Evolve Or Be Extinct
, January 12th, 2012 10:58
Wiley is an idiosyncratic musical powerhouse whose output exists in two distinct spheres. A rapier-witted MC and producer, his most vibrant and compelling work is often found on underground mixtapes and grainy battle footage rather than his more polished LP offerings. Having risen through the harsh drama of the early 00's East End grime scene to mainstream dalliances of varying success, he's always maintained an unswerving commitment to brutal personal honesty that has seen him document his life with toothcomb intimacy.
But while this unflinching honesty has produced music of great humanity and creative eccentricity, it has also led to a proliferation of tracks based around glum dissections of (often finance related) industry minutiae and grime scene politics. Nowhere was this more clear than on his last studio outing 100% Publishing - a record morosely occupied with behind the scenes baggage.
The fact that his new LP comes a mere six months after the release of that album gives some indication of Wiley's prolific work rate which, by modern standards – heck, by Motown standards – is phenomenal. Quite apart from myriad official releases, there has been a steady slew of material released online for free, often via his Twitter account. Indeed, in this respect one can well imagine Wiley becoming the Sun Ra of grime; a genre within genre with a vast, borderline impenetrable, back catalogue.
But if 100% Publishing was a somewhat one tracked affair, Evolve Or Be Extinct is a kaleidoscopic view of Wiley's full lyrical and thematic prowess. It also happens to be his most complete and – crucially – most fun LP thus far. Veering from grime through unabashed pop to more off key material, the eclectic musical ground covered shows Wiley becoming increasingly adept at working both his underground and pop elements to cohesive full effect.
Opening with a subdued and tripped out vibe, 'Welcome to Zion' sees Wiley being welcomed into Zion by a plummy voiced narrator, before cataloguing the pleasures found therein (fruit juice, lots of girls and a MacBook, apparently). The energy is soon ramped with 'Evolve Or Be Extinct', a track which utilises frenetic 8 bit samples alongside dizzying double time chat which sees him breaking down the nature of the game in comically succinct style ("I'm doing it right and they're doing it wrong / half good MCs ruin a song / why they doing it wrong!? / That's long!").
'I'm Skankin', meanwhile, espouses the simple pleasures of dancing alone in your bedroom, while 'Scar' boasts guest production from Mark Pritchard who lays down a cryptic oscillating bassline alongside stomping 2-step.
Perhaps most immediate is the pure pop of 'Boom Blast', a track that features stuttering electro bass alongside a preposterous chorus that quite honestly would not have sounded out of place coming from 5ive circa the turn of the millennium. That he manages not just to make it work, but to make it sound as rough, vital and luminous as it does, is testament to both Wiley's considerable production chops (all but a couple of tracks here are self produced) and free-flowing musical alchemy. The wicked bounce of 'Link Up' also marks a sweet spot play off between beat and hook, while 'Weirdo' offers comment on Wiley's perceived eccentricity: "I'm a weirdo, but I'm not a bipolar".
Not all is plain sailing. It is unlikely that many will be seduced by the irritating stumble of 'Miss You' while 'Immigration' - a track that plots a difficult passage through immigration on the way to holiday in painstakingly thorough detail - is a lumpen affair. Perhaps most revealing is 'This Is Just An Album', a track that lays Wiley's approach to his art bare, and talks of the difficulties of keeping his large and eclectic fanbase happy.
There is so much to be enjoyed on 'Evolve Or Be Extinct' though - such fluid virtuosity - that the occasional blip does not cloud the overall picture. Indeed it's immensely satisfying that one of England's most idiosyncratic lyricists has finally delivered an LP that equals the incendiary nature of his freestyle delivery: a stern, surreal and evolutionary forward bounce.