A haphazard, sometimes ridiculous, but often impressively inventive new set.
Noel Gardner 2012
Grime elder statesman Wiley’s status in British music is roughly equivalent to Joey Barton’s in football: both apparently revelling in their loose cannon status, since the mid-2000s they’ve bounced between labels/clubs in chaotic fashion. Anyone choosing to sign them does so in the knowledge that they’re acquiring a mercurial talent likely to squander people’s investment at any given time. Oh, and they both appear to spend every minute of their free time arguing with people on Twitter.
Evolve or Be Extinct, the ninth official Wiley album, allows him to claim something Barton can’t: a former employer who was willing to take him back. Big Dada released his second album Playtime Is Over in 2007 to less-than-resounding success; he would later flounce off and write chart smash Wearing My Rolex, but the mainstream proved an uneasy home. Which brings us to the man’s second album for Big Dada in six months: haphazard, sometimes ridiculous, often impressively inventive and always consummate Wiley.
While nearly every major player in grime’s last decade has either sweetened its feral, DIY sound for the pop charts, or vanished from public view, it’s heartening that Wiley – whose early 12-inches essentially blueprinted the genre – has made a grime album that could, musically speaking, be from 2004. That’s no bad thing: it’s a tonic to hear clashing, icy beats and rave-igniting bass of the like that fuels I’m Skanking, I’m a Weirdo and Money Man (produced by Mark Pritchard, currently of Africa HiTech), or the ultra-minimal closer This Is Just an Album. There are exceptions, such as the four-to-the-floor thumper Boom Blast, but Evolve… largely showcases a producer content to squat in his own self-created niche.
In fact, this feels like an album by, for and about himself. Most lyrics unapologetically address the life of Wiley; two baffling skits, in which he quarrels with a taxi driver and customs officer respectively, seem to play up to his hothead reputation. Evolve or Be Extinct will appeal largely to people already well aware of it, and who are looking for a full-length to rival his 2004 debut Treddin’ on Thin Ice. This should go some way to satisfying them.