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Wiley - Treddin' On Thin Ice

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Artist: Wiley

Album: Treddin' On Thin Ice

Label: XL

Review date: Aug. 9, 2004

The much discussed UK garage scene has taken up a great deal of column space, while providing precious little of lasting import. Like its American counterpart electroclash, the genre seems destined to become a forgotten trend – snickered at from the safe distance that hindsight provides. Granted, we on the continent may not have been able to experience every single nuance of the form, and that could be our loss.

This year, Wiley’s Treddin' on Thin Ice aims to change any pre-existing perceptions of garage, two-step and UK street rap. In fact, Wiley wastes no time in declaring his independence from the aforementioned flavors. On the track “Wot Do You Call It?” he takes jabs at lazy audiences, reviewers and anyone who has the nerve to try to pigeonhole his style. With sly and self aggrandizing wit, Wiley skewers musical tourists, while out-of-the box beats shuffle in a kitschy, jungle fashion.

With a thuggish leer all his own, Wiley has hit upon a grad-school level of wordplay. He sounds comfortable, content to play upon the album’s teasingly basic production with his own humorous observations. On the track “Reasons,” Wiley states “I’m not tryin’ to be rough now / I’m just holdin’ it down / you know life is messy / It can go up and down,” illustrating his nonchalant approach to getting through the day. There is a nod to ragga in Wiley’s style; his crusty vocal bring to mind a dirty dishtowel that’s been left on top of the sink for a month. The result is pleasantly rank, and immediately recognizable. “You know I wouldn’t hurt you … on purpose,” he confides on the same cut, shamelessly wearing the crown of the playboy Romeo you have no choice but to love.

Much of the record sounds like it could have been produced on a single piece of laptop software - Propellerhead’s ubiquitous synth engine Reason is a likely suspect. No matter the level of production, the album remains buoyed by Wiley’s cartoonish rouge of a personality. The track “Pies” appears to be literally about a dessert thief; the song equates the metaphorical hugeness of its protagonist with the sheer amount of pies he has consumed. It’s an odd concept to say the least, but the track slams home the playful irreverence of the MC himself.

An album worth its bluster, Treddin’ on Thin Ice finally delivers on the promise made by the two-step scene years ago. Along the way, it also manages to improve upon the snaky street rap of recent upstarts like Dizzee Rascal. Wiley's new release goes a long way toward legitimizing UK hip-hop as something more than just a passing trend.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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