Wiley - 100% Publishing
released 20 June 2011 on Big Dada
If you were Wiley, it would be perfectly reasonable to wish it were still 2003. Back then, the man born Richard Cowie was heralded as the leading light of an exciting and challenging new breed of hip-hop – UK grime. It was more brutal and sparse than its polished American cousin, and Wiley was set to take the charts by storm.
Except, he didn’t. Dizzee Rascal won the Mercury Prize with Boy In Da Corner (which Wiley guested on), and Wiley ended up with more critical than commercial success. Now on his seventh (seventh?!) album, it sadly seems he’s stuck at that moment where it all nearly happened.
UK hip-hop used to be something of a joke, and few people have done as much to change that perception than Wiley. However, music evolves, and the landscape today is very different to what it was eight years ago. Since then, Dizzee’s sanded down his rough edges and gone stratospheric, Roots Manuva has continued to innovate, and even dubstep acts (such as Burial) and dancehall MCs (like Toddla T) can be considered part of the mainstream.
All this leaves Wiley ploughing his furrow alone, still claiming he’s the ice-cold 'eski boy'. That said, Wiley clearly remains one of the best MCs around, and that kind of talent doesn’t just disappear. His rhymes are rich, varied and display an artist clearly in love with language. There’s a stack of superb lines to choose from, but you’d have to go some way to beat, I’m a time travel dude and the future can’t be altered / That’s why my life has never been as plain as ready salted.
Like the vast majority of rappers, Wiley likes to inform the listener of his own brilliance, but there’s self-doubt and paranoia creeping in round the edges. The title track is doubtful – nobody knows if it’s gonnawork overseas but you wait until I try – and on Numbers In Action, he acknowledges that People saying my last hit’s Rolex; a reference to his superb 2008 hit single, Wearing My Rolex. Perhaps this is an admission that after a prolific career, he’s becoming susceptible to stress and worry.
In hip-hop, verses can only take you so far, the beats are vital too, and this is where 100% Publishing starts to fall down. Entirely produced by Wiley himself, a lot of the album sounds simply like a man going through the motions. Stuck in his salad days, the problem isn’t so much what Wiley is doing, it’s what everyone else has done in the interim. There are inspired moments – there’s an almost ravey, Balearic feel to Your Intuition – but for the most part, it sounds tired.
Not just that, it’s muddled too. Like Roots and Dizzee, Wiley is a particularly British kind of lyricist, which is why the latter half of 100% Publishing’s forays into the smooth sounds of American hip-hop are so jarring. Again, it’s very 2003, but this time, it’s what was happening over the Atlantic rather than on the streets of London. A case in point is Talk About Life, which starts with a Mr. Scruff riff, tribal beats and addictive synths, and has the potential to comfortably be the best song on the whole record. However, the chorus arrives, and it’s an insipid, radio-friendly slice of characterless R&B. It’s enormously frustrating – Wiley boasts on Boom Boom Da Na that the weed won’t replace my legacy, but he could be wrong.
100% Publishing concludes with To Be Continued, and Wiley’s assertion: To be continued, ‘cos my work ain’t over / Get my mind right, I can make a body of work. This seems a fair summing up of the record; it has potential and is brimming with obvious talent, it’s just as if Wiley doesn’t have the requisite concentration or fire to see it through. Unfortunately, that line finishes with, See, I told ya, meaning Wiley seemingly believes this album is, in fact, his crowning achievement as an artist. Sadly, he’s mistaken, as 100% Publishing isn’t anything like the masterpiece it has the potential to be.