Wiley – review

Forum, London

As Wiley sits on a stage-front speaker for a breather, someone in the front row offers up a trainer in solemn tribute. The high priest of grime studies it and approves, more comfortable with his standing as urban culture guru than he was, perhaps, a fortnight ago, when he announced he was ditching his record label, Warner, in a dispute over the singles taken from his 10th album, The Ascent. As a principled east London grime pioneer clocking 13 years on the underground scene, it must have stung to have received his long-owed chart dues with 2012's major label-backed Balearic groping anthem Heatwave. So tonight's DJ-led tag-team showcase for JME's Boy Better Know label represents Wiley reasserting his fierce independence.

His warmup acts whip the crowd into elastic-hipped hysteria. JME prances like a rap Puck and dons a full Iron Man costume for If You Don't Know. JME's brother Skepta – an act who, having made a hardcore porn video for All Over the House, ought to be rebranded MC NSFW – sways between boudoir R&B and clubland intensity.

Finally Wiley emerges for a speed-rapped megamix of his career. He's impressive and underwhelming by turn: The Ascent's gleaming ragga-pop hits – Reload, Can You Hear Me (Ayayaya) – bolster a canon previously most notable for 2008's edgy rom-rap Wearing My Rolex. But for all his Rocky-training-montage moves, Wiley still lacks the personality and pizzazz of his old Roll Deep peers Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder. With the omnipresent Emeli Sandé bewilderingly absent for her chorus on Never Be Your Woman, his set smacks of a student union PA – until rousing appearances from Chipmunk and one-time rival Lethal Bizzle, as well as a full-crew sprint through Too Many Man, lift it towards chart-topping spectacle. Anti-commercial ethos or no, Wiley's a superstar now. He should act like one.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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