Ever since the announcment that Wiley would be dropping his autobiography, Eskiboy, the scene has been itching to see what stories the book would touch on. With a summary promising “an account of Wiley’s life and career, from white-label releases and illegal broadcasting to lifetime achievement awards and beyond”, the book was set to be a one-stop tour of all things Wiley.
Now, Wiley is an intricate character – a fact hard to dispute and he doesn’t shy away from that through his narrative. His story is told in four distinct phases (or by four different people as he puts it), each with their own unique voice. Whether it’s Richard, the young boy raised on his fathers musical roots or Godfather, the persona we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, each tell their own tale of success and hard times, tragedies and triumph, all rolled up in the life of the one known as Eskiboy.
The book also features stories from those close to them, offering us a deeper look and a different perspective, especially in his early years. Through the words provided by his Dad, Richard Senior or his younger sister, Janaya, we are given an unrestricted view into his childhood, from moving from Kent to East London, to his early notions of music. It’s clear that music has always been in his blood, with his father playing in bands and Wiley having a front row seat on jamming sessions (from his cot). In what seemed like a turbulent time for Wiley, music was an outlet and a safe haven for the East Londoner who used the medium as both a way to express himself and to bond with his friends.
“We had decks, we had the mic, we had the radio. Didn’t need to wait for anyone, impress anyone, push anyone. Just us.”
Starting his musical career in his teens, he left “his only proper job” and began DJ’ing as Wildchild, spinning Jungle and Garage at local parties and raves. After seeing mandem on the TV [So Solid on Top of the Pops], he began the Roll Deep entourage with regular collaborators Jamakabi, Flow Dan and Dizzee with an aim of hitting the mainstream. His D-I-Y mentality led to him and his family putting together white labels in his front room and shipping them round to record shops all across London.
The birth of Grime led to clashes and a different perspective is offered on one famous head-to-head, Dizzee and Titch. While we are all used to the video of the two exchanging bars before squaring up on a East London rooftop, Wiley says that he actually feared for his life with the rooftop having no barriers or support. Reflections like this, or even the time his sister was kidnapped for £40,000, just show how crazy and up-and-down his life had become. Although fame was the goal, it still came as a surprise to many, as these “bruk-pocket half-yardie geezers from east turn[ed] up with an even colder sound“.
With fame came a mixture of emotions – from regret when talking about the Dizzee situation in Ibiza to feelings of sorrow when reflecting back on past relationships. By being brutally honest, these snapshots of life are given an extra layer of life and you feel like you are actually there or the story itself is just being told to you by a close friend. One chapter even sees Wiley offering his views on love;
“Don’t ask yourself what your type is: ask yourself who makes your heart beat… Ask yourself who you see in your future.”
Wiley’s struggle with being in the public eye is one that he definitely found the hardest – balancing his desire to push Grime to the mainstream with his need to feed himself and his family. While many on the outside and within the scene saw tracks like ‘Wearing My Rolex’ as “selling out”, he explains that these tracks paid his bills and he made more money from that one track than a number of years making Grime.
From battling management and record labels to becoming increasingly paranoid on road, the book shows the vulnerable and personal side to the usually introverted Wiley. One of the most highly anticipated sections comes in the form of “Letter 2 Dizzee”. While the chapter does nothing to add context or information to the 15 year story between the two, Wiley takes the opportunity to speak directly to Dizzee and explains that while this isn’t an apology, he is happy to make the first move;
“We’re the yin and yang of the game. It doesn’t need friendship, it just needs closure”
Throughout Eskiboy, Wiley offers his views on the US scene and why he deems it impossible for UK artists to get over in the states. He believes that US fans have become acustomed to what they listen to with regards to hip hop and because our rappers aren’t willing to “put on an accent”, they just can’t appreciate it in the same way we do. Wiley pinpoints a specific example with Drake’s ‘More Life’ playist, saying that while people may like Giggs or Skepta, they just can’t “hear what we’re about”.
Reflection is a theme that encapsulates the book as a whole – whether that be reflecting on his choice to leave London and live in Cyprus to give a better life to his famly or reflecting on the months before the Godfather project and wondering if the scene would still accept him. But this reflection leads to stories of triumph and overcoming challenges, showcasing just what Wiley is all about. Wiley never claims that his journey has been easy, but he can look back and pinpoint when things went wrong and what he did as a result.
Eskiboy is a journey and its structure means that he can’t help but get through it as soon as possible. There are lyrics from some of his famous songs throughout, which not only accompany the chapters but also give the lyrics a deeper meaning – as we now know the stories behind them. With personal tales from the man himself, interspersed with words and anecdotes from family and people within the scene (Flow Dan, Logan Sama, Wretch 32), the book is an insight into one of the most complex characters in Grime.
‘Eskiboy’ by Wiley, out in hardback on 2 November from William Heinemann. Get your pre-order copy here.