Come gather round this “eski-beat” igloo, and dig into this premium whale blubber of icy goodness. 25-year-old east London rapper and producer Richard “Wiley” Cowie steers clear of musical pigeonholes to form his own style (which ironically has created new labels) – “eski-beats” or “grime” – which reflects the feeling of alienation of striding boldly into the musical unknown.
Wot Do U Call It addresses the genre labelling issue with a defiant, “I don’t care about Garage!” The genius is in the spaces left between notes, creating an emotional drama that is utterly compelling. Sometimes the backing track plummets away leaving a tension that is at turns thrilling and unnerving.
Skeletal, stalking, glacial slices of everyday hassles push up against influences from Jamaican dancehall, sparse disjointed urban beats, messed up R ‘n’ B, sub bass rumbles and defiantly cheap sounds, to cook up something truly unique.
After the recent urban “Superstar DJ” years of jungle, drum and bass, UK garage, two step etc., the urban scene had become a poor parody of itself. Where are the So Solid Crew, Goldie, The Pied Piper, The Artful Dodger and friends? Some radical rethinking needed to be done before it all went Blazin’ Squad naff.
Wiley serves up less of the brainless boasting “lovin’ it, gunnin’ it, f**kin’ it” attitude, and more of the “sort your s**t out then roll” (The Streets) school of “up against it” positivity. Like Mike Skinner, and former Roll Deep posse member, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley is stepping away from the pack to show a reality that can be bleak, brutal and bruising but ultimately human.
His defence is the music and a determination in self-preservation that goes beyond guns, girls and bling bling glamour. At times the album sounds like a contemporary musical self-help littered with notes to self to “pick yourself up” and “just remember that you’re human” but with an endearing ability not to take himself seriously – “you do go on a bit” (Goin’ Mad).
Constantly baffling your expectations of where his ideas will go, Treddin’ On Thin Ice is a genuinely thrilling, engaging journey. Like a mash-up of cartoonish melodies with stalking Big Bad Wolf beats there is something innocent but warped at the heart of this music. The jabbing rhythms, grimy samples and staccato lyrical flows that cross football chants (“who ate all the pies”) with frenetic torrents of wordplay all never fail to excite.
Treddin’ On Thin Ice is refreshingly free from the “bitches and ho-s” playground swear fests that litter similar genres. Special Girl, despite the corny title, picks away at the scab of relationships as a plea for a girlfriend cuts and pastes bastard nu-soul built around a car boot sample.
The few instrumental passages on the album hint at the depth of talent not seen, like the two-thirds of the iceberg under the water. Some of the backing calls to mind fellow sonic pioneers Aphex Twin, and Squarepusher, but Wiley brings some welcome warmth and fractured familiarity that engages rather than isolates.
Fixed up. Looking eskimo sharp. Just don’t call it garage. Eskimoes don’t own cars, see?