun Mills has throughout the album. There are no second-album jitters transmogrified into cartoonishly defensive boasts. Mills is clearly delighted with his success, but also cognizant of the fickle nature of fame: the hilarious “Face” finds the young MC getting a thorough dressing down by a woman for not being as big pimpin’ as Jay-Z.

“If I don’t speak, who’s gonna speak for me?” Mills asks on “Respect Me,” and that, in a nutshell, is Showtime’s overriding theme. Mills is in the business of shouting louder than the rest, of struggling to be heard in a cutthroat, incredibly competitive industry where you are the product being bought and sold -- and where too often image rather than actual substance carries the day. Before positing his rhetorical question, however, Mills goes for a more direct approach: “You people are going to respect me if it kills you.” “Learn” offers a similarly aggressive stance: “They don’t want to listen / Then you’d better make ’em learn.” “Knock, Knock” addresses the perpetrators of the 2003 knife attack in the Cypriot resort town of Aiya Napa that left Mills hospitalized, cockily calculating its benefit to his forthcoming release: “Did it two weeks before my album / Helped me sell double.”

The beats on Showtime are still minimally constructed, but tighter than those on Boy. Mills has managed to refine and diversify the jittery rhythms knocking about the Spartan backdrop of his raps. This sharpened approach proves spookily effective (“Respect Me”) or frenetically volatile (“Hype Talk”), depending on the mood Mills wants to convey. The album's most inspired programming choice is a sampling of Captain Sensible's loopy reworking of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Happy Talk," which adds a welcome dash of theatrical élan to “Dream,” a naïvely delivered paean to eager up-and-comers.

Not everything on the record works as well: “Get By” attempts a universal slum solidarity tact that fails to catch fire, hindered in part by overly simplistic observations (“My ghetto frame of mind makes me prone to hostility”). But Showtime easily overcomes this stray miscalculation, proving Mills indeed has the skills and poise not only to play the treacherous fame game, but also to avoid getting gobsmacked by the hype that relentlessly shadows it.

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 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
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