No one is going to argue that Dizzee Rascal isn’t a rising star who should take over hip-hop any day now. His lyrics are stunning, his live performances legendary: the emcee knows how to move a crowd. And his sophomore album, Showtime, displays his talent up front just as strongly as his insert-hyperbole-here 2003 debut, Boy in Da Corner. What it doesn’t display is a musical evolution in either beats or hooks that will allow Dizzee to take his rightful place.
Showtime is not the album that will put Dizzee Rascal over the top, and it is certainly not the album that people will put on best-of-the-decade lists six years from now. That place has been filled by Dizzee’s debut. Still, he is a force to be reckoned with on Showtime. Some of the better beats layer Dizzee’s real triumphs: “Hype Talk” and “Learn” are jumps ahead sonically, and both feature incomparable performances from the emcee. Even the most boring beats don’t discourage Dizzee, making the album a typically strong showing for him. “Respect” is maybe the album’s best song, with a pulsing bass line and the refrain, “You people are gonna respect me if it kills you.”
But many of the hooks fall short. “Everywhere” brings the banal line, “I’m here, there, I’m everywhere, I can’t be seen, I’m all over, know what I mean?” By the end of “Face” it gets pretty tiring to hear Dizzee talk about face, let alone telling us to talk about it. The beats can be equally stale. “Dream” is an old-school RZA-type use of a children’s sample to construct hype beats, though Dizzee’s performance saves the track. But closer “Fickle” is the worst kind of dark, and it could be by any old MTV stalwart if you took away the accent. It also proves that vocal samples can be sped up even faster than Kanye has done.
The prospect of Dizzee Rascal being fully integrated into the American hip-hop community is exciting until you remember that so much of hip-hop these days is headed in the wrong direction. Fortunately the emcee’s identity doesn’t get totally lost in translation. He still tells stories no one from this side of the Atlantic would tell, still brings flows no one in New York would think of, and still provides beats you won’t hear anywhere else. But a worthy album cannot earn the praise a stellar album does, and a great debut cannot be ignored when a sophomore offering fails to live up to it. Earlier this year, the Streets released what is still the best album of the year, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, a giant leap past his still-excellent debut. But even if Dizzee is just standing still, he’s lucky he started out a couple thousand miles ahead of his competition.