Wiley is the Lord Byron of rap. It’s so obvious I’m not even going to explain it. Arugably one of the most important British musicians of the last ten years or more, this mass of every contradiction the human race can muster is also a stone-cold genius, albeit one who occasionally seems a trifle unhinged (don’t they all? Ask Byron…). Now the latest switchback move in a career defined by switchback moves is his return to Big Dada with his latest and arguably finest album.
“100% Publishing” is one hundred per cent written, produced, vocalled and recorded by Richard Cowie, the shadowy figure behind the Wiley persona. Well, 99.99% written, produced, vocalled and recorded by him. This being Wiley, having decided on the concept, he did sneak one guest vocallist onto the record (on the chorus to “Talk About Life”) and get his four year old daughter, Leah, to offer some sage advice to her father on “Music Not Money” (which isn’t even on your promo as he submitted the track too late for us to get it on there). It’s somehow in the nature of everything that is thrilling, exciting and also, in some ways, infuriating about Wiley that this track should completely contradict the message he puts over in his first single from the record “Numbers In Action” (and even more so in that you can’t even hear it).
What is there to tell you? This is one of the most varied musical sets Wiley has ever assembled. You could begin with the stripped back bounce of tunes like “Numbers…,” “Information Age” and “Yonge Street” (so named cos it’s the longest street in the world). You could point to the effortlessly supple grime of title track “100% Publishing” or “Boom Boom Da Na.” Depending on your mood or taste, you could highlight the avant garde genius of a tune like “I Just Woke Up,” the r&b strut of “Pink Lady,” the sweet soulfulness of “Up There” or the introspective solemnity of “Wise Man And His Words.” Throughout, Wiley spits lines which are often funny, sometimes shocking, regularly suprising but always shot through with a surreal lyrical brilliance which shows the man’s deep love of language.
A genuine attempt by Wiley to embody his huge, hugely complex personality in one album, this may be a project that is, on some level, doomed to failure. But you’re not going to find a more exciting, vital, thrilling, scary, funny and crazy attempt to do just that by any other musical artist any time soon. Wiley is unique. This is all him, even if not all of him. Enjoy as much as you can take in.