Last week we looked at Wiley’s musical roots as a youth, his sonic creation – the Eski beat instrumentals, his discovery of Dizzee Rascal and the alliances formed which would stand the test of time. During the interlude you should have become acquainted with the ice rink armed with the avalanche of riddims I left you with at the end of Part 1 (If not skate backwards to Part 1, have a listen and re-join us here.) It’s now time to put down the skates and pick up your skis, we are hitting the slopes to further explore the sounds keeping those snow-capped mountains frozen.
Dancing with the Eskimo
Now then, if you’ve created a brand new genre with your superior production skills which draws a bag of MC’s from all over London, new fans and more remixes than there are penguins sliding about in Antarctica; you are going to need a place to house a whole lotta hype and so came the invention of ‘The Eskimo dance’ from the very extra-terrestrial brain of Wiley. In 2002 the creative cyclone continued, with Wiley deciding he wanted a place where the music he had created could be celebrated and to also give the MC’s a place they could shine without prejudice, with that enter ‘Eskimo dance.’ To this day in 2017 being invited to join the coveted line-up of ‘Eskimo dance’ is the equivalent of being handed the gold medal at the Olympics to an MC. Performing at Eskimo dance means you have the golden seal of approval from the top boys of Grime (Ghetts, Kano, Skepta, Lethal Bizzle, Devlin etc.) who also joined the line-up over the years from 2002 – present day. For a relatively new MC such as AJ Tracey, it is an honour to receive from the godfather and the team behind ‘Eskimo dance’ to be asked to join the stage along with the veterans of the genre, any young MC sees it as a major milestone in their careers.’ The Eskimo dance, which began in a small club in Watford now tours nationwide, has competed in the Red bull culture clash last year (2016), and is now touring internationally, with a tour slated for the U.S this year. Grime fans the world over have Wiley to thank for ‘Eskimo dance’ and all because he wanted to “Put on a rave” 15 years ago!
Clash of the titans
From watching Wiley’s interviews it becomes apparent he is able to spin a story animatedly with great comedic timing and impersonations. Wiley is simultaneously charismatic and enigmatic which makes him charming yet puzzling to understand which is why your best bet is – don’t try. His impulsive and outspoken nature have seen him embroiled in a fair few clashes and disputes over the years, the most notable of these often accepted as Grime’s first war dub, was Wiley vs Durrty Goodz in 2002; fuelled by a then feisty Wiley when he allegedly commented on the incarceration of Durrty Goodz’ younger brother and Grime legend Crazy titch on the track ‘Where’s my brother.’ The two traded lyrical insults for the next 9 years. Wiley then went on to clash Kano in Lord of the Mics 1, the clash is still regarded as a golden moment for Grime and Wiley concedes that Durrty Goodz and Kano won the clashes respectively. Another significant clash was with ‘The Movement’ members – Ghetts, Devlin and Scorcher. The clash began in 2005 when Ghetts’ was rumoured to have stolen Wiley’s lap top. Bravado helped to ignite the beef as the two traded war dubs to determine who the biggest beast on the mic was. The beef escalated when Scorcher turned the beef personal and Devlin released the stinging diss track “Extra Extra” in support of his movement master – Ghetts. In retaliation and in keeping with a vital part of Grime’s culture, Wiley decided to bring his ninja man slaying skills to slaughter the movement in his ‘Nightbus’ as he wheeled up on his competitors in a lyrical 6 minute venomous takedown. For fans of Wiley, Ghetts and Devlin it is a defining moment that they have reunited on the ‘Godfather’ album, making their disputes a thing of the past.
Play time is over for Chipmunk and Ice kid
In between Wiley’s second album ‘Da 2nd Phaze’ released via Boy Better Know records in 2006 (an alliance which formed after Wiley invited JME to a studio session, JME was accompanied by his brother Skepta, whom Wiley convinced to “Jump on mic” as Skepta explains on his album ’Konnichiwa’ on the track – ‘Detox’ and Skepta the MC was born – Thanks Wiley!) and releasing what I like to call the companion album to ‘Godfather’ 2007’s ‘Play time is over’; Wiley was no longer the ninja turtle karate kicking locked doors for his peers to burst through and take centre stage at garage raves; by 2006 Wiley had morphed and matured into splinter – the sensei and spiritual teacher of the ninja turtles. Over the past 11 years Wiley had taken on the guises of DJ, producer, MC, inventor, mentor and cultivator, allowing him the luxury of slowing down (By Wiley’s standards this means working at 100 mph, instead of 200 mph) and nurture new talent whom he believed could be the next big thing and carry on the sound he pioneered, with a modern twist. Wiley discovered Chipmunk (now Chip) when he was 16 and Ice kid and signed them to his record label Eskibeat recordings, demonstrating once again he had a knack for discovering raw talent and an ear for who was next to blow. The proud sensei took his new discoveries to Tim Westwood (Charlie Sloth was still yet to burst and shout through our speakers back in 2007) having trained them and selflessly offering them the lessons he had once received from Maxwell D, Stormin and Sharky major as an up and coming MC. Wiley looked on as both Chipmunk and Ice Kid murked the mic with blistering bars, proving Wiley was right to co-sign Chipmunk and Ice kid as the ones to watch. Chipmunk went on to sign a major label deal and had a successful pop career before returning to the Grime roots that raised him. Unfortunately the equally talented Ice Kid could not cope with the great expectations put upon him at such a young age and he retreated into near obscurity; Wiley holds himself partly responsible as he remarked in his quirky way during his NFTR pt. 1 interview, “Maybe I gassed him a bit too much, maybe I gassed him to out of space”
Contradictions and Charisma
Being a man who can conjure up any manifestation of skills when required, who also carries the weight of a whole scene on his shoulders, takes a very unusual mix of quirky persona and genius. Wiley seems to have cross overs and collisions of opposing characteristics and I believe that is where the genius resides, somewhere at the intersection of these crossovers. A man who is both sincere and savage as seen in his NFTR pt. 2 interview; when asked about Dizzee performing at the same venue as him he threw his head back to avoid the glare of the camera and uttered “He avoided me” with a hint of sadness; in the same interview Wiley brazenly proclaims “If you step to me and try and steal my Nando’s I will box you in your face bruv.” At which point my carpet was wearing my Courvoisier and coke, as I doubled up creasing with laughter at his no holds barred real talk. You cannot have a creative mind like Wiley’s and expect it to be belong to a standard person; if Wiley were not reactive and reflective, outgoing and introverted, fiery and chilled – If it were not for the Yin and Yang of Wiley’s persona would the scene look the way it does today? – Perhaps not. Would we have Eskimo riddim? – Hell no. His duplicitous personality could be observed regarding his views on Glastonbury festival; in 2013 Wiley stated – “Please cancel me I do not want to play for your festival ever again” fast forward to 2017 – “Rain or shine at Glastonbury, this year’s gonna be amazing because I now understand the meaning of a festival” are just a few examples of Wiley’s labyrinth like mind. Maybe its good ol’ maturity and hindsight which has seen Wiley become more mellow and content with his position within the scene. He is committed to his obligations more than ever to the point his career is experiencing something of a rejuvenation.
Grime n Gloss
During Grime’s lull between 2007 – 2014 in part due to form 696, issued by police to clamp down on violence at live events which saw Wiley’s Eskimo dance frozen in time for 6 years before the Eski boy himself decided to thaw it out and revive it in 2012. During the quieter days many Grime artists decided to migrate from Grime’s grit to the sparkly and overproduced friendly pop – rap. Grime artists such as Skepta, Chipmunk and Wiley seemed to get sucked into a glitter ball like vacuum of glitz and polish and regurgitated as clean cut inoffensive EDM / techno tinged hybrids; even Wiley could not resist the lure of the label executives as he “Had responsibilities now” and ‘Wearing my Rolex’ became Wiley’s biggest over ground hit in 2008 charting at No.2. A pop album followed titled ‘See clear now’ and a year later, on 2009’s ‘Race against time’ album Wiley divulged, he wasn’t seeing clear the year before and held regrets about allowing himself to be sucked in by the mainstream. After Wiley’s annoyance with the major label, Wiley packed up his beloved laptop and moved just down the road from me! Yes Wiley lived in Manchester and Liverpool from 2010 / 2011 for a few years; perhaps this was to reflect on the dramas, pitfalls and successes he’d attained in London, or perhaps it was his constant need to be on the move to absorb the world around him; at the time Wiley stated that he enjoyed the relative anonymity the North of England provided allowing him to go unnoticed and get into his chill out zone, whilst also riding the wave of the buzzing cities. The time Wiley spent in Manchester brought him into contact with some of our urban legends – drum and bass MC Trigga and Grime’s MC Wrigz, who is now signed to Wiley’s CTA records and has featured on 3 of Wiley’s albums; a testament to Wiley’s loyalty to friends he met in the past and carried with him into the present. Wiley seemed to have a temporary rebellion in 2010 as he went against the record label’s carefully constructed formula and impulsively dropped 11 zip files consisting upwards of 200 songs via twitter, as what can only be described as a defiant f*ck you to the major label he was in negotiations with. In the same year he released the iTunes only ‘Offload vol 1’ an apt title as he seemed to be offloading everything on his chest before entering the next stage of his journey. Wiley continued to give the mainstream the cold shoulder and released his album ‘100 % publishing’ in 2011 so called as it was written, produced and recorded by himself, giving him complete creative control which was carefully monitored when working with the major labels. The album barely scraped the top 100, but it seemed to be a cathartic process Wiley had to complete to absolve himself of the ‘sin’ of almost selling his soul to the suits.
Ascending to pop?
Which leads me to a roundabout in Wiley’s winding grime covered, yellow bricked roads, which I hope I have guided you through carefully (We managed to clear the icy slopes we took to earlier without broken bones! It’s all good.) After expressing the trappings of major labels and releasing the solid but slightly scattered ‘Evolve or be Extinct’ in 2012, Wiley then went full circle and went down a road he’d already travelled, he signed with another major label (Warner music) to release 2013’s ‘The Ascent’ – an electronic, hedonistic Ibiza rave on wax that had die hard Grime fans claiming, Wiley had sold out and turned his back on grime, but I don’t believe this to be the case as Wiley has always had one foot planted firmly in the Grimey soil which raised him and tentatively dipped his other toe in the arena of pop to overcome the challenge that other grime artists like Dizzee and Chipmunk made look effortless – achieving crossover success. Perhaps being something of a prolific power generator who provided electricity through his infectious energy to up and coming artists to allow them to shine bright at the top of the charts frustrated him and each time he thought he had found the magic formula which worked so well for the people he’d discovered, would see him return to the alluring sparkle of pop in the hope the formula would work for himself, allowing him to become champion of both the underground and mainstream markets. Maybe he had to satisfy his urge to conquer both. I view Wiley the artist as random, unpredictable, charismatic and hilarious, but it’s possible that Richard Cowie the man, may have vulnerabilities and doubts and I imagine needs to put his feet up with a can of red stripe and a doggy bag from turtle bay while watching a bit of EastEnders on the telly in a tartan fluffy dressing gown!! (Ok maybe not fluffy.) Perhaps Wiley the artist and Richard the man’s constant return to pop was for a very simple reason – acceptance.
On a level
With a move to Canada to gain “A taste of America ‘cos they won’t let me in” Wiley took his first step on the ladder towards the acceptance ‘Godfather’ would gift him, and climbed further away from some of the snakes he’d encountered in the mainstream industry, who had tried to coil themselves around him to gain complete control. He released his penultimate album ‘Snakes and ladders’ in 2014 via his ‘big dada’s’ – a label Wiley has had a rocky relationship with over the years, but despite this they did not sought to supress his creativity and direction which is why they have always reunited. Wiley’s direction on ‘Snakes and ladders’ was clear, concise and Grimey. Older, wiser and worldlier after his transatlantic travels and failed forays into pop; Wiley was ready to come home in person and in music (sort of, he lives between London and Cyprus) and offer invaluable advice to artists beginning their journeys or offer a boost to artists whose motivation was fading. A cohesive album ‘Snakes and ladders’ took you on Wiley’s journey so far and it brought us one of my favourite Wiley tracks of all time – the Skepta produced ‘On a Level’ (absolute BANGER.) Our Eski boy, our ‘sensei splinter’ had decided to take it way back to the days he was a “Ninja turtle” stepping into the circle of his igloo where he retreated for 2 years to sculpt not only the greatest album of his career but a defining album for the grime genre as a whole, an album which is monumental in its own right. This album can stand proudly alongside ‘Boy in da corner’ as a blueprint and a reference point of the Grime genre; an album so special to the culture it transcends to ‘Holy Grime’ status – ‘Godfather.’
References: Not for the radio part 1&2, ‘This is Grime’ by Hattie Collins and Oliva Rose, my intuition and memories.
Picture Credits: Image 1 – The BRIT awards. Image 2 – Eskimo Dance–Courtney Francis. Image 3 – Elliot Simpson. Image 4 – NME. Image 5 – ABC. Image 6 – ‘Godfather’ album cover art taken from ‘Clash Magazine.’ Image 7 – Ashley Verse for ‘Crack magazine.’ Image 8– The line of best fit / Getty Images.
A few of my fav recent Wiley tracks and vids:
On A Level: (2014)
Chasing The Art (2015)
Holy Grime: (2016)
6 in Da bloodclart morning (2016)