Given that this is Wiley's third outing in in the last 12 months - that's if you count the download only EP-ish Chill Out Zone of course - it seems easy to draw the fairly obvious conclusion that Richard Cowie remains one of the most restless men in UK hip-hop. Operating without the support of the major labels, getting that amount of product to market is without question a major achievement, but the more appropriate question here is by extension whether that level of activity has affected Evolve or Be Extinct's quality control.
It would've been easier to reach this verdict had we received both of the CD's that make up the full body of work but for now you're just going to have to indulge a review which only covers the first. And just for the record, its ok, we won't take it personally.
It certainly appears that the irony of our hero being potentially usurped by a generation of his disciples hasn't been lost on him; the title track is an avalanche of broadly directed syllables that amongst others single out the likes of Chipmunk for some industrial scorn. Not so much a concept album as an attempt to single handedly move grime's narrative on, it's compatriot tracks span a creative arc that sweeps from underground to mainstream and then back again.
As Wearing My Rolex proved, there are few who can match Wiley in pop mode, and on Boom Blast the same effortless cross patching of waspish metropolitan flow and neck snapping bass is once again in full effect. Closer to his roots, the more skeletal Link Up strips back the gloss and also reminds the listener that grime's influences are as much rooted in the Caribbean as New York. It's not all business though, the goofiness of I'm Skanking prove that another one of UK underground's most appealing qualities is its willingness not to take itself too seriously.
Anyway, back to that quality control thing. Haters/competitors will be only too willing to point to a couple of spoken word sketches - Can I Have A Taxi Please and Customs - as a sign that the luxury of complete artistic control can lead to the inclusion of general arseing around, especially as the latter's theme is pointlessly hyper extended on satellite track Immigration. Working hard or hardly working, it's difficult to make a case for any of them making the final cut if Evolve Or Be Extinct had been trimmed to a single disc.
The only question left to answer is whether it represents the great leap forward its creator intended it to be. The answer is yes, but only partially. It's proof that the Jekyll and Hyde facets of commercial-ness and respect maintaining urbanity can happily co-exist. But perhaps most significantly, its greatest strength - that it's not a meekly stereotypical Americanist excuse - is also its greatest weakness. After more than 20 years UK rappers have finally carved out a place in our cultural consciousness. Whether they're happy to stay there is another question.