March 16, 2011

Sach O wants more Twitter followers to sustain his delusions of grandeur.

Understatement: Wiley is a complicated artist. If you think Lupe Fiasco renouncing Lasers is a weird move, Wiley does that kind of shit on the regular. To good albums. Before dissing his label. And dropping hundreds of low quality tracks on Twitter. It’s long since become a cliché but it’s worth repeating: the man is his own worst enemy and if he’s never broken through in the US it’s not for a lack of musical talent but because he just can’t work in a corporate structure. In his defense however, this kind of erratic behavior can also be a secret weapon: his defiance in the face of music industry bullshit and uncanny ability to drop endless quotables and game-changing beats have turned him into an iconic survivor in the years since Grime’s first impact. Take Madlib’s work ethic, Nas’ contradictions, Swizz Beats’ synthetic sensibility, Timbaland’s crossover ambitions and MF Doom’s random streak and you’re half-way to understanding the man nicknamed The Elusive. The other half was forged in pirate radio going back to the days of Jungle and…that’s another story.

With that in mind, Wiley’s developed a wholly inaccessible catalogue wiout too many obvious entry points. His rhyming is best represented on bootlegged pirate sessions and mixtapes, releases that require a fair amount of context and effort if you’re not accustomed to Grime’s rave meets rap conventions. His instrumental output is a bit easier to grasp but the only album compiling his classic Eski Riddims (Avalanche Music) is out of print and plagued by dodgy audio quality. Which brings us to Run The Riddim Selecta, a 10 track, 30 minute instrumental EP drawing on his mid-career production that’s as good a place as any to get in on the madness.

Devoid of any overarching concept, the release can occasionally feel like a grab bag of beats, a random selection from the man’s stash of material. In Wiley’s case however, that’s a good thing as his best releases have a rough-hewn quality that gets lost with proper formatting. Here, he lets the beats breathe just long enough to paint a picture (or let aspiring emcees kick a few verses) before moving on, switching up the vibe at every turn. As such, it’s a concise sample of his different styles: you’ve got your back masked soul (Childhood Riddim Revamp), gurgling grime (Name Drop), alternate reality electro-house (Roman Road), melancholy piano music (London Street History) and Eski updates (Colder Remix) all in the first half. Throw in some synthesizer madness and pentatonic sino-Grime in the back and that’s his best ideas in a nutshell. The effect isn’t unlike Madlib’s Beat Konducta releases in short form but with the stoned California lo-fi dust replaced with shiny, plastic London Garage turned incredibly evil.

Of course, making any predictions about Wiley’s future direction based on these tracks is dangerous: the man may try to drop a crossover tune tomorrow before immediately denouncing it the day after. Much like Charlie Sheen’s, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the show: he’s already dropped a new compilation of vocal tracks (Offload Volume 1) and single with Juelz Santana (Bright Lights) in the week leading up to this and he’s recently re-signed with Ninja Tune, probably the best of the labels he’d previously left in a huff. Par for the course when dealing with Wiley so if you’re new to the man’s work, try this, follow it up with his full-length debut (Treadin on Thin Ice) and go from there. And just remember there’s plenty more where that came from.

MP3: Wiley – Drunken Master 3

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