U.K. grime king Wiley’s latest album, 100% Publishing, exists in a very un-American space—not un-American in a threat-level-orange, underwear-bombing terrorist-y way; just in terms of its chances of ever being played at a Fourth Of July cookout. In America, there’s probably a better chance that you blew your head off with fireworks on the Fourth Of July than heard the demented grime carnival melody in Wiley’s “Boom Boom Da Na.” On the title track, Wiley muses about his potential to break into the U.S. scene: “Nobody knows if it’s gonna work overseas, but you wait until I try.” It’s hard to imagine the tropical, choppy beat in “Talk About Life” as the soundtrack to some iconic American film, like Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9″ in Easy Rider. But it could be perfect as the soundtrack to an episode of Skins. Oops—I mean Skins.
Wiley uses an array of sounds to sculpt his beats, drawing from the grinding whine of a dubstep-y bass, hollow industrial drums, the zap of a laser, the trill of a synth, a few keys on a piano. Sometimes, like in “Information Age,” the beats are weirdly lopsided; at other times, they pulse and drive along above a grimy bassline. His lyrics jog alongside the beats, matching them song for song in weirdness or speed or energy—if the beat is hollow and relatively slow, so is Wiley, dropping staccato lines on a minimal beat in a song like “Yonge Street (1,178 Miles Long).”
Such focus gives Wiley’s manic style a spine, a way for listeners to follow him through a song even when it’s impossible to keep up with what he’s saying. Most of the time, he’s rapping a mile a minute or maybe faster, jumping from topic to topic like flash cards: his past, his commercial potential, his music, girls, Google, his diet. There’s a lot going on here, but we’re not supposed to rap along—we’re just meant to listen.
And it turns out that Wiley has a lot to say. Last year the rapper fired his manager via Twitter and then dumped 11 free mix tapes online. He’s gotten himself involved in media shit-talking matches and has retired at least twice. He behaves as erratically as he raps, jumping from whim to whim too fast for his listeners to process what he’s saying or doing. On “I Just Woke Up,” Wiley employs a quick, skittering beat to accompany a stream-of-consciousness rap about waking up, as if he pops out of bed like a cork from a champagne bottle and ricochets from room to room throughout the day. “I change my mind like I ain’t got a mindset,” he chirps, somewhere between talking about his creative process and a recent trip to the barber. It seems like in each song Wiley is talking about a million different things all at once, but there’s always the possibility that it’s totally focused and you’re just not keeping up. It’s hard to tell.