It’s not difficult to place Wiley’s contribution to the grime scene. The eskibeat originator sits firmly above everyone else as the ‘Godfather of Grime’ not only for his beats, flows and bars but also for sorting out Eskimo Dance for grime kids across the country. Few people can claim to have had as much of an impact on single genre as Wiley, but as spectacular and far-reaching as his name is, he hasn’t reached the level of infallibility that one might expect.
After earning a UK number one and a couple of top ten singles, Wiley has made a decidedly grimey comeback with Snakes & Ladders. Picking apart a release from such a legend is a wretched task, especially when everything feels so timely. After Meridian Dan somehow managed to infect the nation with ‘German Whip’, grime has gone from Britain’s dirty secret to the sound of 2014 and Wiley’s attempt to keep the fire burning is entirely welcome, but isn’t necessarily the gasoline needed to set the scene ablaze.
‘On a Level’ sets an almost unreachable standard because of the nostalgic throwback to the genre-defining eskibeat sound back when grime was progressing from baby steps to a cocksure toddler’s walk. It’s not all rose-tinted reminiscence though; there are some straight up bangers on Snakes & Ladders that come from some of the greatest grime producers in the game right now.
‘From the Outside’ has the notorious “TEDDY” signature that is a certain indicator that you’re about to hear a beat that slaps hard. Teddy also goes in on the track himself, and while his name is hallowed in the producer’s circle, his bars definitely give his name an extra dimension to draw plaudits from.
‘Level 21’ is a saw-toothed dubstep stomper that Wiley flows over with the confidence and finesse you’d expect from a grime veteran. Another producer tag sounds out after a few bars – it’s the echoed “AYY” that Masro has deployed for all his tunes, and it’s a relief to know where to send mad props to after questioning who made the outstanding beat. ‘Grew Up In’ is an ode to Bow E3 that producer Maniac manages to capture in the instrumental, and it’s yet another astutely produced track in a long line that Snakes & Ladders provides.
The only real disappointments come from Wiley choosing a cracking instrumental in ‘Busy’ to talk about his domestic problems, when he could’ve easily made it one of the most outstanding tracks by choosing literally any other subject matter. ‘Snakes & Ladders Part Two’ has four different tracks in the space of 11:24, and they’re all good enough to have their own space on the album, but annoyingly it’s all part of the same singular track.
The string of great tracks on Snakes & Ladders is unfortunately broken up by a few middling tracks which really messes with the flow of the album, but it’s not enough of a problem to completely detract from what is a very solid album. JME says it best on his ‘From the Outside’ verse – “our music is made to measure/Wiley is a national treasure/not everybody is going to like it/if they don’t like it, fuck ‘em.”