Treddin’ on Thin Ice is the Godfather of Grime’s debut album. Interestingly this was not the first grime album that was ever released as you’d likely assume. In fact; Dizzee Rascal beat Wiley to the punch with his release of Boy in da Corner a year prior to this album. However; being an album from the genre’s originator it is impossible not to pay attention to Treddin’ on Thin Ice as something that paved the way for young, creative people growing up to make music belonging to the new sound that was suddenly everywhere around London. Treddin’ on Thin Ice is part of just a handful of grime albums that helped to propel the musicians and sound of the movement overseas and to sold-out shows. So what do we think about it?
Firstly it is important to acknowledge the backstory and people involved in the album’s development and release. Treddin’ on Thin Ice was released on 26th April, 2004. Wiley, Danny Weed, TNT and DJ Target handled the production duties with Wiley also handling the mixing and engineering. Kano and Wiley handled the writing with vocal features being supplied by Breeze, J2K, Kano, Tinchy Stryder and Riko Dan. XL Recordings is the record label that released Treddin’ on Thin Ice - so of course a huge amount of respect has to be given to them for helping to push grime into a genre of music that could achieve.
Treddin’ on Thin Ice features a structure of three songs, then an interlude through the fifteen tracks. The three interludes - Eskimo, Avalanche and Ice-Rink are all non-vocal instrumentals that Wiley has produced himself. Unfortunately they’re no longer than thirty to eighty seconds long, meaning they can’t really be used by anyone to practice rapping to (which would have been a nice touch in a time where the pioneers were trying to push grime to an entire generation). It’s an easy way of dividing up the album into three tracks each time, which all bring their own feeling compared to the rest. I’m sure this is an intentional production choice from Wiley and it definitely works for the album.
The initial three tracks are The Game, Pick UR Self Up and Wot Do you Call It?. All three songs bring with them a great energy through their fast-paced tempos and use of multi-rhymes across the verses. The Game essentially introduces the audiences to Wiley as an artist - asserting himself as an MC of talent as well as acknowledging his focus on women and money rather than getting into beefs with people. It brings with it the fast BPM typical of grime music and the use of bass/ electronic drums juxtaposed with a synthesized keyboard for melody. With Wiley handling the lyrics and vocals while TNT helmed the production duties; the two proved themselves to be a great pairing. Pick UR Self Up is a much busier track; featuring Riko,J2K and Breeze vocally and DJ Target and Danny Weed as the producers; it’s a collection of the very early contributors to the genre. Pick UR Self Up speaks directly to the audience; with an intro skit featuring of a woman ranting to her boyfriend of having no money and never being able to go out together and how he needs to get off his arse and earn some money. A feeling that many young or even older adults have experienced when struggling financially while being in a relationship. All the verses feature the grime artists rapping about motivation and working hard instead of being lazy in order to succeed. The hook - supplied by Wiley - capitalizes on its earworm quality by repeating itself frequently throughout the song. Pick UR Self Up sticks in the listener’s mind and introduces the three feature rappers to the world of grime. Wot Do U Call It? Is an upbeat, simpler song that also incorporates the earworm quality found in the previous track’s chorus. Wiley jokes about grime initially having different names or in fact no name for a while; a reference to when Wiley was just starting out with the ‘Eskibeat’ genre, which obviously quickly was renamed to grime which then stuck. While the chorus successfully manages to implant itself into your mind; the three verses supplied by Wiley increase the energy and tempo of the song as he explains the similarity drawn to garage but using the song itself as a reason why grime can’t be compared to it. The second sees Wiley use some simple wordplay along with repetition halfway through the song in which he says goodbye to a list of negative influences into his life. The third has Wiley spitting braggadocio for an entire verse while also shouting out his group Roll Deep (a set of artists which will also be heavily featured in Grimories due to their pioneering of the genre back in the mid-2000s). Wot Do U Call It? Mixes a dance-like quality through it’s beat as well as an authentic ‘new’ feeling with the use of fast-tempo, direct bars in the verses to keep the listener hooked throughout.
The next three tracks, coming after the first interlude Eskimo, are Goin’ Mad, Doorway and Special Girl. Goin’ Mad has a certainly unique, comedic sound to it through Wiley’s use of excessive accentuating through the chorus. The beat is a classic example of what grime tunes are about. The use of scratching, the bass drum and low-note melody coupled with Wiley’s unmistakable voice make the song completely stand out. Just like with Wot Do U Call It? - Wiley steps the game up with his verses and makes the song one of the top entries of the album. Doorway and Special Girl are the next couple of songs, with the latter featuring fellow grime artist Kano. Doorway is more of a serious track that didn’t really feel like an impressive one to me. It sees Wiley tackle the subject of money and drugs leading to a troubled lifestyle and the importance of steering clear of it. It has a smoother beat which unfortunately led to it feeling lacking in energy compared to the tracks up to that point. Special Girl continues the smooth vibe, with Kano and Wiley both rapping about needing a special woman in their life. A sample is repeated throughout the verses which simply states ‘I need someone’; it’s catchy but felt slightly overused which led to the track falling a bit short of impressing.
Tracks Nine to Eleven are Reasons, Got Somebody, Pies. All tracks are a testament to the production on the album; with all of them having quite high usage of synthesized effects on their beats. According to Genius [https://genius.com/Wiley-reasons-lyrics ] the track is about Wiley and Rascal’s beef which had begun when the latter was stabbed during 2003. Wiley is not direct; simply using lyrics that can allude to being directed at Dizzee. The song has Wiley explaining not to use the word hate when all the facts are not established and by stating that his focus is on Roll Deep and music rather than arguments. Got Somebody has Wiley referencing his past as somebody who would play around with girls and declares that he will stop this now and has learned the error of his ways. Pies is a great song, with a memorable instrumental that was sampled in Skepta’s That’s Not Me a decade later; a testament to how timeless it is. The song features general braggadocio and self-confident lyrics from Wiley. The production of the song is what sticks out however, but that’s not to say Wiley doesn’t do a good job with his verses.
The concluding three songs of the album are as memorable as the initial three; but what’s easy to spot is the difference in tempo and energy between the two sets of songs. Next Level has three features and so brings with it a high-paced energy reminiscent of Pick UR Self Up from the beginning of the album. J2K, Tinchy Stryder and Kano feature on Next Level. Wiley, J2K and Kano supply great verses that mix with the beat perfectly but Stryder could have done a little better. His flow didn’t seem to do itself justice but it’s important to remember he was only 17 years old at the time. Treddin’ on Thin Ice is the titular song of the album and along with I Was Lost tackles Wiley’s past of making mistakes and lacking direction. Treddin’ on Thin Ice contains a more smoother, slower-paced beat with the lyrics providing listeners with insight into Wiley’s thoughts concerning his past. I Was Lost continues this with Wiley rapping about trying to find himself and achieve his visions - which obviously ended with him being able to produce his debut album and go on to have a lengthy career in music.
The album definitely loses steam as it goes on; the initial part of the album is where the energy and true essence of what Wiley was trying to achieve is at. The production is stellar across the entire album and while some of the songs didn’t always manage to resonate; they all had a message to say and featured at least some decent wordplay or catchy sound. It isn’t the best grime album by any means, but Wiley manages to introduce a bunch of young MCs onto the scene as well as asserting himself as the founder of grime (even if Rascal beat him to it in terms of release).