It's not often that teacher follows on the heels of pupil, but Treddin' on Thin Ice
, the debut album from east London MC-producer Wiley
will undoubtedly suffer from comparison with the award-scooping 2003 album by his young protégé, Dizzee Rascal
. As the godfather of pioneering garage crew Roll Deep, Wiley is essentially the key architect of the stark MC-led strain of UK garage presently known as "grime", "sub-lo", or "Eski". His Treadin' on Thin Ice
isn't quite the magnificent statement that Dizzee's Boy in da Corner
was. Sure, Wiley is a good MC, but he seems to lack the all-consuming philosophy and breadth of narrative needed on a 15-track album.
Still, there's much to recommend here: the production is a triumph of expertly-applied minimalism, skeletal Playstation beats meshing neatly with retro synthesiser bass and warped oriental strings. Meanwhile, Wiley's natural propensity towards melancholy is neatly balanced by a handful of genuinely hilarious tracks that poke fun at himself, his peers and the scene: try the genre-defining "Wot Do U Call It?" ("Garage?/ Urban?/ Two-step?"), frisky money-making anthem "Pies", and "Goin' Mad"--a blend of conversational narrative and genuinely-affecting emotion, delivered in a broad Cockney geezer accent, that's reminiscent of the Streets. --Louis Pattison
You could spend a lot of time arguing about what sort of music this is, and on the track "Wot Do U Call It" Wiley does just that. But whether you call it grime, East End hip hop or (the artist's personal choice) eski-beat this is the genre's second defining album -the first being Dizzee Rascal's Mercury prize winning Boy In Da Corner.
Both Wiley and Dizzee are former members of London's Roll Deep Crew and you can hear the music comes from similar sources (computer games, electro, garage, the highs and lows of urban life). That said, Wiley's sounds and words are less abrasive, warmer and more inclusive. While the younger Dizzee wants to push you away, the 25 year old Wiley wants to draw you in to explain his madness and aspirations.
Some of the best tracks appear as inner dialogues,as if you've dropped into Wiley's head to hear him arguing with himself. "Pick Your Self Up" comes across like a motivational speech, our hero convincing himself that everything is going to be alright, no matter how bleak things seem. Another highpoint is "That's What I Need", an endless list of all the things he wants in a girl - all the time knowing no real person could fulfil such contradictory demands. There's a clarity to these words which can't help but engage the listener.
The soundtrack to these musings is as likely to appeal to fans of 'experimental' music as the hoody wearing youth. "Goin' Mad" and "Eskimo" sound like they're taken from some freaky old skool platform game, weird oompah music that is both addictive and unsettling. Tracks like"Doorway" have more in common with arty electronica than mainstream American rap.
And be warned, like the best sort of pop, this album is very catchy. After a couple of listens the music gets stuck in your head and keeps going round and round. Sure, as Wiley admits, 'He does go on bit' -but we can forgive him that, he's got a lot to say and he does it better than most. The most original, and most English, album I've heard all year. --Matt Harvey
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