Everybody, it seems, has an opinion on Wiley. Godfather of grime, Number-One pop star, household name, Guardian poster boy, internet curiosity… the 33 year-old East Londoner is all those things – and a load more besides.
Unashamedly honest, strikingly candid and refreshingly opinionated, we wish everybody we interviewed was like Wiley. But as he confirmed when Trap spent an hour in his company, there can only ever be one Wiley…
Hello Wiley. How are you today? What you on?
Yeah, I’m good! I’ve been finishing the album I’m doing with Manga from Roll Deep. We want 12 tunes for it and have finished ten so far. We’re gonna have a few days break now, so we’re not talking about the same stuff when we go back in.
You’re working on another album already? You’ve released two in the last six months!
Yeah, I’m in rush. Haha. I’m not, but it’s my job. I just wanna keep working and making sure I’m not lazy.
You never get creative block?
No, not any more. When I was younger, but not now. I think you’ve got to be open minded musically; if I’m on a beat, I just try not to stop, I do something, even if it’s just eight bars. I’m on music 20 hours a day minimum. Even if I’m not doing something in those 20 hours, I’m always around it, checking it.
At your level, some would have relaxed by now and be doing one album every couple of years…
You know why it is though? It’s the lack of achievement, that’s why I’m doing it. Because if I’d achieved properly, I wouldn’t even have to be fucking about doing all this pop. I’d be living in million pound mansions and that. So that’s another reason I keep going – because I know there’s been times when I might not have applied myself properly, or because I looked at the game from a different angle and tried to stay in the hood. There were loads stupid elements, but now, I’ve just flushed all of that out and I’m just trying to keep everything positive.
You do want to achieve, then? You want that million pound mansion?
I do! It’s not that I couldn’t get it anyway if I wanted, but someone like me is meant to be more. That’s all. If you put someone like me in a different country, like Jamaica or America, where there’s a scene that’s worldwide, I don’t think I’d be in this position.
“Sometimes I blame myself”
You know what it is? I love music and all of that, but I don’t love the bullshit side of trying to be famous. And in England that’s what it is, I’m not putting us down, but here the entertainment industry is under control. They limit it. It’s controlled – who goes through the door, who’s playlisted, who wins the awards… But I don’t moan, I don’t think ‘Oh, you didn’t win a MOBO,’ – I just think they missed it.
Sometimes I think, I never got the chance, sometimes I blame myself. But then I think, if you don’t get along with people for whatever reason, you’ve got to move on. So I’m not gonna hate on the people who didn’t see me, but I just wish they did…
Do you think there are things you could now hold your hands up to and say ‘You know what, I probably didn’t make it easy for myself there?’
Yeah, definitely. Relationships and arguments. I often fell out with people – not necessarily a fall out, but things where it made it awkward for us to speak anymore. There’s been millions of situations, I don’t want to hold a grudge with anyone, I know I’m not the easiest person to get along with, it’s true.
You think after reaching 30, you’ve learnt?
Yeah, I have learnt but at the same time, I’m not gonna go back. I’m gonna try and get to 40 so I’m content. We’re men now. No one can help me. You just got to go on, not go back and say ‘Oh, I’ve changed.’
You were one of the pioneers of grime. Many of the scene’s early stars have risen to massive fame, and have, it appears, used grime as a stepping stone to that. How do you feel about that?
They didn’t use me. If I took them to Westwood, or I put energy into them to help make them into who they were, then we’re just equals. I am Wiley. It could seem that a certain person is higher up now, but at the same time there’s something that I’ll always have that they only might lose if they go too high up.
I don’t believe that any of the MCs have gone anywhere in terms of music. So and so might be blowing up in America, but music wise, on the mic and ideas wise, I don’t think any of them are far ahead at all actually. They’ve stepped up. But none of them have stepped up and taught me anything. They’ve stepped up and showed me they’re big, but nothing more.
Do you want that? Someone to step up and teach you?
Nah nah nah. I learn from other people. I listen to a lot of different music. I learn from a lot of Radio 2 from Elton John and that. I learned from Stevie Hyper D and MC Det and those people!
Do you sometimes feel like you did all the hard work and building, just for the newer generation to come in and reap the rewards?
Yeah, how it is now with music here – it’s what we always wanted. Thing is, we’re all 30 now. I wish I was 20 so we could take advantage of it! You get older and you’re like, ‘Fuck. I’ve done all that graft for them.”
It’s not like that really, that’s a bad way to think… The garage people must have been like that when we came in, though, and said we’re not doing garage, we’re doing grime – Norris Da Boss and them lot must have thought ‘You fuckers.’
It’s mad. Maybe it’s a bit of karma. But you know what though? I’m friends with karma mate, I’ll put Karma in a head lock, put it there and tell it to hold on; I’ll be back in a minute. I will get there with karma, trust me.
I do understand, I need to have a repent, not repent, but a little session where I’m chilled, and I understand everything that’s gone on, and then just re-invent and move on.
Which is the name of your album, ‘Evolve Or Be Extinct’…
Exactly. I was trying to just make an album that I had fun with and was happy with, instead of one that I was, not forced, but asked to make and then not happy with it after. I wanted to do two in one year, but it got pushed into 2012. I’m wanting to work with other people more now…
Such as Major Lazer?
Yeah I got a tune on there. It’s not gonna benefit anyone except them. I shouldn’t say that, it will benefit me. I like Major Lazer. You know what I’ve realised? That guy Diplo is in a position of power that people don’t even know exists! Power bruv. I’m sitting there thinking ‘I wanna be like one of them then! Why the fuck am I breaking my neck when this geezer, on the decks for an hour, giving people a couple of riddims they love, doing some tunes, and then in the end, Beyonce’s took his fucking track and he’s fucking laughing the geezer! He’s laughing mate, now I know what his goal is, and I like that goal, it’s a good’un.
“Grime could have been the be all and end all”
Back to grime – do you think the genre still has the street-level relevance it did?
Grime could have been the be all and all, but the front runners all ran in different directions because they all wanted to be their own king. Some failed and came back to the floor to build up again. Some didn’t fail, but they’ve gone and earned loads of money and lost the reason they’re good.
It’s iffy. I could say, ‘you know what I wish I didn’t have to struggle – I wish I’d went that road’. But if I had gone that road, I’d be sitting there going ‘Fucking hell man, I can’t even bust weight with the likkle dons.’ And I’d be pissed, cause I’d have been meant to buss weight with anyone.”
So credibility is key to you?
Yeah. It’s pros and cons. You know what, it’s slipping away, I was listening to some tunes I’d done the other day and thought ‘I’m starting to sound like an old MC now,’ I thought I’d be able to throw and spit like a young MC forever, but you can tell man.”
Some might say your antics on uStream, twitter etc, where you quite plainly speak your mind, or let people see you cooking lunch, could affect your credibility. You don’t seem to mind sharing your life online…
The internet is exciting. I never had it when I was younger. So I’m new to it, I want to be involved in it. I wanna show people me as a human being. Just because he does music, doesn’t mean he’s not a human being. We all went to school, we all fell over, we all tried to ride a bike – people forget the normal things. That’s what I try to show on there.
People say ‘You’ve gone mad!’ and I’m like, well OK, being normal is actually mad. My nan made me a boiled egg. So is she mad? When I get older and make one, am I mad? The world’s crazy, not me. In your mind; there’s things stored in there. For me, boiled eggs and soldiers is one of them. Or a cup of tea, I don’t know. What else was I making? The other day I made breakfast.
You know what it is, when you’re doing music and you’ve got this image to keep up and everyone thinks you’re a bad-boy MC; they take away the right for you to be normal, the fact I play football on the grass. I’m so normal, I feel like people don’t accept you for being as normal as them, because when you’re a star you’re not meant to be.
Interview by Jon Cook
Photos: Spencer Murphy
Originally printed February 2012 in trap#007