Wiley’s status as the godfather of grime meant that he once enjoyed higher respect but lower sales figures than the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah. With his ninth album, The Ascent, he’s finally joined them, recently landing his third top 10 hit from the same release.
To achieve this he’s sweetened up his sound, putting aside his reputation as an innovator to produce the same party-time dance-pop as everyone else in the hit parade. Lest this damage his hard-earned credibility, as it should, he’s also attempted to maintain outsider status by leaking the album online after a perceived slight by iTunes, then claiming he is walking out on his record deal because Warners chose the wrong single.
This battle between poppiness and edginess continued on stage, where he delivered a set containing all his hits but raced through them so quickly, with no build-up or spectacle, that he could hardly be called a crowd-pleaser. With his headline appearance lasting just half an hour, it was as if he couldn’t wait to clear the way for the latest up-and-comers in his Boy Better Know crew, including puppyish JME and the moodier Skepta.
Other admirers including Chip and Lethal Bizzle joined him on the sugary Reload and the darker Rubicon, while the voice of the omnipresent Emeli Sandé was heard on My Heart. During the brief period when he was the centre of attention, Wiley was an impressively energetic figure, leaping into the photographer pit to fire his crisp, pacey rhymes into the faces of fans as soon as he arrived.
His first number one, Wearing my Rolex, and his second, Heatwave, proved that he can prioritise catchiness when he feels like it — these were buoyant tunes to forget yourself to on a Saturday night. Whether he’ll reach these commercial heights again, only he knows.
September 17, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, W12 (0844 477 2000,o2shepherdsbushempire.co.uk)