A colossal event hit the world of Grime like a wayward comet last month while we were all dealing with our January blues begrudgingly crawling out of our beds hitting the grind to earn some bread crumbs. In fact it wasn’t one colossal event but TWO which saw the strong structure of Grime swaying severely upon its carefully constructed foundations.
Unless you have been in a catatonic state (Going back to work can do that to a person so I’ll let you off) or hibernating from all forms of media and human interaction you will know that ‘The God Father of Grime’ and legend that is Wiley gave a much-anticipated interview with the You tube channel ‘Not For the Radio’ As someone who watched the birth of Grime and closely tracked it’s growth, I was gassed to hear just how deep Wiley would go with his revelations – I wasn’t disappointed. Wiley took it all the way there; he spoke about his humble beginnings, gave his opinion on how Grime began, revealed how a girl he had a one night stand with tried to trap him with a child, his heart-break split with Lady Ny and most interestingly his long-standing beef with his former friend, protégé and fellow legend – Dizzee Rascal.
Wiley vs Dizzee is not just one of the most compelling beefs Grime fans have witnessed but also contains a longevity which sets it apart from other beefs which have erupted on the scene. Here you have two legends in their own right who were trailblazers in the formation of Grime, they were both instrumental in the parts they played in aiding the growth of the genre, Wiley created the now famed Eskimo beat and Dizzee became the first ‘Poster boy’ of Grime and took the genre to a mainstream audience winning prestigious awards such as a Mercury music prize and a Brit award along the way which was unheard of for an underground Grime artist at the time. When you realise that these two significant artists were friends who started out together in the same crew and ignited a flame which still blazes 14 years later you cannot help feeling disappointed that the two have been unable to sort out their differences, not for lack of trying on Wiley’s part.
In Wiley’s version of events the ever-widening rift is due to the fact that Dizzee took the opportunities laid out before him whilst Wiley chose to remain underground and battle through the struggle. It’s clear Wiley has nothing but respect and love for his onetime cohort and accepts that Dizzee’s choice to veer into the mainstream market meant they drifted in differing directions to explore alternative paths to success. Another factor which cannot be ignored when it comes to the fracture within the friendship is the madness which broke out in Ayia Napa back in 2003 where tempers boiled over in the Cypriot heat. Rumour has it Dizzee grabbed first Lady of ‘So Solid crew’ Lisa Maffia’s bootie, leader of the crew Megaman took offence to the brash gesture and a fight ensued between Dizzee and Mega. The next day Dizzee was on his quad bike and got dragged off by 4 men and stabbed multiple times. Although Dizzee has healed physically from the incident, from Wiley’s perspective Dizzee has not healed from the psychological wounds he suffered after the incident and seems to hold some resentment towards Wiley, perhaps because Dizzee felt his boy didn’t have his back in the aftermath and Dizzee believes Wiley is inadvertently responsible for what happened to him. With so many versions of events we can only speculate as to what happened from the information that’s been given but what was clear to me from Wiley’s honest and no holds barred interview was that he thought it was time they made peace.
After getting the low down from Wiley who rarely gives interviews I was looking forward to watching Dizzee Rascal’s interview on U.S Hip Hop show ‘Sway In the Morning’ (Filmed before Wiley’s interview) even though Kanye had warned me a year ago that “Sway ain’t got the answers” I refused to believe him and I wanted Sway to get us those answers from Dizzee that we’ve all been waiting for. Sway opens up his interview with Dizzee with an introduction worthy of a candidate running for office in the 2020 elections to rival Kanye’s bid! Sway shares with his listeners that he is happy to have his friend up in the studio because he is a music culture fan who doesn’t limit himself to music from his state or coast making it clear to listeners he is not insular in his musical tastes (as many American’s are when it comes to urban music outside of their country) but prefers to take a liberal stance to music cultures different to his own. Dizzee looks on as Sway gives his ringmaster at the MGM grand style introduction with a slightly bemused expression which then becomes a Cheshire cat grin by the time Sway gives Dizzee the deserved title of “pioneer.” After Sway’s epic introduction steeped in praise, you want to see Dizzee Rascal deliver the goods in whatever he is about to say if only not to shatter Sway’s illusion of the great man he clearly believes Dizzee to be.
Throughout the interview Dizzee is matter of fact, carefully considering what he is about to say before answering each question. At times he hesitates, he stutters and he’s extremely guarded. Gone is the mischievous glint in his eye and his motor mouth which saw him make bold and controversial statements in his youth and in its place is a mature, low-key and subdued guy. Maybe it’s because he has no reason to be angry and frustrated anymore because he’s no longer a boy in the corner but a man on centre stage that Dizzee no longer talks in the same careless manner or maybe it’s because it was 7 in the morning (I know I’m not functional until at least midday on most days.) The very first question to come out swinging from Sways’ mouth was “Who is Wiley?” Knowing their complex history I winced and made a “ooooooohhhhh” sound not knowing which way Dizzee would swing with his answer – brutally honest or diplomatic, the answer Dizzee gave would have made him eligible to join his favourite U.S crew (later stated by Dizzee in the interview) ‘The Diplomats.’ Dizzee was quietly respectful to Wiley in his answer “He’s the God father of Grime, that’s what they say” he doesn’t divulge whether he thinks they are right to give Wiley that title but instead he cleverly shares the media’s and fans view of Wiley deflecting from his personal views. Dizzee then states he and Wiley have had their ups and downs (understatement of the decade) he then chooses not to share what those ups and downs are with the U.S audience and goes on to say Wiley was his favourite MC growing up and promptly lumps him in with other MC’s unknown to American audiences whilst also steering away from Sway’s original question which was about Wiley specifically. He ends his answer by stating again they’ve had ups and downs and recognises that Wiley is a legend, but just as before as soon as he gives Wiley a compliment he downplays it by announcing within the same sentence that the artist Cage doesn’t get enough credit and that he has done the most. It’s an extremely conflicted answer which possibly conveys the conflicting thoughts Dizzee feels when he thinks of Wiley. Sways’ next question “What is Grime?” had me hype I was thinking FINALLY someone is going to break it down to the U.S audience and they won’t think it’s a sub-genre of Hip hop anymore. Dizzee’s response started off strong “Everyone has a different interpretation of Grime but fuck it I’m gonna have my say how about that?” THIS was the flash of fire I’d been waiting for and the cockiness I’d become accustomed to as a long-time fan of Dizzee. A response that should have been as strong as Dizzee’s influence on the scene itself saw him become tongue-tied and lost (possibly because Sway put him on the spot with his “Who is Wiley?” question beforehand) the rest of Dizzee’s answer was both clear AND confusing – He proclaimed Grime is a sound system culture, although this is undoubtedly true it is only one element of Grime. He then went on to say he listened to UKG which came from the U.S which isn’t strictly true as UKG was formed from Drum n bass which is UK-based but ‘low him it was early in the AM. Dizzee did touch upon the pirate radio stations which allowed the scene to reach the masses, he briefly mentioned the numerous crews around London and he skimmed over the BPM of Grime compared to D&B but he didn’t elaborate which is such a shame as he had a great opportunity to tell the story of how Grime originated to ears being awakened to the genre – I wanted him to speak about why Grime started, street politics, clashes and how the BPM of a Grime beat differs from a Hip Hop beat. I wanted him to talk about the sample of sounds and instrumentals used in Grime that you don’t necessarily hear in Hip Hop, I wanted him to explain the rhythm and flow of Grime to a nation of new recruits to the movement, OUR movement, instead there was a lot of comparisons to the U.S Hip hop scene but you have to give Dizzee his due he was trying to explain the scene so as to make it accessible to an audience who are unfamiliar with what we know so well but in doing that some of the origin was lost. I have to give props to Dizzee for recognising that Grime unified the whole of the UK bringing post codes and regions together through the love of the music. As soon as Dizzee finishes his explanation on the history of Grime, Sway swoops in with yet another question about Wiley and Dizzee goes from having a breather to suddenly piping up about 36 Mafia which again seemed a little left field to the conversation but by now it’s clear that Dizzee does not want to talk about Wiley.
Something which became apparent to me whilst listening to Dizzee speak is that after all his years of grafting and grinding he now doesn’t see himself as part of the underground scene and nor does he want to re-join it for the simple reason that he’s moved past it; He states “I did that in 2003” when talking about touring with A list artists and “I didn’t need to be on that stage with Kanye but I respect the artists and Kanye inspires me” He talks about making No.1’s with Calvin Harris and winning a BRIT award alluding to the fact he achieved greatness long before the young bucks coming through, part of me thinks now would be the perfect time to pay homage to his roots and pay his respects to the underground since it gave him the springboard to reach the pinnacle of his mainstream career, it was at this point I realised Wiley’s statement rang true “As an artist you can get sucked into the heights of success and go so far with it that it makes it difficult to come back” For now it’s evident Dizzee wants to distance himself from his past and keep it moving but Sway is not ready to let him do that just yet, he slides in like a pro skater and questions again “What happened with Wiley?” and throws a curve ball with “Who are So Solid?” (Sway ain’t playin’ he wants the answers) Dizzee very carefully explains Wiley brought him onto the Roll Deep track “Bounce”, that so Solid kicked down doors for Garage music and were also integral to the formation of Grime, he casually drops in he was stabbed back in the wild days and talks of tempers flaring and egos clashing of course Sway tries to scratch the surface to no avail. All Dizzee will offer is that the whole story is messy and that he would rather not speak about it as there are too many characters involved but he does agree there was a rivalry.
Later on in the interview Sway opens up the phone lines and Dizzee gets love from a listener by the name of Angel who comically warns “Stay away from those Jeze’s” referencing the song “Jezebel” from ‘Grime bible’ and Mercury music prize winner “Boy in the Corner.” The album is hailed a classic and set a standard for Grime artists hoping to emulate Dizzee’s success, so it’s surprising Dizzee doesn’t want to explain the tracks’ content to the female presenters when Sway asks him to, instead Dizzee states he’s “Ashamed” he wrote a song like that! Jezebel is a cautionary tale of a loose girl looking for love by objectifying herself and sleeping around, she ends up as a young single mother and comes to regret the choices she made in her young life, he cleverly wraps up the track by suggesting the cycle is likely to repeat itself as Jezebel now has 2 daughters. If anything it’s a song to be extremely proud of! Dizzee warned young girls what could happen if they continued on the same reckless path as Jezebel whilst showing a sheltered slice of society a situation which is a regular occurrence within street life. The fact Dizzee doesn’t want to talk about such a powerful song makes it obvious Dizzee sees past Dizzee and the Dizzee of now as different people altogether rather than the same person at different phases in his life.
No guest interviewed by Sway is worthy if they don’t pass the initiation that is the ‘5 Fingers of Death’ challenge it can make or break you (We all remember Iggy choking right?) this is where you are put on the spot and expected to freestyle over 5 beats of Sway’s choice; It’s a chance to show your lyrical wit and prowess on the mic to thousands of listeners tuning in across the globe. I’m proud to say that Dizzee can stand up tall and big up his chest, he laced it, lit it and torched it to deliver an inferno of fast and furious rhymes over Sways beats and he did us Brits proud. As the interview drew to a close I found myself longing for the days of Grime’s Batman and Robin aka Wiley and Dizzee, whether it’s a case of Dizzee being unable to make peace with his past which I’m sure unearths painful memories and could be the reason he avoids certain subjects, or it could be Dizzee has already made peace with the past within himself and therefore doesn’t want to plague his present with an ill-timed revisit which could essentially halt his progression; we can’t be sure but what is certain is that even Batman had to step aside and let Robin emerge from his shadow to tread his own path, in his own way.