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Dizzee Rascal, ‘Showtime’ (XL)

It’s a hip-hop truism–the first album is the one where you get the most bragging done. The follow-up? Well, that’s where you gloat about your achievements and bitch about the trials of fame. But mostly, the second album’s for the haters. It’s where rappers cast themselves as actors in epic revenge tragedies, raising a middle finger to the people who said they’d never make it and the allies who betrayed them once they did.

Dizzee Rascal isn’t a rapper in the manner that most Americans would recognize. He’s British, and he sounds it. Although he’s clearly a student of U.S. hip-hop, nicking lines here and there from Snoop Dogg and the Diplomats, Dizzee’s thickly accented flow can be as inscrutable as it is mesmerizing. He sounds like he’s literally coughing up his words, keeping time to the irregular pulse of his mostly self-produced tracks–which evoke everything from clanging pots and pans (“Girls”) to Renaissance-themed video games (“Stand Up Tall”)–and the far more jagged rhythms of his complicated inner life. Still, at its core, Showtimeis a classic sophomore album in the hip-hop sense: puffy with bluster,brimming with indignation. On “Face,” Dizzee shits on the sycophants who ask him for dub plates and bemoans “smiling just for the sake of God knows what.” On “Knock, Knock,” which sounds like the lost twin of Clipse’s “Grindin’,” Dizzee revisits the attack he suffered just before the release of his debut, the Mercury Prize-winning Boy in Da Corner: “Five stab wounds,” he scoffs, a la 50 Cent, “helped me sell double.”

But where Fiddy and his brethren are all about mythologizing their ‘hoods, Dizzee nails the true cruelty of such places–their capacity to exact a toxic loyalty, even as their denizens tear each other down. On “Imagine,” he asks someone he left behind, “[Do] you love me for giving you some hope / Or resent me cause your pride got hurt?” Given that much of Showtime is delivered through a sniper’s crosshairs, Dizzee knows that question’s just rhetorical.