To get to the obvious question right away: yes, Showtime
is poppier and more radio-friendly than Dizzee Rascal's Mercury Music Prize-winning debut, Boy In Da Corner
. But really, it's not like he had much of a choice -- his options were to stay the same, to take his brand of grime to abrasive new levels, or to make his music more accessible than it was the first time around. Given that past Mercury Prize winners have opted for the former two paths, and that Rascal (presumably) wants to have a more illustrious career than, say, Roni Size or Talvin Singh, making his sound easier on the ears was really his only option.
Of course, "easier on the ears" is a relative term. While Showtime is much more likely to provide Dizzee with a breakthrough hit on this side of the Atlantic, nothing here could be mistaken for the latest Lil Jon-featuring single. For that matter, there's not even anything on here that sounds like it would have belonged on Treddin' On Thin Ice, the radio-oriented album from his former mentor, Wiley. Dizzee's voice still sounds like a helium-inflected hiccup, and the beats still sound like they were recorded directly from a Nintendo, if not an Atari. "Face", for instance, is propelled by a beat that sounds eerily like the noise the powered-up Mario made when he hurled a fireball.
There are definitely songs on which Dizzee goes beyond the template he established on Boy In Da Corner. A children's choir sings "Dream"'s chorus, while "Learn" is propelled by an Eastern-tinged beat. Showtime's best song, "Stand Up Tall", has the usual video game beat, but sped up to such an extent that it's actually pretty catchy. However, as much fun as these songs are, it's Dizzee's unorthodox style that makes him special, and Showtime's best moments are the ones where this is highlighted. The most notable example is "Girls", on which guest MC Marga Man shows off a voice even more high-pitched than Dizzee's, yielding a song that has no equivalent in North American hip-hop.
Perhaps, then, calling Showtime more radio-friendly than its predecessor is a bit misleading. To be sure, there's less of the grit and menace that characterized Boy In Da Corner; Dizzee no longer inhabits London's slums, so it's nice to see that he didn't try and maintain empty thug posturing. Instead, Showtime presents him with an eye on a career; if he can keep up what he does here, he'll be set for the long haul.