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Dizzee Rascal - Showtime

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Artist: Dizzee Rascal

Album: Showtime

Label: XL

Review date: Sep. 12, 2004

Besides being an indulgent smattering of celebrity posing and panache, this year’s MTV Video Music Awards was a boutique of the trends that are currently capturing the eyes, ears, and, most of all, the wallets of the average post-adolescent American. During the live transcript of the VMAs, it was apparent that Atlanta-based crooner Usher was, without a doubt, the man, thanks to the multiplatinum sales of his new disk, Confessions, and the success of his video “Yeah!,” a fresh shank of R&B deep-fried in a batter of hip-hop synths and handclaps. For all of the song’s success, “Yeah!” was more than just a catchy dance routine, however. Produced by Lil Jon, and featuring Altanta’s rhyming ambassador, Ludacris, on the bridge, “Yeah!” sounded less like another innocuous summer jam than a well-scripted tutorial of what Southern hip hop is supposed to be: wilder, dirtier, and more intoxicated than its northern counterpart in New York.

The hip hop that performers like Lil Jon, Ludacris, and sometimes Usher produce may be the best-selling, and – if the amount of facetime they received during the VMAs was any indication – most relevant genre of mainstream American popular music today. But though hip hop makes up a strong plurality of the soundtrack to America’s increasingly tech-savvy and cosmopolitan youth, hip-hop artists continue to strangely celebrate regional provincialism. That is, it’s a bit odd that in our globalizing worldwide-web era, hip-hop artists increasingly limit and define themselves according to specific regional genres, like east coast hip-hop, southern crunk, or, if you sail across the pond, British grime.

Critic darling Dizzee Rascal is enwrapped in this provincial gambit on Showtime. Throughout the album, Dizzee Rascal raps in a way that can only be described as being British, similar to how Lil Jon’s cheerleading exhortations to “bend over to the front and touch your toes” sound and market themselves as being distinctively Southern. And it’s not just because his East London accent flows like port wine – rich but too thick to pick out the subtleties. Dizzee Rascal is undoubtedly British because he adopts conventions and affectations in both his image and music, like lo-fi production and frequent shout-outs to East London, that, whether valid or not, resonate not just as hip hop but as the fish-and-chips variety.

“Stand Up Tall,” the second track and lead single on Showtime, may be the best indication of how Dizzee is scripting himself as something of a metonymy for the rest of British hip-hop culture, in a manner similar to how Lil John and his diamond-encrusted grimace has stood in for the entirety of the dirty South. “Stand Up Tall” begins with a synthesizer lunge, and before Dizzee even opens his mouth, it’s obvious that this is not American hip-hop – if American rappers recite rhyme with a peacock’s strut, then Dizzee Rascal raps over rhythms suitable for John Cleese’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.”

It’s hard to imagine most American hip hop DJs including a song like “Stand Up Tall” in their sets, much less “Grafting” and “Hype Talk,” two of the lower-key numbers on Showtime that owe as much to the fuzzy-bass minimalism of British trip-hop as they do the sharp syncopation of, say, The Neptunes. If Dizzee misses on mainstream American airtime, it won’t be for a lack of talent. The more likely culprit are mainstream DJs who just don’t know how to translate and mix Dizzee’s lo-fi hyperspeak. For sure, “Stand Up Tall” and Showtime sound foreign, but not because Dizzee Rascal doesn’t know how to steer hip-hop’s wagon. He just drives it on the different side of the road.

But Showtime, a 15-song exercise in British hip-hop, is not good or great. If anything, Showtime is rote. Like the full-length efforts recently produced by Southern hip-hop mainstays, Ying-Yang Twins and Petey Pablo, Showtime’s length dilutes the bursts of exotic spice and flavor laced throughout. Sadly, by the final song, Showtime has lost the foreign luster of “Stand Up Tall” and feels less like a UK delicacy than a monotonous language-lesson tape on how to speak and act East Londonese.

By Ben Yaster

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