Album: Dizzee Rascal

Showtime, XL
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The Independent Culture

In the past year, Dizzee Rascal's life has changed drastically. Catapulted from scuffling obscurity to critics' darling, he's seen his debut album Boy in da Corner accorded a welter of rather over-generous acclaim including the Mercury Prize, and found his horizons expanded overnight from his Bow manor to New York, Hollywood and beyond.

In the past year, Dizzee Rascal's life has changed drastically. Catapulted from scuffling obscurity to critics' darling, he's seen his debut album Boy in da Corner accorded a welter of rather over-generous acclaim including the Mercury Prize, and found his horizons expanded overnight from his Bow manor to New York, Hollywood and beyond.

Showtime finds Dizzee attempting to come to terms with these changes, walking the street-cred tightrope between, on the one hand, boasting of his fame and success, and, on the other, desperately seeking to maintain his former status. As in American hip-hop culture, the pressure to "keep it real" is immense, and the passage from underground cult to sell-out almost immeasurably quick. In "Face", he has a backstage run-in with "a nasty crew" and suffers the contemptuous put-downs of some sneering cockney girl. "Let's talk about face, let's talk about money," he consoles himself. "Mayhem goin' on, jealousy, envy, hate."

Small wonder, then, that he should viewthe prospect of moving out of his East End ghetto with such trepidation in "Imagine", lest he be considered a treacherous sell-out: "It's decision time/ You be livin' in the grime/ Don't you want to climb/ The ladder of life, the wall of enlightenment/ Or are you lookin' for the hype and excitement?" But why should the two states be as mutually exclusive as he supposes?

Whatever, Dizzee strains to retain his street reputation, bragging in "Knock, Knock" that he's "exactly what your parents don't wanna see on your TV", and assuring us in "Respect Me" that despite his new-found "legit" status, he's "Still Dylan the villain from 'round the way". Here, and in the following "Get By", he recycles the tired apologia for street crime, saying "most use crime as a way of paying bills" and that only "the unlucky ones end up getting caught" - weasel excuses that do no favours for the ghetto community to which he takes such pains to proclaim his allegiance. Presumably, Dizzee won't be too put out if someone jacks his Pro-Tools set-up to pay their bills.

Not that he'd be all that disadvantaged if they did: as with Boy in da Corner, the backing tracks on Showtime are brutally bare and simple, little more than a stripped-down beat, an amorphous rumble of synthetic bass, and a wheedling synth figure for most pieces, with barely any vestige of melody allowed to soften the peremptory rhythms. The only significant departure from this formula is "Dream", where, in an attempt to emulate the sing-song show-tune success of Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life", he borrows the chorus from "Happy Talk". It's hardly what could be called a positive musical development, although its reach-for-the-stars message is the most positive advice on the entire album.

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