Playtime Is Over
early every time a new grime album hits the States, critical discussion tends to one (if not both) of the following: this album is not really a grime album, and/or this will totally sell in America. Months later, these statements are typically rebuked and reneged. Wiley’s—the longtime, though often overlooked, ruler of the grime scene—latest release Playtime Is Over has effectively avoided these journalistic traps, tending towards the humming basslines and garage bells and whistles that made grime … well, grime.
This comes as a breath of fresh air, as the grime releases of late, namely Dizzee Rascal’s Maths + English and Kano’s upcoming London Town, have abandoned the typical grime sound in exchange for seemingly higher marketability in the States and elsewhere. But as Wiley sticks to his guns on Playtime, he sacrifices any semblance of widespread, universal sales and profitability his Run the Road counterparts have aspired to.
That’s not to say that Playtime is anything less than an archetypal grime album, fitting soundly into the cannon of similar releases. Wiley’s grimy charm shines on “Gangsters.” As he flows amidst the buzzing Casio keyboards, stomping bass and handclaps, and the echoing croons of “gangsters” fading in and out of the beat, he proves his hardened mindset, “The government tried to destroy my race but then man turned into gangsters.” Far from the hood cred of 50 Cent’s nine gun wounds, Wiley manages to find a niche for himself in the street life of British gangsters, for what it’s worth. He even manages to rehash the epic freestyle battle beef between himself and grime superstar Dizzee Rascal on “Letter to Dizzee”: “I tell you dude, it was hard to battle you / I still done it, overground, underground / I still run it, number one grime, I still run it.”
Wiley also takes most of the production by-lines throughout Playtime. Unfortunately, he’s quite obviously a more sufficient MC than producer. To boast a garage, under-produced sound is one thing, but Wiley takes it to extremes, opting for monotonous beats and lagging instrumentation. The staccato keyboards of “Slippin’” kill the song’s otherwise rapidfire flows. He also takes campy to a new level with the keyboards on “Eski-Boy.” The production is so cheesy it almost doubles back on itself, mocking its own slopping sound and chintzy assembly.
In the end though, Playtime Is Over is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the garage sound of grime. It isn’t trying to be anything it’s not. Those of us across the Atlantic need to accept that grime simply won’t ever catch on here. In a genre that’s as polarizing as hip-hop, an outside force like grime simply can’t thrive — remember when everyone thought the South was worthless? But if there was any doubt, Playtime Is Over proves that Wiley truly does run the grime game. Hell, he’s the only one left.