Can the Boy in Da Corner do it again? As everyone and their mamma knows, Bow-boy Dylan Mills’ first record scooped the Mercury Prize, and thereby found itself on the CD shopping list of everyone from Islington to South Shields.
A decidedly homegrown affair, the record shone the filtered-glare of ‘the’ media on the grime-y scene of the nation’s capital. Now he’s back, and the 19-year old will be assessed as a pro, rather than a precocious neophyte.
The good news is that Showtime finds Dizzee’s head-spinning rhyme style and lyrical dexterity undimmed and unaffected by the out-of-the-blue celebrity. There’s also no concession made in smoothing out that orfentic garage sound with chart-friendly grooves. Indeed, there’s so little fleshing out, that the beats are virtually skeletal. If this sound is hip-hop, then it’s the ruff ‘n’ tuff early electro of Profile and Pop Art Record labels that it most clearly echoes.
Not the first Dylan to net lyrical kudos, Dizzee’s wordage has the much needed substance missing from many of the guns ‘n’ posing generation of American rappers. If the young ‘un has been seduced by the bling ‘n’ Cristal, it sure doesn’t show. The everyday reality of London’s ghettos is calmly assessed in Get By where “kids go astray / but never get found” and where you’ll find “The good, the bad, the ugly and the evil” in equal measure. His mind’s fit. And my gosh don’t he know it.
The style’s in another grime world entirely, but there are shades of Curtis Mayfield‘s America Today in Dizzee’s evocation of day-by-day ghetto life throughout this record. Imagine finds Dizzee a little more wistful about his roots, and not a little contemplative about being a generational spokesman asking “Do you wanna climb the ladder / the path to enlightenment?”.
Thankfully, there’s more than worthiness to Showtime. The unlikely party-shout of “Pull up yer socks / And stand up tall!” wipped up as it is by synth lines that sound cribbed from a Casio calculator, is a tune Dizzee could drop anywhere from “Ministry, Caesar’s…” and well, anywhere where’s there’s a DJ that knows a tune when it hears one.
Dizzee’s true gift lies in his confounding accessibility. Tunes like Graftin’ may be as ill-lit and foreboding as the arches that stretch over London’s East End, but nowhere does the aural graffiti sound ugly, artless or overcooked. OK, you may wince at occasional barbs like “he’s getting all the gash” (Hype Talk), but I suppose it does rhyme with “he’s got a little cash”.
The sounds that Dizzee summons from his pro-tools are certainly basic, but they’re not without wit. Learn takes on the frontin’-up competitiveness of mainstream American Rap on its own terms by wrapping it up in a loping, buzzing rhythm-track akin to something that Ennio Morricone and Timbaland might arrive at. If they were forced to work together on a 1980 BBC micro-computer, and a budget of fifty pence that is. It works though, as does the sample of ‘Happy Talk’ on Dream. Don’t fight it, feel it.
As sure as eggs is eggs, Dizzee can’t be “Dylan the villain / from ’round the way” for ever. Just like every teenage football talent is now fated to play for Chelchester Madrid at some point, sooner or later Dizzee’s gonna have to face up to the big, badass world outside East London. For me, he’s odds-on to make it a fascinating journey. On Basement Jaxx‘s Kish Kash album, Dizzee more than fixed up and looked sharp on the carnival-in-Istanbul cavalcade of Lucky Star.
For now though, Showtime will more than suffice.