The ‘King of Grime’ Wiley has come a long way since taking over the mic on east London pirate radio stations as a teen. On his journey from young spitter to ‘martyr’, the pioneer took his trademark Eski sound out of the underground and into the charts, paving the way for some of the UK's biggest MCs – names not necessary. Now certified as the mastermind behind an entire generation of skankers, he talks to The Wrap Up's Akilah Russell about wearing the crown, the next generation of MCs and retirement…
"I got my first single deal in 1999 - that was around the time that So Solid and Heartless Crew were doing their thing in the charts and in those times things were a lot more garage led.
“But when an MC comes out with something a bit different, they become the father of the next generation - and I guess that's where the 'Godfather' thing comes from. When people say that I've launched the career of artists like Dizzee Rascal, I do understand… but to be fair he was doing his thing anyway; like way before I even came along. I had my Eski sound and he had his Dirtee Stank sound, so even when we were starting out we were still our own people.
"I don't think anybody wants the title of being a ‘Godfather’ anyway, because it means that everything to do with that style ends up on your head. It's a mad thing to be called, but James Brown was a 'Godfather' so why not? [Laughs].
“At the end of the day if you are a genuine person and you treat people with respect, that will get returned to you. I know people have said things about me not turning up at photo shoots and stuff before, and they'd be like 'Wiley's mad'… but truthfully, you can't be everywhere at the same time.
“I know this will sound crazy, but honestly, it is down to God that I get all the things I get done when I do. I can't be out there chasing every piece of money that's offered to me - that's not real. My advice to the younger artists who are facing the same thing is to do what you can when you can - but still show respect and stay true to who you are.
"I think today's MCs are doing just as good as the ones before, or even better in some ways because they are using their own sounds. Recently grime has become more youth led, if you look at Lord Of The Mics, SB.TV… you've got Kozzie, Merky Ace and the rest of the young MCs still making grime so it's definitely not dead - if anything it's growing and the younger generation are it taking over.
“People forget that in the London clubs no scene stays predominantly in control - one day it was jungle, drum and bass and then it was acid music; it changes, that's how it is.
"I think the main way that I have stayed relevant - or tried to - is by finding a balance in the music I make. Obviously I started out with grime, but things have moved on since then, for me. The hardest part about changing, or ‘success’, is that as music lovers we have this thing where when everybody else starts to like it, we decide not to love it as much anymore.
“I don't want to moan about it, but I think as artists we try and make music for all and not just for one - but not everybody gets that. Even so, if I had to pick a highlight in my career I'd say it was going to number one with 'Heatwave'. When it happened I do what I usually do and just blocked it out. It was only six weeks after it happened that it dawned on me and it was a crazy feeling [laughs].
"Even though getting to the top of the charts is a big deal, people forget that I've been doing music for 15 years now and yeah, I could keep releasing music and chasing another hit, but I want my next project after 'The Ascent' album to be my last - I'm planning on retiring around the end of 2014 or 2015.
“I just want to Alex Ferguson it and just leave things there! [Laughs]. By then things might have changed in the industry; I really can't predict the future, but I know that me and Warner [Records] have got our last album to do and it's in writing. I'll be around 38-years old so that’s cool - I'll just be stretched out chilling by the time I get to 39 [laughs].
"My fans don't need to worry because ‘The Ascent’ is solid and that should tide them over for a little piece [laughs]. They can expect to hear me going on how I do on the internet with the banter. They've got a mixture between commercial party sounding tracks and songs that are completely from the heart. Emeli Sandé, Roll Deep, French Montana and the Far East Movement are on there, so they are getting more than just me on this album.
"I need the world to know that there has always been a set of us MCs that are making music in the UK and the world should hear it. We've still got people like Dizzee, Skepta, JME, Ghetts, Kano… I could go on, but everyone needs to understand that this is a scene that we all built. How people follow hip-hop as a collective [in America] is how it should be for us too.
"Am I a martyr like Shawn and Dwayne Carter [Jay-Z and Lil Wayne]? Well yeah! We have been in the game for the same amount of time so you've got to give it to me, I've been doing this [laughs]."
'The Ascent' is out through Warner Records on April 1 - keep up to date with Wiley on Twitter or via his website.
Words: Akilah Russell (@akilahrussell)
Online Edit: Maz Khan (@MazHalima)