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Treddin' On Thin Ice

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Album Review

Dizzee Rascal, the apprentice, turned garage rap on its head with his unorthodox programming, drunken-master cadence, and near-hysterical delivery; Wiley, the master, may serve as the better introduction to what can be a difficult export to understand. Garage rap's aesthetic of less-is-more isn't immediately appealing to a worldwide audience, while the heavily accented rapping and stark, lo-fi digital production owe far more to West Indies dancehall than the blues and funk that anchor hip-hop. (So alien does it sound that grime even inspired an embarrassing campaign among music journalists and bloggers to poetically convey the sound with words, first place here given to Sasha Frere-Jones for a description appearing in The New Yorker: "like arguments between two implacable robot telemarketers.") While an intrinsic part of the grime scene, Wiley is hardly inaccessible. He writes monster hooks which he then drives home with his stuttered programming, his rapping avoids the awkwardness of many British artists, and he shows as much personal flair as does Dizzee Rascal — a tall order, and one that can't be faked. He also balances his potentially volcanic personality with his role as father figure to his juniors in the scene. Dizzee Rascal and the Streets' Mike Skinner not only harness a brash and volatile sound, they also write material that accurately conveys their paranoia and insecurities. Wiley has advice for the type of undirected youth Mike Skinner often paints himself as, preaching self-reliance on "Pick U R Self Up," using the record's best production ("Special Girl") for an ode to the type of girl that attracts him (not just sexually), and inviting members of his Roll Deep crew to share the spotlight on several tracks. He still has a ball on this record, though. "Wot U Call It?" plays with the academics' endless game of one-upmanship over what to call his sound (perhaps intentionally, Wiley doesn't even mention grime, the leading contender, as a possibility). He's the garage rapper with something for everyone — East London attitude and tight productions for dance fans, as well as nonprovincial material and great beats for hip-hop heads.


Born: 19 January 1979 in London, England

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Quite possibly the key player in U.K. grime -- though he called his knotty, brittle style "eski" or "eskibeat" -- producer and MC Wiley (born Richard Cowie) came up as a member of Pay as U Go Cartel, and was later a founding member of Roll Deep Crew. Much of his best and most crucial early work as a producer trickled out as white-label vinyl releases and free downloads. After Treddin' on Thin Ice (XL, 2004) and Playtime Is Over (Big Dada, 2007), a pair of strong albums, Wiley made a controversial...
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Treddin' On Thin Ice, Wiley
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