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Album Review

Pre-dating Dizzee Rascal's chart-topping reinvention by a mere couple of weeks, Wiley, the self-proclaimed Godfather of Grime, was the U.K. hip-hop genre's first artist to successfully embrace the commercial dance-pop scene which has since become ubiquitous among his peers' recent material. The number two success of breakthrough single "Wearing My Rolex," a heady mix of dirty house beats and chunky, grinding basslines based on Steve Hurley's remix of DSK's "What Would We Do," appears to have spawned the blueprint for the Roll Deep founder's fifth studio album, See Clear Now. Armed with an array of hotshot collaborators and cleverly chosen samples, its 11 tracks, produced by the likes of Mark Ronson, DaVinche (Tinchy Stryder), and Arthur Baker (New Order) provide a hip-pop alternative to his much more abrasive and urban-edged 2008 counterpart Grime Wave, which he describes as "elements of everything wrapped in something new." It's a statement he more than lives up to on the likes of "I Need to Be," which blends kaleidoscopic synths and urgent breakbeats with the soulful melody from Goldie's jungle classic "Inner City Life"; "Can't Stop Thinking," which borrows the anthemic guitar hook from Republica's "Ready to Go" and adds it to some warped synth-bass and electro-clash-rhythms, and the Kanye West-aping "Summertime," where Wiley showcases his trademark, breakneck-speed MC delivery over a looped sample of Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic." But even away from this cut-and-paste approach, Wiley still serves up an intriguing melting pot of sounds. "Cash in My Pocket" is an ironic take on the banking crisis, featuring the impassioned vocals of Daniel Merriweather, a hint of '60s retro-soul thanks to some doo wop backing vocals, vintage Hammond organs, and a singalong chorus that wouldn't sound out of place in a West End musical. Elsewhere, the hypnotic industrial disco of "Step by Step" is exactly the kind of inspired chaos you'd expect from a collaboration with left-field dance act Hot Chip; the title track is an unashamedly poppy affair featuring U.K. rapper Kano which evokes the '80s soul-funk of the Fatback Band, while the melancholic and fingerclicking, piano-led "5 AM" even sees the former pirate radio stalwart convincingly attempt a chilled-out R&B ballad. Closing track "I Am the Sea," a derivative and doom-laden nu-metal/hip-hop hybrid, proves Wiley isn't infallible, but it's the only notable misstep on an album which backs up its ambition with a stream of hook-laden tunes. Wiley may have since dismissed See Clear Now due to a lack of creative control, but as it's by far his most inventive and consistent album to date, he might be better off relinquishing more input in the future. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi

Biography

Born: 19 January 1979 in London, England

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Quite possibly the key U.K. grime player — though he called his knotty, brittle style "eski" or "eskibeat" — producer and MC Wiley (born Richard Cowie) was a member of Pay as U Go Cartel and was later a founding member of Roll Deep Crew. Though he released a pair of strong albums during the 2000s, Treddin' on Thin Ice (XL, 2004) and Playtime Is Over (Big Dada, 2007), much of his best work as a producer trickled out as white-label vinyl releases and free downloads. He made a controversial...
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See Clear Now, Wiley
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