Release Date: Apr 1, 2013
Record label: Warner Bros.
Over the past 10 years Wiley has cemented his status as grime’s most enduring crossover artist. Sometimes awkwardly and sometimes seamlessly, he has managed to straddle the fragile divide between hard-edged underground grime and commercial pop over the course of eight albums. Perhaps Wiley’s success is down to his ability to appropriate current trends coupled with his fascinating character.
I like to think that when Wiley heard Pitbull tell dancers to picture that with a Kodak he felt a bit resentful: despite having nearly written the rule book, none of the rapper’s own ridiculous lyrics and blatant dance-pop crossovers had resonated with non-British listeners nearly as effectively as “Give Me Everything” did. Still, these times should suit the erstwhile “Godfather of Grime”, and at least in the UK they seem to: his latest album The Ascent has already yielded three top 10 hits locally, including a number one in “Heatwave”. If Wiley’s career seems to seesaw between rough-hewn respectability (or obscurity, if you prefer) and goofy populism, his latest sweep into the second category coincides with what must surely be considered goofy populism’s golden age.
Having jumped from the ultra-cool label Big Dada to the multi-billion dollar Warner Music Group, Wiley seems pushed into a poptacular world on The Ascent, which is strange because he always seemed willing to jump. Take the lead single "Heatwave," which is sun, fun, and infectious enough for radio and where Wiley sounds perfectly at home until special guest Ms. D delivers the good, but not gangsta grand, hook.
Last year in Marbella, while filming a video for his No 1 hit Heatwave, Wiley told the Guardian it was time to focus, to prioritise "the record with my name on". The notoriously eccentric MC/producer has, it seems, done just that with The Ascent. It's a calculated assault on the charts that has had time, money and talent lavished on it. The only problem is that, along the way, Wiley has lost what made him such a distinctive voice.
Wiley, the undisputed king of the British urban underground, has been an unstoppable force in music for over a decade, since he first popped up as ringleader of the Roll Deep crew. Since then, like Atlas he’s carried the world of grime on his back with a heavy pride. As well as being one of the most talented artists of a generation, he’s one of the most prolific: in 2010 he released 203 songs in one download.
Richard Cowie has never looked like someone who wants to play the game. As the globally-recognised godfather of grime, the man who goes by the handle Wiley has flirted around the edges of populism while never seemingly being arsed enough to do what it takes to be a bona fide popstar. Hence the myriad no-shows at gigs, constant retirement threats, jealousy-tinged beefs with contemporaries who’ve dared to leap the boundary, refusing to appear in his own promotional videos… the list goes on.
An incoherent album from the grime godfather, but one full of loveable eccentricities. Adam Kennedy 2013 Life is rarely dull with one-man drama magnet/record factory Richard 'Wiley' Cowie. The Ascent is complete confirmation of that: the idiosyncratic east London rapper leaked this album before its release after a dispute with iTunes, simultaneously labelling it his penultimate full-length missive before hanging up his mic.