Wiley's always been an outsider. A weirdo, who eats dessert before dinner and looks for the sky while he's chilling on the sofa. In classic Eskiboy fashion, this tenth - and, apparently final - solo album's dropped suddenly, without any press, the main hype being Instagrammed shots of track names on his iTunes and a handful of tweets.
There's a reason that hyperbole usually goes hand-in-hand with descriptions of Wiley - veteran, godfather, pioneer, king. He's a "national treasure" - as JME reminds us quickly - on 'From The Outside': "I step back looking in from the outside, wondering whether it sounds right / sounds good to me." This king's been out the game for a while, and since then it's flourished, with the producer-led melodic / Boxed scenes sprouting new buds.
So it's a relief to hear the MC (mostly) reverting back to his own and Zdot's twisted productions, rather than solely jumping on trap beats (here's looking at you, Dizzee). 'Snakes And Ladders' does give a nod to the States, though. 'Lonely', featuring Cam'Ron and Problem, bridges that UK to US grime movement that people like Skepta and Tre Mission have been spearheading, while 'Drive By' and 'Bloodtype' boast their fair share of trill snares.
The Skepta-produced 'On A Level' has already been feverishly greeted by the grime scene, with a video that champions some of the cream of the crop of new UK MCs. Which is apt since Wiley's always been one to push promising new talent - and the album offers recent MOBO winner Stormzy and BBK's Solo 45 bar space.
Wiley's at his best, as ever, in freestyle mode - for instance on 'Step 21', where he goes meta on the beat he's riding: "I was on my laptop listening saying to myself I could duppy this beat / even though it's got them dubstep elements." Elsewhere, there's the 'Strings Hoe'-like 'BMO Field': "I share bread and water like Jesus Christ / I know myself well like Three Blind Mice."
'Snakes And Ladders' isn't quite banger after banger, though - there are weak spots, too. 'Busy' feels like a frustrated MC losing the plot on the hook, and 'Drive By' revolves around a grinding synth / vocal combo that makes for uncomfortable listening. The second-to-last track, 'Hollow Da Don', is just some unexplained bars on their own, without beat or even a devil mix - which in that state feels static and awkward.
When the album winds down we find a mature artist bowing out of the ring. "Hot, cold and minus," Wiley finishes poetically on 'What's On Ya Mind'; "certain music is timeless." 'The Heatwave' is over, yet so is 'Playtime' - and Wiley seems to be content to enter a new chapter of his life. He finishes with some words of wisdom: "We've gotta work for our daughters and sons... there ain't a manual. Multicultural - that's the future of life / face challenges, understand lawyers, managers, business." A decade on from 'Treddin' On Thin Ice', it seems that he's learned a lot.
"I'm a weirdo - but label me grime, please," he spits on 'Bloodtype'. Of course, Wiley - you are grime.
Words: Felicity Martin