I’m about to walk out my office when someone asks me to look at a printer. I’m trying to par them off cos I need to get out quickly so I tell him I’ll look at it later as I rush out the door. See, a couple of hours before, scrolling through my timeline, I saw something that some may describe as a unicorn.
The next thing I know, I’m running to the tube station trying to catch the DLR train. After missing that and taking a detour via the Central Line, I find myself at a bus stop waiting for a phone call. Maybe this was to good too be true. We all know about past scheduling habits. Maybe I’ll be the next victim. As I’m thinking about how long I’m willing to wait to talk to one of pioneers of underground music, I get the call to go to another location and so I’m back in an uber heading on some kind of treasure hunt. Arriving at the final destination I’m greeted by someone who already seems to know who I am. “You take those photos init. Yeah bruv, I’ve seen your work. You’re here to see to Wiley yeah? Cool, come in”
I walk upstairs and I can see Wiley pacing in a room talking loudly on the phone. It’s the afternoon now so that phone must’ve been glued to his face all day. See, it’s not everyday that the Godfather of Grime willingly requests interviews so I’m presuming that everyone and their mother is trying to get some words from the E3 general.
I’m now sitting in a studio where Morphesus is putting down some finishing touches to something that reminds me of EskiBeats. I’m checking the time every 2 minutes because I was supposed to be back at work 30 minutes ago. Wiley walks in and starts talking to some artists about what they should do when returning to the music game. I get lost in conversations about choruses with repeated lines and trap music. Once I check the time again I realise I need to separate Wiley from everything else for us to talk. Luckily, he notices what I’m trying to do and leads the way to somewhere quiet. Earlier in the day, I was trying to figure out all the things I wanted to ask Wiley. I mean, I may never have this chance again. I could’ve talked forever but I figured I’d go with my instinct and ask all the things that I personally wanted to know…
Yesterday, the TL was alive with talks of the origins of Grime. When you were working with Slimzee and Geeneus, did you know what you were bulding or was it just a bit of fun?
We wasn’t aware of what we was building. But, I found that because we couldn’t see what we were building, that was the beginning of longevity. The things that we learned then taught us how to survive.
Geeneus mentioned ‘Know We’ as the first Grime song. Do you agree?
It’s definitely one of them. I did say ‘Oh No’ previously but listening to it now, it’s more Garage. But listening to ‘Know We’, the beat is more of a rastaman riddim, not so much Garage. I mean, it was inspired by Garage, but it was something else.
What would you say is the best thing you took from being with Pay As You Go?
I was with them since Jungle days so I’ve learned a lot. But, I did learn how to make myself, ‘Wiley’. Maxwell D ‘Serious’ was a very early record. I mean man actually made money. He worked it out. It made us think ‘Rah. Is that how you do it yeah. We can make money from this’. The fact that he blew gave me the insight on how to make myself an artist. I was already selling instrumentals but making songs was different. Maxwell D was a strong figure in the game.
So, Eskimo Dance. It’s come from warehouses to festival stages. From places where it was uncomfortable to be in, to a places where it’s very inclusive. It’s been my pleasure to shoot at the shows
I’m happy you shoot it as well, it’s good to have it captured. But the one thing that I miss from Eskimo Dance is the clashing element. I’m older now so I’m looking for constructive criticism so we can change for the better and that is one of the things that came up a few times. You see before yeah, like, I’ll go to a Grime rave and I can’t relax because I’ve got Crazy Titch and Dirty Duggs coming on stage. I need to be on my game. I need to be prepared. That’s not there anymore. But, I’m not saying that people should only come to clash. I’d be a bastard to say that.
I get you. I was reminded what it was like when Saf-One and the mandem stormed on stage and brought the energy up 100 fold. I saw you getting involved to sort it and everyone was everywhere. From the crowd standpoint, it was sick. I jumped into the crowd to get a better shot….
You see that Eskimo Dance when Saf-One and the Birmingham mandem came on and mobbed the stage. That’s the energy I’m used to. But it’s different now. It’s my dance that your mobbing. All the energy and hype on stage, I love that, but it’s different because I needed to sort it out. I couldn’t join in. Saf-One and I are cool though. What Saf and the mandem did that night it make me think. I went home and said to myself, ‘yeah, it’s time for me to start clashing now’. Listen, I’m not a badman, but if I don’t stand up and make these things happen it won’t get done. I’m the pace setter. I’m the reason that Eskimo Dance is here in the first place. But when I don’t do it, people are looking at each other wondering what to do. What Saf-One did is remind me who I am that night. I didn’t know what was happening at the time. That’s why I was mad because I didn’t understand what was going on. But when they did that, I remembered I was Wiley. I swear to you. Like, I do that. I clash, I mobb, I come on after you, say a bar on you and get the reload. Make you feel shit and make say a bar to me and get the reload. He made me remember that, so thank you Saf-One and big up the Birmingham mandem. But no one get ideas though. It’s still my dance.
I do that. I clash, I mobb, I come on after you, say a bar on you and get the reload. Make you feel shit and make you say a bar to me and get the reload..
Do you think it’s because most of the youngers artists weren’t involved during that period?
Yeah. MCs are on stage drinking Vodka and lemonade and that. Man should be right next to the MC ready to grab the mic spray a mad bar to get the reload. Not spectating, you’re meant to be badding up the dance rudeboy. But I get it. Everyone is making songs now. It’s different.
Do you enjoy being on the production side of things regarding Eskimo Dance?
I work with Cheeky and the Eski Dance team and they do a great job. Booking venues, stages and artists and all that. Sorting out everything. That’s what they are good at. There was a time where I wasn’t too bothered. I even messed with the idea of giving it over to my brother. It was after the spring tour when I realized my position. If I don’t come on stage and try to bad up everyone on the mic and get reloads, is it really Eskimo Dance? That energy, it needs to be brought back and I’m the one to do it. I don’t wanna have to do that but if I don’t jump in after someone and get a mean reload on them and make them say ‘rah. man got a reload on me’, who else will do it? Everyone is trying to make a song which is great. But I wanna bring this element back.
I remember the Eskimo Dance 2014 in London when Skepta brought out everyone on stage. About 30 MCs. All hungry for the mic with the intention of getting the reload. That was something special. I was on stage that night going mad.
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. I was watching from the dj booth and was happy to see that. That’s what need to come back.
What made you say that you weren’t going to release your album on Twitter?
I was having a conversation with my friend and he was saying things that confused me on whether I should actually bring out an album. Maybe I should do singles. I didn’t think I was influenced by the comments of that conversation but I guess subconsciously I was and that’s why I tweeted that. After all the messages I received as a result, I came to my senses. What my bredrin failed to realise is, I’m Wiley. If I started it, then I can always do it. I can’t be new again. I’m never going to be the new ting. Like the way Stormzy has come through, I can’t do that again. But what I can do is remain here and make good grime music. I know I can. My friend isn’t in my position so he doesn’t understand, but he is my friend and he’s real with me. He’s not a yes man. So when he was telling me this, he was thinking in terms of the music business which he’s a part of. But he was honest and I respect that. But I tell you what, thats the last time I allow a comment to influence my decision. I shouldn’t of tweeted that. I remember Skepta telling me “No matter what anyone tells you, the final decision is your choice. If you know how you are, then what they say doesn’t matter”.
In ‘From The Outside’ you say “I only hear my songs where people go to get tans” Do you think that’s true now?
What I meant was, this island that we’re all living on, this music business that we are in, it latches onto the in thing. When I was 12, Jungle was in, so I did that. Then Garage came in, we’re loving it, loving it, loving it. Raving at Exposure, bare gyaldem, going to the beach dancing and all that shit. Then, we start to MC to harder beats. We loved Garage, but what we were doing weren’t accepted in that world so we done our own ting. We go through phases. A man can argue that Wiley is a Jungle MC and he’d be right because I was doing Jungle way before I was doing Grime. So at the time when I made that song, I was talking about what was happening. Heatwave and that. We all were trying something new.
You see what is happening now with Grime, if it happened back when it started, everything would be different now.
What do you think happened?
You see what is happening now with Grime, if it happened back when it started, everything would be different now. Ok. So Dizzee makes an album. A great one. Then I make an album, then Kano. Very important to Grime. Then it happened again, but this time, all in different directions. No unity. Managers making artists think they’re golden children. As much as our managers needed us and vice-versa, we also needed each other. When the first 3 dons went in different directions, how does that work for the scene? Dizzee made 3 albums and never put a foot wrong. He could’ve came back, signed everyone and became the Russel Simmons of Grime. But he was doing his own ting. Like Usian Bolt. Man wanted to get in front and do his ting. No disrespect to him, I understand, but that’s what the scene needed at that time.
Personally, I was just vex he chose to do a show in New York and not in London.
I hear that. But Dizzee knows what he’s doing. I still listen to Boy In The Corner. If he was in that mind frame now, I can only imagine what music he would make now.
What would you say is the creative differences between ‘Snakes & Ladders’ and the new upcoming album, ‘The Godfather’?
I went to Canada for parts of the creation and UK for the rest. That why you can hear many different sounds as I was working with different producers. It’s Grime and trappy sounding stuff. It was a cool album. It was basically an album to let everyone that I’m still making music and I’m not sitting on my arse. I make music all the time. It’s no use staying in my laptop. Meridian Dan made everyone look at us again with ‘German Whip’. So I decided to give the people a body of work. This album however, is an album. Like, it’s not just a collection of songs. It’s a body of work that was created as an album with the intended title ‘The Godfather’.
Talk to me about the production on this album. Did you take the reigns or were you in full artist mode and let the producers take the lead.
I constructed the album. I haven’t done most of the production on this one but I found producers that make my sound of Grime music. I made sure I got very good producers. Man like Teddy, JME, Preditah, Swifta Beata, Kid D, Darq E Freaker, Maniac, Morphesus, Dot Rotten and others. I also found 3 producers from Amsterdam that know how to make EskiBeats.
Was that important for you on this album, that you had something that sounds like EskiBeats?
Yeah. I’m always in Dam, I like it there. It’s there where I found Hazy, Mucky and J Sanders. They know how to make my type of Grime. Bruv, I made sure that The Godfather is a Grime album. I made Grime album for people that love Grime.
My favourite song from ‘Snakes & Ladders’ is ‘From The Outside’ but my favourite beat is ‘BMO Field’…
That was an interesting one. Shout out ZDot. I decided to make a flow on that song that would be easy for everyone to understand. The first thing I heard abroad when it came to Grime was about the speed of the lyrics. People just couldn’t understand what was being said. Man’s spraying 100mph on tracks but the biggest market in the world wouldn’t get it. So I made a flow that was slowed down enough that everyone can hear what I’m saying.
I’ve always said that I think Skepta broke America because of his choice of flows. Shutdown for example is easy to follow and more importantly, to recite. Americans can now join in…
They understand him more. He made it that way. He’s very clear and had the inside scope to do that. They let him know that they couldn’t understand him. So, he customised his flow for the majority of the world. If you want the world to understand you and you’re making Grime, not even like you, but understand you, like, people are going to hear Skepta over someone like Devlin. But Devlin is hard. We know this. The UK knows this. So when I made BMO I was like, I can spray as fast as I want but who’s going to understand me? So I chose the flow that you heard. That’s why I love what’s Skepta’s done. He had made it so people can hear him. Everyone can hear him bro. Now everyone is making music so that people can understand them.
When S&L came out, I remember Julie Adenuga tweeted an idea for the video saying that every Grime MC should say one line from BMO Field. Do you like the idea?
Rah. That was a sick idea. I wish I would’ve seen that.
I’m not scared to write the book and let people into parts of my life and find out things that they didn’t know about me.
Lets talk about the Wiley book. Is it important to you to have your story in literary form?
To be honest, I don’t read much. I wanted to do a film
For me, YouTube videos are cool but it would be great to have a physical book that I can pass down to my children and say ‘look son, this was an icon of my generation’
See, for people like you who read, it would mean something. That’s why I’m doing it. But I wanted to do a film. People telling me I have to do the book first and then the film and I’m like nah. But, this is England so I’m gonna run with the business plan. You know what though. Ice Cube never did no book before his film. He didn’t have no limitations and shit. But, I’m doing the book and then, I’ll do the film. I’m not scared to write the book and let people into parts of my life and find out things that they didn’t know about me.
Is there a Grime book tour on the cards?
Yeah. Of course. I’m going to go everywhere and signing books. It’s what you do. It’s part of the marketing plan. But I know people do all sorts. Man like Nines goes to the hood with rarseclart chickens and turkeys.
Well, I’m looking forward to getting the physical CD of ‘Godfather’ and the book. I like tangible art.
Yeah. Back in the days going record shops to buy vinyls. I love them days.
OK. One last thing before I make a mad dash back to work, how was the show in Bedford? I was gonna come and try to get that elusive picture of you and Dizzee.
It was a good show. He did his ting and I did mine. It’s a good thing you didn’t come as it would’ve been waste of time for you. That picture wouldn’t of happened that night. I didn’t even speak to him, Just watched his performance.
Someone yelled from another room asking Wiley what he wanted for lunch. “Stew chicken, rice & peas bro. I’m starving”. He thanked me for my time and headed back into the studio. As I jumped in my third uber of the afternoon, I knew that risk had paid off. The fact that Wiley is taking interviews like this is weird, but also proves that he is indeed a heavy figure in the scene. The figurehead. Even handling press for his own album, he works on his own time. But when you’re the Godfather, only you can make people an offer they cannot refuse.
Wiley will be releasing ‘Godfather’ the album on 2nd September.