Whether you heard it in this strange specimen of a track (see above) from his last album, clocked it from the plea of ‘I’m a weirdo – but label me grime, please’ on new track Bloodtype, or have even just read down his Twitter feed for five minutes, you’ll be aware Wiley is most definitely, at the least, an eccentric and outsider type character. It is in this unpredictable Wiley vain that on Monday, Eskiboy dropped his ‘final’ (though this isn’t the first time we’ve heard him say this) solo studio production – Snakes and Ladders, released through Big Dada Sounds. This was a project that we have been hearing about on and off since his last long play release The Ascent, but have had very little indication, other than some badly taken Instagram photos of the tracklisting, and a handful of tweets, of when it was meant to be dropping.
In recent years, Wiley’s musical persona seems to have taken on a Jekyll and Hyde type deviation; we have the mainstream crowd pleasing Wiley of Heatwave and Can You Hear Me, who claims to have cracked the secret formula for topping the UK charts, and the true-to-his-roots godfather of a genre that we experience with his ‘Steps’ freestyles on It’s All Fun and Games Vol 1 + 2. His new release, Snakes and Ladders, is a fairly comfortable amalgamation of both these characters, and a welcome equilibrium in the troubled Wiley psyche.
At its best moments, Snakes and Ladders features some of Wiley’s most sharp and self aware lyrical prowess, presented over instrumentals that are modern and experimental, but still true to Wiley’s hayday of the aggressive and fun beats of Grime in the early 2000s. At its worst, there are tracks that feel forced, slightly nonsensical, and are not really worth more than a first listen.
Our favourite tracks so far are:
- On A Level. This is a track that has been hungrily devoured by Grime fans and club DJs since its release a month ago. The video is directed by Skepta and works almost as a ‘who’s who’ directory of the important faces in Grime at the moment. The instrumental is a throwback to the traditional Eskiboy style, with an oldschool croaky and energetic beat, and the lyrics include various references that keen Grimeheads will pick up on. This tune is probably the biggest triumph of the album. ‘I don’t know what they told you, but I’m not a mook / You can never be like Wiley, on a level’
- From the Outside, which features heavyweights Teddy and JME, and presents Wiley’s thoughts of his current place in the music scene. This track explores the issues Wiley has with the music industry, and his feelings on certain past tracks that were clearly made to keep his business minded counterparts in the industry happy. “I’m torn between catering for me and the fans / I only hear my big hits where people go to get tans”
- Badman, which is a complex shoutout to pretty much anyone who’s ever been important in the mainstream Grime scene. This track is an ode to Grime music, and everyone in the community, and calls on everyone from oldschool heads like Little Dee and Ice Kid to newcomers such as Stormzy. ‘Krept and Konan I hear you clearly / I figured out a couple old punchlines nearly’
- Step 21, an energetic, impressive freestyle and an extension of hisIt’s All Games Til’ This song, like others on the track, comments on the past and present Grime scene, and offers words of advice from Wiley on how to live life, which seem to be based on his rocky past experiences with money. ‘What’chu wanna do, spend a million or two, on your family or you could spend it on your crew, before you realise you gotta have a house, these are the idiot things we do’
These tracks are all included in the first half of the seventeen on the album, and it is after Step 21, in our opinion, that things get intermittently weird and at times a bit shit. We won’t delve into this too much, because all in all this an important and impressive Grime production that is selling well, but with tracks such as What’s On Ya Mind (which feels like a Grime remake of one of those Sounds of Meditation instrumental albums you can buy in W H Smith) and Lonely, an overly forced American West Coast rap inspired song that features YMCMB’s Gudda Gudda and bloody Cam’ron, you will not be blamed for losing interest. Then there’s also these other weird things, like Wiley shouting out Miley Cyrus’ twerking skills on TWO seperate tracks, and that Hollow Da Don skit which is completely unexplained. We also absolutely hate the track Busy, which is quite literally Wiley-induced insanity and has the one of the most annoying hooks we’ve come across.
As we have mentioned, however, Wiley is boundary pusher, and it’s his forward thinking (albeit slightly off the wall) mentality and vision that has fed and nurtured the genre of Grime, so we’re careful to criticise. We have been harsh at points in this article, but only because of our massive love for Wiley. He has been, and still is, a huge force of positive energy within the Grime movement, and this album is a productive example of this. Snakes and Ladders is well worth the £7.99 it’s going for on Itunes, and features more than a few bangers that will definitely be bumped for a while. This Grime veteran still has a lot of bottle in him, and we are sad if this does actually turn out to be his last solo production.