Wiley. Richard Kylea Cowie. What hasn’t been said about him? He’s been called a genius by many and an idiot by the same amount of people, sometimes at the same time by the same people. The one thing Wiley’s never been is boring.
A true pioneer in terms of production and spitting bars, he helped create the Grime sound when UK Garage fell apart in a shower of champagne and Moschino jeans. He was the driving force behind the now almost mythical Eskimo Dance nights where Grime as a scene started to take shape. He started the Roll Deep crew. He was instrumental in the early careers of Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk, although all of them had to break away from his influence to achieve real success. His internet outbursts on platforms as varied as the old RWD forum, Twitter and YouTube have been almost as legendary as his music. He seems to have clashed every MC in the Grime scene at some point, and has the scars, both lyrical and physical, to show it, and no matter how many people have gone against him, Wiley has never backed down.
Never one to shy away from a contradiction, Wiley has declared his loyalty to Grime one minute then tried to make pop money the next, but unlike Dizzee he’s never left the scene behind. This might be partly due to the fact that Wiley is hardly the most reliable person in the world, a Wiley no-show has become a standard thing over the years and he’s signed and walked out of more record deals than Scorcher’s been to prison for unpaid parking tickets. It’s also due to the fact that, more than anybody else, Wiley embodies everything that’s good and bad about Grime and couldn’t leave it behind even if he tried.
So after the countless deals, clashes, surreal interviews about foxes, radio sets, moments of pop brilliance, groundbreaking production, amazing mixtapes, ethnic banter, average mixtapes, on air rushings, post-club shankings, Twitter beef and much more besides, where does Wiley go now?
Well in a typically idiosyncratic move, he’s gone back to back to Big Dada, the label he walked out of in 2007; a label that gave him full creative control, and seemed to be the perfect home for someone like Wiley. His previous album on Big Dada was far from flawless, but it definitely felt like a Wiley album, unlike See Clear Now, the album released in the wake of the success of Wearing My Rolex. 100% Publishing is almost 100% Wiley. Featuring two guest vocalists, one of which is his daughter, and being entirely self-produced, this is a pure, uncut, totally not stepped on in the slightest, Wiley album. This means it stands and falls on which Wiley has shown up for it.
The Wiley that’s shown up for 100% Publishing is a Wiley that sounds (dare I say it?) grown up, mature and seems to have finally grasped the key to making a coherent album. This isn’t a good thing entirely but it’s refreshing. That’s not to say that it’s boring, far from it, Wiley is still the king of going off on random tangents halfway through songs, and still makes beats that sound like no one else out there. He wouldn’t be Wiley if he didn’t. The album includes ruminations on technology on Information Age, unabashed Grime on the title track, bouncing , almost Electro, Hip-Hop on lead single Numbers In Action, mutant R&B on Pink Lady and typically eccentric self analysis on Yonge St, a song named after the longest street in the world, which Wiley compares himself to. One Hit Wonder is the closest to full on old school Wiley, cementing the undeniable fact that there is no one who can ride a beat like him.
The only major criticisms are that the album lacks the anger that propelled some of Wiley’s most memorable past moments. His production, although still incredibly original, isn’t on the bleeding edge it once was, there’s nothing as viscerally exciting as Wot Do U Call It? or any of his early white label releases . But he’s 32 now, which is ancient in Grime years, and if he’s lost something along the way, he’s also gained a lot as well, and this album sounds like the work of someone who’s confident and comfortable with what he’s capable of.
This is a very good album, maybe not a stone cold classic, but listenable all the way through, and Wiley is still Wiley, he might be older and a tiny bit wiser but he’s still playful, hilarious, stupid, intelligent, innovative and most off all just someone who’s incredibly talented at making music, writing lyrics and spraying them. Thank fuck for that.