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Wiley - Eskiboy: The Best of Tunnel Vision

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Artist: Wiley

Album: Eskiboy: The Best of Tunnel Vision

Label: Eskibeat

Review date: Nov. 27, 2007

The Best of Tunnel Vision, curated by grime tastemaker Logan Sama, collects the highlights of Wiley’s fruitful and extant Tunnel Vision mixtape series. But it is a collection that is quite curious – and not because of the songs Sama has chosen to include and exclude. The question stems instead from the decision to create a “greatest hits” disk from Wiley’s mixtape fodder at all. Mixtapes, of course, are intended to be incomplete and temporary – they are assemblages of sketches, riffs, and disses with no need of an overarching theme, released to report current events or preview grander forthcoming projects. The Best of Tunnel Vision is at odds with this conception, however. The album exists to memorialize Wiley and fix his transient mixtape work in one more permanent object. Wiley’s quips become aphorisms; one-offs are elevated to part of the oeuvre. The Best of Tunnel Vision transforms that which was fleeting into part of a body transcendent.

Perhaps this inconsistency between a mixtape and a greatest hits format is irrelevant, and merely notes the different descriptive features of the two while bearing little on their respective qualities. For The Best of Tunnel Vision, however, the difference between Wiley’s original and reprised presentations is significant and, in the end, makes this catalogue less compelling than it should have been.

The problem with the album, somewhat paradoxically, is that Wiley’s mixtape tracks provide both too little and too much for a convincing greatest hits collection. Many of the songs on this album are flimsy, reflecting their ad hoc origins. Take, for instance, Wiley’s erstwhile battle raps. Wiley made his reputation, in part, by challenging what seems like dozens of other grime rappers. But these different battle raps – either in express “war dubs” or located in the general braggadocio ubiquitous here – are pallid when repeated years out of context. Like an adlib, these tracks were noteworthy because of their spontaneity and quickness of reply. In this dated retelling, however, both features have dissipated. A second and related fault is that many of these mixtape songs lack much song structure – they are, rather, freestyles with a brief, spoken refrain interrupting the rhyming onslaughts. Wiley is an undoubtedly commanding MC, and his range of character, cutting from pugilist to pastor, recalls the breadth of no less than 2Pac. But quickly composed and released, the Tunnel Vision mixtape material fails to showcase Wiley properly. What should be soliloquies are, unfortunately, closer to ramblings.

The other difficulty of creating a greatest hits collection of mixtape selections is that Wiley’s prolific output has created a deluge: The Best of Tunnel Vision is 46 songs spread across two disks, totaling more than two hours from start to finish. This is an overwhelming amount of music. Compounding the sheer length is the weaker quality of Wiley’s mixtape material: Without much underlying structure and taken out of context, many of the songs become indistinguishable from each other when played over the record’s full duration. The result is an already long collection that feels all the more interminable. Perhaps this problem could have been solved by better selection by Mr. Sama. (Really, were both “Nothing Less Freestlye” and “Nightbus Dubplate,” two different freestyle routines atop the same beat, necessary?) But I doubt thorough editing would have solved the problem inherent in trying to repackage mixtape cuts into a form intended to be something greater.

Wiley is one of the most talented and important artists working in the still-developing genre of grime. There is no doubt that future mixtapes and full-length albums – notwithstanding his claim of “retirement” from performing – will be, if not marvels in their own right, at least pertinent to grime’s furtherance. The same cannot be said for The Best of Tunnel Vision, however. The record detracts more than it adds to our appreciation of Wiley. It is, in the end, a gratuitous greatest hits collection.

By Ben Yaster

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