Survival of the fittest. When it comes to evolution, those that can adapt live to fight another day – the rest? They become history. Fossilised remains of disremembered failures. The survivors of the music industry are the ones that remain versatile and consistent amidst changing scenes and markets, who stay lean and focused when competitors wallow in the ever-encroaching muddied waters around them. Wiley’s new album Evolve Or Be Extinct feels like something of an exercise in survivalism then, a high-energy lesson in avoiding that worst of fates: being forgotten.
The Door To Zion makes for a suitably forward-thinking number to open the album, all future-synths and a slow, methodic beat. If there’s one enduring element across Evolve Or Be Extinct, it’s that Wiley’s experience speaks clearly from every track – the album itself standing as yet another evolution in the rapper’s prodigious production line of musical output he’s kept going since 2007’s Playtime Is Over.
Lurching onwards, the frenetic title track is bewilderingly fast, like a rollercoaster plunging into an abyss of speed-induced hysteria. Here, Wiley is at his most commercial, most like his contemporaries. While Wiley may have left it to Skepta and Dizzee Rascal to collaborate with chart troublers N-Dubz and nab the No. 1 records, Evolve Or Be Extinct makes it absolutely clear that Wiley is more than capable of holding his own when it comes to accessible grime.
The record’s best track, Boom Blast, is equally exhilarating; mining Detroit house rhythms in a delirious smash of clubland intensity. As with the title track, it drips in sweat and vigour, a relentless cardio-powered assault on the senses. It’s also refreshingly simple – with so much of current US rap redolent in a lifetime’s worth of studio effects, Wiley’s definitively British back-to-basics approach sounds clearer, more precise and most importantly, infinitely more vital. Indeed, the fact this is Wiley’s ninth official album makes that vitality an even more impressive feat.
The LP’s sonically explorative mid-section hits something of a lull, but the sheer quality of the album’s opening four-track salvo possesses more than enough combustive after-burn to power through. The album begins to play into a theatrical presentation of London today; comical skit Can I Have A Taxi Please and the threatening bass of Money Man are wrapped deep in the pressures of financial woe. Forget the macho playfulness of Wiley’s biggest hit – 2008’s Wearing My Rolex – Evolve Or Be Extinct presents a profoundly more pessimistic outlook on life, one tempered by both age and wisdom.
That said, lurking behind the veneer of the club beats and synthesizers is the intensity of something waiting to be unleashed, an anger pressed into the grit and frustration of Immigration: “They say I’m looking like a rebel on the run… I’m not a trafficker so why you being dumb?” It is here that Wiley presents his more outspoken side; a formidable, empowered presence that feels far removed from the relative radio-friendly warmth of last year’s Never Be Your Woman (which featured an early chart outing for girl-of-the-moment Emeli Sande).
But for all its innovativity and dogged determinism, the album’s latter moments just can’t compete with the top heavy appeal of its opening tracks. It’s there, in its first 12 minutes, that Evolve Or Be Extinct finds its survival instinct.