Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 81)
Early into Dizzee Rascal’s sophomore album Showtime
he makes an important distinction between where he was in 2003 and where he was in 2004. On his debut album, he was the Boy in da Corner
, now he’s “formally the Boy in da Corner”. Indeed, after your debut album makes you the youngest person to win the Mercury Music Prize, you can’t pretend your back’s up against the wall anymore. On Showtime
, Dizzee, born Dylan Mills, understands the rarity of his success and even takes a moment, during “Dream”, to offer a very genuine thank you to the 100,000 people who bought his debut. But despite this new peak, Showtime
finds him cagy, defensive of his new position and paranoid that he might tumble back down to the ghetto he came from at any moment.
Released almost exactly a year apart, the quick turnaround between Boy in da Corner
means Dizzee still sounds viciously hungry. His approach to the beats assembled here, both in flow and lyrical themes, is best described by a line from closer “Fickle”; “If I can't find away around I'll find away across/and if I can't find away across I'll bore straight through.” On Showtime
, Dizzee assembles a series of one or two word topics (“Learn”, “Respect Me”, “Get By”) and bores straight through them, tackling each with a optometrist's focus and that one-in-a-million east London yawp. Opener “Showtime” recounts Dizzee’s origin story in a, uh, dizzying double time that packs a lot of information into tiny compartments while “Respect Me”s teeth gritting hook gives way to verses packed with so much malice and venom it makes Dizzee sound both dangerous and lonely in his angry isolation. “You people are going to respect me if it kills you
” he growls ever so slowly. The majority of Showtime
takes place in this area, with Dizzee’s success stirring up more paranoia than comfort as he keeps those around him at a distance while he grasps for the next rung on the latter. When he asks “Imagine if I showed you one I was leavin' the hood/Would you call me a sell out"/ Would you say it's all good"” on “Imagine” he sounds aware that his success will create more envy than goodwill and is crushed seeing friends who cheered him on yesterday wish for his downfall today.
makes another case for Dizzee as one of the most underrated producers in the game. Part of this has to do with the fact that it’s hard to imagine anyone but Dizzee tackling this set of beats with the same success. Throughout Showtime
Mills grabs upon a small handful of sounds that seize his attention - the alka-seltzer tablets dissolving on “Everywhere” or the wistful flutes of “Imagine” - and surround them with just enough elements to make the track feel full but not too many as to clutter. As such, these beats don’t really bang, they clatter, filling the track with percussive corners and pockets that Dizzee is more than good enough to fill with his wild assortment of flows.
Only once does Showtime
break free from the stress of maintaining new success. Obvious lead single “Stand Up Tall” leaps from the tracklist so urgently that on first listen it can feel like the album’s only highlight. Over a beat lifted wholesale from Youngstar’s “Mayhem 2” Dizzee cuts loose, letting his screwface slip for a moment, sounding as overjoyed to be in front of the microphone as he did on Basement Jaxx’s “Lucky Star” the previous year. But Showtime
doesn’t feature Dizzee embracing his party starter destiny just yet. Instead he’s still living with a “ghetto frame of mind” on the eerily still “Get By” and remarking how his “five stab wounds, couple scratches, bruises, and some pains” helped his debut sell double on “Knock Knock”. Even the cheery hook to “Dream” has a menacing leer in spite of Dizzee’s shoutouts to baby moms and dads.
“I ain't mad, I'm a lovely lad/I'll give you the loveliest beating that you've ever had!” Dizzee claims on “Everywhere”. Despite the title, this rudeboy smirk hadn’t fully worn off Dizzee yet and fame wasn’t prying the lovely lad out from under it yet. Much of Showtime
quakes with the fear that this is the last time anyone is going to care about what young Dylan Mills has to say. On closer “Fickle” he already has “so much to say in so little time” a mere year after his breakthrough. Mills’ doubt in his own longevity feels most adept as he packs the album so full of words that he barely finishes his last disconcerting thought out - “Now its a few years and I feel lost/Trying to live the high life but at what cost"” - seconds before the album comes to an end. Dizzee Rascal’s hunger and awareness kept him from slipping into grime’s history as he would spend the rest of the decade staying on the move musically. So Showtime
, despite beginning with Dizzee shedding his boy in the corner title, is actually the last glimpse of it. It’s the last time Dizzee would sound like the underdog from East London.