Last summer, when Wiley‘s 2nd Phaze mixtape hit the streets the pioneers’s disappearance from the grime scene was half explained (differences with label XL) but more importantly, tracks like Grim, I Like the Way and Friday Night generated a real buzz.
The young pretenders like Sway and Kano should’ve been nervous – with Dizzee Rascal nowhere to be seen and with no one forcing him to take the pop route, everything was set for Wiley to jump to the top of the grime world.
For whatever reason, it has taken a year to get Playtime Is Over ready to hit the shelves and Gangsters, Johnny Was A Bad Boy and Eski-Boy already feel dated, with a ‘2006’ stamp all over them. That’s not to say they aren’t good tracks, Gangsters stands up with the cream of UK hip-hop tracks, while Eski-Boy’s bouncy hype is infectiously uplifting.
The punishing bass of Bow E3 runs throughout the album, adding depth and atmosphere in the right places and after Wiley’s shouts to his East London home the album begins to gather rhythm and pace. Flyboy illustrates Wiley’s loyalty to his roots as the rapid flows from him and Scorcher over a high tempo but tinny drum beat are closer in nature to UK Garage than a more generic US sound.
Baby Girl, a dedication to Wiley’s newborn, is a light-hearted but nonetheless heartfelt moment without any bravado. What is clear is the man’s commitment to his music, and its potential rewards but the continuity is awkward when we’re told that Playtime Is Over will be Wiley’s last album.
Perhaps it’s because Letter 2 Dizzee is all about the music game, “all the raves, shows and radio” that Wiley and his prodigy Mr Rascal took part in together, that the sentiment is much stronger. It’s a brazen account of the unseen work that has brought the UK hip-hop game (almost) into the mainstream. While modesty is absent, (“Nothing ain’t changed / except I’m the best now”) there is a gentle approachability to this, and Wiley’s other offerings.
Nothing About Me and its chorus ending “I have to leave my legacy / got nothing to lose, I’m a keep pushin’ through” is Playtime Is Over’s real cathartic moment. As well composed as it is, it doesn’t seem fresh. Again, as good as Come Lay With Me is as a garage/grime crossover there is no sense of innovation. Wiley hits the nail on head of his own problem with Getalong Gang’s opening bar.
Wiley lets us know he’s “the reason grime is a main brand”, which may be true but the sound has evolved. Playtime Is Over is miles forward from the Wiley of Wot U Call It and Who Ate All the Pies but it sits uneasily behind Sway’s One For the Journey and Kano’s The Mixtape projects.
In its defence the album makes little attempt to bridge the gap between the mainstream and underground scenes, so will appeal to the latter. But it’s the former which determines sales.