There is a triumphant air that marks Wiley’s return to Big Dada, the label where he was last seen with Playtime Is Over. That record was said to initiate a premature retirement, but since then he has hit daytime radio with Wearing My Rolex, managing to juggle his music between Friday night dancefloors and underground clubs. Indeed, given the musical language of last opus See Hear Now, questions were asked if he had turned his back on the grime scene.
Only temporarily, it seems, especially as the rapper has renounced See Clear Now, his only dalliance with a major record company. Where Playtime Is Over began with 50/50, Wiley proclaiming repeatedly that his record deal was the best. 100% Publishing ups the anti, calling out in the song of the same name that “I know some don’t care about the grime scene but I’m gonna til I die.” Signs of longevity perhaps?
Musically he remains more vital as ever – and 100% Publishing presents his sound as a stripped back fusion of powerfully wrought beats and biting bass, with Wiley’s inimitable bark the front piece throughout. Talk About Life and Wise Man And His Words shows that he can still do subtlety, mind, a surprisingly graceful piano winding its way around his words in the latter like an out take from an early DJ Shadow track.
Humour abounds, as you would hope with such a quick and inventive lyrical mind. “Some days I’m asking God but then the internet is quicker!” he proclaims. Depends who your broadband provider is, I suppose. Boom Boom Da Na, meanwhile, is brilliantly wrought, the rapper singing along with the classic old circus tune which a one hand keyboard updates to the 21st century. “Don’t get in my way when I’m tweeting!” he admonishes his listener.
The clever rhyming keeps the listener on their toes. When he raps with a line that ends with ‘slyly’ you think it’s inevitable he will reference self – but he doesn’t, it’s Kylie instead. Such expectations are often confounded in an album that has absolutely no padding, the short songs speaking volumes, each one like episodes of a TV soap crammed into three minutes.
These days Wiley sounds impressively vital, even from someone who will never shirk his musical convictions. “I just woke up and I’m feelin’, musically higher than a 20 foot ceilin’”, goes the rapid word fire over the quick tom tom rat-a-tat of I Just Woke Up. Such lyrical play is sharp and incisive, and though there is some self-praise in the references to grime and Eski-beat, they generally feel well earned.
“If you got a problem you should get up and express it, but I ain’t got a problem I’m just feeling energetic.” So goes the start to Yonge Street, named after the longest road in the world. It seems an appropriate mantra with which to sum up this album. Wiley may be a little further along the grime road than when he started with It’s Not Me It’s You, but he continues to keep the genre travelling at an impressively quick speed.