#ThrowbackThursday Looking back at Dizzee Rascal’s 'Showtime', and what will Stormzy, J Hus and Dave do with their sophomore albums?
Author: Daniel David | Thursday 21st November 2019
This year marked 15 years since "Showtime", Dizzee Rascal’s second album. This album was released just over a year after "Boy in Da Corner", an album widely considered, which received critical acclaim along with mainstream success; and set the trajectory for Dizzee to become the superstar he is today. While Showtime is a solid album, it often gets overlooked as it sits in the shadow of Boy in Da Corner. And this is quite common, after all Nas’ "It Was Written" is a really good album, but "Illmatic" is still considered the benchmark; Jay-Z’s "Volume 1", while there were attempts to go more commercial, still has amazing lyricism, but "Reasonable Doubt" overshadows it. What is it about a debut album that it just hits different, and how do artists get over that?
Boy In Da Corner was a cultural moment, a genuine shift happened in music. Although people are careful in claiming a classic, especially so quickly after a release, you can usually sense when something special has been released. And that feeling was present around the release of that album. At a time when the genre didn’t even really have a name, Dizzee made the definitive Grime album. Even Wiley in his NFTR interview said that it is the only classic grime album. So what pressure must Dizzee have felt to record the follow up? Prior to the release of Boy In Da Corner, Dizzee was an underground MC, following the release, he became a critical darling. That’s the argument a lot of people make for debut albums being classic albums. Boy In Da Corner was 18 years in the making, Showtime is a year and a half; Boy In Da Corner was recorded by a hungry MC trying to make it, Showtime was recorded by someone who was starting to make it and not wanting to look back.
While Showtime at the time received great praise, it doesn’t have the legacy of Boy In Da Corner. There were no 15 year articles for Showtime, no concert performances of the whole album. It’s hard to make the same impact the second time. Even if the music is still amazing.
And the music is.
The first release we got from Showtime was "Stand Up Tall", a similar single to "Fix Up Look Sharp", a brash, loud, upbeat song. But a lot of the album is dark, even darker than Boy In Da Corner. Songs like Grafting and Respect Me feature dark, sinister beats. A major life event happened between Dizzee’s first two albums, and that was the Napa incident. Much has been written and recorded on it, and there’s plenty of speculation around the finer details of it, but regardless, this album feels very much a product of that incident. The album is angrier, more paranoid. On "Hype Talk" he directly addresses Napa:
"Stabbin' in napa, What's the word on the street, Did he really slap her?, Is it true that Wiley skipped the country left him? Did he punch Mega in the face for tryin to test him?"
And again on "Knock Knock":
"Let's make another thing clear, They didn't burn me up enough, I'm still here, So what was the purpose of your little charade? Your little charade was whack, Just about hurt me, You should have merked me I’m on a rampage now I'm back, 5 stab wounds, couple scratchin', bruisin' and some pains 4 half-hearted fassies, 4 borers, no brains, Did it, two weeks before my album helped me sell double, But let's not dwell on that, it's the least of your trouble"
One of the album highlights, Respect Me, sees Dizzee sounding like a man with something to prove. Over a pounding bass line, Dizzee talks about the backlash he received from other MCs and the media. On the chorus, Dizzee sounds like he is spitting through gritted teeth, while no direct threat is being made, it is threatening. Dizzee references the shooting at garage/grime events, and criticise the media and Trident for thinking he might be a cause of it. And Napa once again gets a mention with the lines:
“UK rapper stabbed in Napa, cause of gossip, cause of chatter, he’s still breathing, he’s still a dapper, retaliate with gun clapper.”
As a standout on the album, "Respect Me" highlights the paranoia and anger that Dizzee held at the time. Understandably after an incident like what happened in Napa, and it might play a major part both in this album, and his career trajectory as a whole.
The other thing this album shows is an artist in transition. Grime journalist Dan Hancox describes this album as Dizzee’s "goodbye to the underground". One of the first things you hear on the album is Dizzee saying that he is formerly known as “the Boy In Da Corner.” It feels like Dizzee is shedding his skin, in preparation for the mainstream stardom he would eventually achieve. On "Imagine" he even asks the question: "Imagine if I showed you one day I was leaving the hood, Would you call me a sellout? Would you say it's all good?" And on Fickle he says: “So show me where’s the money, spare me the congratulation, Forget the industry’s bewilderment and fascination, Everybody wanna be ghetto but nobody wanna be poor, All you follow fashion dummies ain’t eating no more.”
A lot of this album deals with Dizzee rising and also empowering those who come from similar circumstances as him. Like on "Dream" he says: “To all the youngers cotchin' on the stairs in the flats, With the superstar soccer-lings, Beckham in the makings, You can go far if you put your mind to it, You're a star, don't wait to be told, just do it.” Dizzee’s departure might be for economic reasons, as exhibited on this song. But on songs like Respect Me and Hype Talk it does seem like it is also partially influenced by the circumstances he had been through since the release of Boy In Da Corner
Fickle ends with the lines “Lord knows what I’ll find when I re-, Rewind to the years when a teacher couldn’t teach, Think back to the days when I couldn’t be told, Now it’s a few years and I feel lost, Tryna live the high life, but at what cost?” And that was Dizzee’s parting shot.
Since Showtime Dizzee’s star has risen and risen, with his music changing as he has gone on. And that is to be expected, after all who is the same person at 35 that they were at 19? But Grime fans still hearken for a return to that initial sound he presented on his first two albums.
So what is it about second albums that don’t receive the same level of attention that debut albums do? That even though Showtime, It Was Written and Volume 1 received good reviews, they don’t receive the same plaudits the previous albums did? And how do artists feel knowing the pressure they have following their debut albums?
Stormzy, J Hus, and Dave are three of the biggest UK artists right now, and all three of their debut albums have had a huge impact. Both Stormzy and Dave went to number one in their first week, and all three albums received widespread critical acclaim. Now, all three artists are at different stages of preparation for their follow up albums.
Just this week, Stormzy announced the date, title and tracklist of his sophomore album "Heavy is The Head". Stormzy now is in a bigger position than he was at the time of release of his debut album. Between high profile appearances at Glastonbury and The Brits, his Oxford scholarship and his political activism, Stormzy is now seen as the man of the people. And this album is being released on December 13, the day after the general election. In fact, it should hit streaming around the same time as we get the result. That’s a lot of pressure for a young man to have on his head. The album title, Heavy Is The Head, even reflects this with a play on the saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown", referring to how taxing responsibilities can be on an individual. Whether Stormzy likes it or not, he has become one of the voices of a generation, a generation that feels disenfranchised, that haven’t been listened to. The second single released from the album, "Crown", reflects his predicament with the first verse ending with the lines: “They sayin' I'm the voice of the young black youth, And then I say "Yeah, cool" and then I bun my zoot.” Come December 13 we will see how this responsibility has affected Stormzy, as his career has gotten bigger and bigger.
When J Hus released Common Sense, the album was hailed as a breath of fresh air, with J Hus hailed for his blending of genres. J Hus was riding high and the EP released the following year continued the momentum. Then in June 2018 he was arrested. In that time, in between his arrest and his release in April of 2019, the only times we heard from Hus was his Daily Duppy and his feature on Dave’s album. And even after his high profile release and appearance at the Drake concert, he has been quiet. But then two weeks ago he took to social media to announce that he was releasing a new song that night. The next day the timeline was filled with praise for "Must Be". Sounding like he hasn’t missed a step, J Hus rhymes over crazy horns and strings. Much like some of Dizzee’s rhyming on Showtime, the lyrics seem slightly paranoid, understandable given J Hus’ situation since the release of his last album. Not much is known about his follow up album, but if Must Be is anything to go by, we are going to have another critically acclaimed album on our hands.
Dave’s debut album Psychodrama was released this year to critical acclaim; leading to media appearances, a Mercury nomination and sold out tours across the world. The album has been particularly well received in the States, with DJBooth, a US hip hop site, having it at number four for best albums of the year, and may surely will still be sitting high on a lot of people’s year end lists this year. Releasing a concept album as your first album is a bold choice, which stands testament to Dave’s confidence and the goodwill he has built up with his audience. And as mentioned earlier, it can be hard to label something a classic this early on, but there is a special feeling with Psychodrama. Since the release of the album, we have had quite a few new Dave tunes released, a couple on the Top Boy soundtrack, and the highly anticipated drill tune "Paper Cuts" which was released a couple of weeks ago. Whether these songs are indicative of the sound of his next album is unknown, but surely Dave has a plan for his second album. Will we see another concept album? Will we see more storytelling? Will he continue to deliver the personal, powerful lyrics he is known for? Or will he go down a different route altogether?
Following up a debut album with critical acclaim, or even considered a classic, must be hard. And while those albums might not always receive the same level of attention the debut got, fans will always recognise those albums; they can always be pulled out in discussions about underrated albums or on most underrated album lists. So while Showtime didn’t receive 10 year or 15 year recognitions in the same Boy In Da Corner did, it is still a great album, and really reflective of a young man who had dealt with so much since his previous album. And now we are on the cusp of sophomore releases of three of the biggest artists in the UK, and just like Dizzee had plenty to draw on for his, Stormzy, J Hus and Dave have plenty to talk about to make these albums highlights of their discography.