A quick refresher on the evolution of the snare drum in hip-hop music. American producers have always ratcheted the pop to beats two and four -- boom-pop-boom-pop -- which club peacocks harness to propel their big booties in many exciting directions. In the Caribbean, however, Jamaican dancehall producers liberated the snare drum from the stuffy confines of the 4/4 beat by pushing the two snare pops to the front, and the resulting double-pop emancipation has not only fundamentally changed the art form, whose producers now infuse dancehall into their rhythms, but dancing as well. The snare, once caged, is free.
Dizzee Rascal's snare drum flies all over the place on Showtime. The London-based hip-hop producer and rapper's 2003 debut, Boy in Da Corner, was a series of urgent, jerky exclamation points that came out of nowhere, snagging Britain's coveted Mercury Prize. Showtime is even better, though lyrically he still leans way too much on standard subjects: power, money, girls, and pride (and not necessarily in that order).
Luckily, his patois is often impenetrable to American ears. He could be rhyming about British foreign policy or English settlers, and we probably wouldn't be any the wiser. Rascal's closest kindred is Chicago's Twista: both conjure rap and Jamaican toasting, and spit their rhymes with a drum roll urgency. The difference, of course, is that Rascal isn't annoying and one-dimensional. Rather, his voice jumps high and low within his register, sounding simultaneously random and ordered. He actually sounds a bit like another Diz -- Gillespie -- who fluttered his trumpet the way he scrambles his verbal delivery. Both are masters at improvising jumpy chaos atop a structured foundation.
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Rascal sparkles brightest as a producer. He's got his own sound, and it's decidedly, defiantly European. While American hip-hop producers have historically shunned European techno and drum and bass, he has embraced the deep, synthetic hum of the music, as well as house, dancehall, and U.K. garage, creating an insistent, wholly unique hybrid. "Learn," a track from Showtime, is deep crunk emulsified, rigid but funky, with a tight loop of church organ locked inside a deliberate, lumbering beat. And the first single, "Stand Up Tall," is a raucous, digital workout that wouldn't be out of place on an Autechre album. Showtime confirms Dizzee Rascal as the most exciting hip-hop anomaly of 2004.