Ten years on since his debut effort Treddin’ On Thin Ice and we’re up to album number ten, so nobody can accuse of Wiley of possessing a bad work ethic. There is a sense though, that unlike his fellow former grime-classmates Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder, there’s no hunger for that massive crossover appeal. This is exemplified by the relatively unknown collaborators on Snakes & Ladders. In comparison to those on 2013’s The Ascent, there’s no-one approaching the well-known statuses of Tulisa, Far East Movement, Emile Sande or French Montana. Hell, there isn’t even an equivalent to Kano, Lethal Bizzle or Skepta. It would appear Wiley is getting rid of any potential distractions and bringing us all right back to the music.
First single and album opener ‘On A Level’ is the closest you’ll get to a club banger, bouncing back and forth on a beat that sounds like it’s been supplied by a Gameboy plugged into a distorted bass speaker. ‘Badman’ fills the requisite “look how great I am” album track, but works better than most because Wiley is so obviously having some fun with it, plus, that propulsive two-step hook makes it almost dangerously catchy. Cam’Ron (remember him??) appears on transatlantic grime-off ‘Lonely’, a five-minute assault of horns with a repeated, fractured female vocal; it’s one of those sonic messes that probably shouldn’t work but ends up sounding effortless.
Lyrically, there isn’t really anything new here. There’s a lot of Wiley stroking his ego, spitting out “I share bread and water like Jesus Christ / I know myself well like Three Blind Mice” on ‘BMO Field’ and there’s nothing here to bother the charts in the way ‘Rolex’ or ‘The Heatwave’ did. Then there’s a track like ‘What’s On Ya Mind?’ which is Wiley’s attempt at a Black Eyed Peas ‘Where Is The Love?’ moment, but sounds more like open-mic night at your local poetry slam, while ‘Busy’ and ‘Drive By’ are both built upon beats that irritate more than entertain.
Towards the end of the LP, tracks start to merge into one another, as ‘Reel Off’, ‘Bloodtype’ and ‘Flying’ all sound like identical, sped up versions of the tracks that preceded them. By the end of the eleven minute long album closer, ‘Snakes & Ladders Part Two’, you’ll be properly exhausted, lacking any want to immediately listen to the whole album again.
Still, the godfather of grime has scattered his apparently final solo album with some of the darkest highlights of his career. If only he were wily enough to ditch the duds.