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Treddin' on Thin Ice

Wednesday, May 12 2004
U.K. garage superproducer Wiley's rise to the spotlight, right behind his erstwhile collaborator Dizzee Rascal, has made him, of all things, quite defensive. "Goodbye to the fingers pointing at me," he carps on "Wot Do U Call It?," the first track off his full-length debut, Treddin' on Thin Ice. Problem is, no one's jabbing any indexes: Wiley's been an uncontested underground hero since his first 12-inches emerged on London pirate radio around the turn of the millennium. The only gestures I see are hands stifling yawns at the MC's narcissism and rather dull earnestness.

It's a shame that Wiley didn't just hire Dizzee to tackle the vocals here, because Wiley's inventive, futuristic productions, which forge tinny, lo-fi keyboards into an anorexic version of crunk, are consistently undercut by his rapping. It's not his measured flow that's the problem, it's his lyrics: When he's not dismissing legions of haters, he's spitting unsubtle choruses that sound like the imperative statements of straight-edge posi-core: "Pick UR self up/ Don't be lazy wake up"; "If you can't see/ Wipe your eyes and look forward" -- you get the point.

Wiley's music -- whether you choose to call it garage, grime, U.K. hip hop, or his preferred shorthand, "Eskibeat" -- is self-consciously positioned as ghetto music, of and for the aimless youth of London's dead-end projects, and so perhaps it's smug and misguided to suggest that he would be better off avoiding the public service announcements in favor of clever, less prosaic fare. But for an album that sounds so otherworldly, Wiley's lyrical worldliness -- his fretting over his rep, or styling himself as a kind of vocational counselor for his listeners -- makes it feel like future-funk's spaceship has landed unceremoniously and is struggling to get back off the ground.

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Philip Sherburne


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