The Ascent

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Having jumped from the ultra-cool label Big Dada to the multi-billion dollar Warner Music Group, Wiley seems pushed into a poptacular world on The Ascent, which is strange because he always seemed willing to jump. Take the lead single "Heatwave," which is sun, fun, and infectious enough for radio and where Wiley sounds perfectly at home until special guest Ms. D delivers the good, but not gangsta grand, hook. Ms. D's back, along with Skepta and JME, on the barnstorming highlight "Can You Hear Me," where steel drums, Latino shout outs, and dubstep drops all combine for a near-perfect floor filler. Almost as good, "Reload" switches out dubstep for good old grime and Chip for Skepta and JME -- Ms. D stays -- but these quirky cool, Black-Eyed-Peas-for-the-streets type thrills don't give goosebumps once the Far East Movement arrive with the shiny and too polished "So Alive." Maybe it's the number of anthems like "Lights On" ("Even if you don't know my name/Me and you bleed exactly the same"), and all the other B or B+ material is blunted by the superior singles, and while the gritty grimetacular "Skillzone" (a gargantuan posse cut with Ghetts, Griminal, Manga, Frisco, Double S, Scratchy, and Big Shizz -- deep breath -- all in the mix) brings reminders of when this snappy rebel was "Wearing My Rolex," it's one the few times the album offers a "punch in the gut." Everything else is more "hands in the air" and from every radio-friendly strain of wonky pop, giving the impression that The Ascent is a mixtape of Wiley features and not a proper album. Think of it that way and it is good enough, or part it out over a month of weekends for best results.

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