it happens for a reason

staying up late is easy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006



wiley's '2nd phaze' has had 2 lives. it's first life was as a rumour, a myth, over a year ago now. whispers about it being the definitive grime statement, a devastating showcase of wiley at the top of his game, were passed around messageboards and internet forums, by those who'd heard it, and probably plenty who hadn't. this was going to erase all those post-'treddin' doubts. this was what we'd been waiting for.

its second life is right now. it trickled out with no hype, into one, and only one, on-line record shop, by passing the usual niche grime channels of Uptown and Rhythm Division. few people even knew that it was out, and even fewer had much to say about it. we weren't even sure if it was meant to be an album or a mixtape. from the sublime to the ridiculous: wiley had done things his way, as always, and we were left confused.

but what to say about it? again, it's a two-halves thing. at first, it throws itself at you, fireworks of ideas spilling everywhere. the first 5 tracks are a definitive grime statement. it's all here, everything that's ever made you love grime, as wiley tears through it with deadly urgency. he's been waiting too long and all that's been pent up is released, finally. 'intro' has the obsessive intricacy in music and words that only wiley can really pull off- it even switches to a whole new sound 30 seconds in, wiley's boredom threshold is so low. he's got a lot to do. 'eskiboy', 'gangsterz' and 'you're not real' have all been caned on the pirates for so long that they're old friends, but here they sound vital and fresh. only here, heard together in breathless sucession, do you really get a true sense of how good these tracks are, of just how completely wiley has mastered his art. 'stormy weather' has come in for flak but it's a perfect example of that woozy style that Target pioneered, a sound like bits of mist, roughly stitched together.

and then something odd happens. wiley seems to lose interest, his job done and point proved, and the psychopathically intense focus is lost. half finished and sketchily thought-through ideas, irritating joke tunes, the sound of lads trying to make each other laugh, and slushy R n B with choruses too much like lumpy syrup all clutter things up.

there's still bits of genius dotted around, of course. 'johnny was a bad boy' is blackhole-absorbing, a wasteland frozen by the low howls of square wave bass and littered by skittery beats blowing through. 'icepole remix' is the end-point, the logical conclusion, of the path that wiley first set out on all those years ago with 'eskimo': everything- the MCing, the beats, the divebombing gloops of synth- have been honed into icicles and arranged into surgical strikes. 'i like the way' is gleefully leery, sounding like a sean paul track staggering home blind drunk, with wiley not being able to help himself from growling 'hnnnrh' like some over-sexed pantomime villain.

but as great as these tracks are, jaws don't drop anymore, once the initial focus has been lost.
or, at least, they don't until 'friday night', perhaps the best track wiley has ever recorded.
it all begins unpromisingly. first there's the title. yr expecting another boring clubs n drink n girls by-numbers filler track. as the track starts an AM-rock guitar riff shimmers in, and yr worrying that wiley's been plundering Magic FM for ideas again. but, again, wiley's half-good/half-bad dialectic kicks in and all the doubts are blown away. firstly, this is a club n drink n girls tune. but it's the true and brutal side of all that, not the rapper's fantasy. wiley sounds tired and crushed, despite his cracked announcement that he's still 'confident with the flow'. he wanders round the club as a ghost, feeling 'hollow inside', observing all with a weary scientific eye. he feels too old for this, he shouldn't be here, he should never have come. he's on the outside of this, and on the outside of where he wants to be in his life and career, but can't give either up. so it's the same cycle, for ever. Or until something happens. it's important that one of wiley's last lyrics on the album is, 'let's not forget that i'm ageing'.

and the AM-rock riff is the perfect worn out and faded neon backdrop, promising a good time that's long gone, that's history. Rapid, from ruff sqwad, embellishes it as starkly as he possibly could, just a little roll of pattering beats, a few clicks of fingers, and a soul sample groan for the chorus.

it's the most severe and truthful song i've heard in years. it cuts through all the bullshit, to the core of things, and says what it needs to say, without once flinching.

for this track alone, '2nd phaze' is a major, major event. even if wiley isn't making it one.


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