Radio BurgerFuel

Interview: Wiley

Posted by Lee Densem


As well as being The Don, he's a newly published author and just been awarded an MBE. While Wiley was in New Zealand recently, we dragged him into Radio BurgerFuel to talk to with Lee Densem and find out where the endless creativty and energy comes from.


In late 2001 the London of my OE seemed like a vast, cold, grey, wonderful world. At that time living in E7 I may just have run into D Double E down the road on my way to Forest Gate station. Or getting off the Central Line, I could have decided to venture out into a club in Stratford. But as a 19 year old from the conservative city of Christchurch in New Zealand the evolving garage raves weren't quite my scene. Had I know that I would have been witnessing the birth of one of the biggest movements in British music since punk then I might have paid more attention to what was happening right under my nose.

Grime started bubbling up around London's east about the same time the world was reeling from the 9/11 attacks. So Solid Crew were at the forefront of the garage scene that was all over the charts with their hit singles and all over the tabloids for their exploits. Over the next few years there were incidents which led to fatal shootings at nightclubs which lead to the introduction of Form 696 by London's Metropolitan Police in 2005. This meant that any events had to submit an application 14 days in advance including performers contact details, a description of the genre of music to be performed and details of the ethnic groups expected to attend.

With all of this happening in the background it's not hard to see where the passionate and angry lyrics found in grime came from. More practically, it meant venues could be hard to come by, placing more importance underground gatherings (see this cool Guide To Grime in 'map' form) and spitting bars on pirate radio stations like Rinse FM that had been broadcasting illegally for the last decade. But before grime even existed, Richard Kylea Cowie aka Wiley was there. And for almost two decades since, Wiley has been at the forefront of the genre; from hosting Rinse FM broadcasts in his father's lounge, to seeing 'youngsters' like Skepta and Stormzy achieving worldwide fame.

Wiley is not short of a word. You could probably leave him alone in a room for five minutes and come back to find him still talking as if nothing had happened. He is relentlessly open with what he thinks, able to recognise his failures whilst still maintaining an air of confidence the errs on arrogance, and just bursting with energy and creativity. The 30 minutes we spent together flew by before he breezed off to his next stop before what I can only imagine was an afternoon doing as many things as possible before his show at Auckland's The Studio venue that night. So with apologies to Hattie Collins, This Is Wiley.

"I feel like that classic album wasn’t for me to have"

RADIO BURGERFUEL: Wiley, it's an honour and a privilege to welcome the Godfather Of Grime into Radio BurgerFuel.

WILEY: I’m a BurgerFuel fan, I never could have guessed that I would have ever been in here, it’s amazing. I love these burgers!

How has the tour been so far?

Oh, amazing. I’ve been to Australia, I’ve been to South Africa. In fact, this job has taken me everywhere on the planet, places that I wouldn’t have seen, wouldn't have gone. I understand more now. When I was in school, I was doing geography and history and I never had a clue. Now, I could pass a history and geography exam with my eyes closed, just from travelling. 

It’s the best way to experience it right?

It is, that’s the good thing.

The Godfather Tour is your first headlining tour in New Zealand and Australia. So let’s talk about that album. You’d said that you’d never made an classic album before?

Well I felt like I never because in England the fans tell you what’s up. And from my time, the first classic album in our scene was 'Boy In Da Corner' (Dizzee Rascal). And probably the next classic one was Kano 'Home Sweet Home'. So, there isn’t many classics in Grime, in terms of a full project, right. But what I’ve learned is if I put my 17 years against their work I’m killin’ them. I’ve done everything that a human could possibly try to do to stay afloat in that 17 years. So, whilst I felt like I don’t have a classic, I feel like I’ve got a beast. Even though Boy In Da Corner and Home Sweet Home is a staple, they’re not still sitting there listening to that, they’re moving on with their lives. So I feel like that was their journey. Sometimes I listen to freestyles of myself and think “I killed that shit”. I feel like that classic album wasn’t for me to have. Seventeen years of crazy going to the studio every year and killing yourself just to stay afloat, that means more to me I think.

Listening through Godfather, it sounds like there’s some traces of garage and jungle in there. Is that you just giving a nod to where it all started?

Yes, I had to because you can’t lie after you’ve lived 17 years of someone watching you. So on that album was me trying be as honest and be Wiley as possible from the beginning. So not the guy who done Rolex, not the guy who had done Heatwave, not the guy who went number one and got paid. Because that wasn’t me, that was me trying to stay afloat in a climate of when the music wasn’t grime [Radio BurgerFuel: looking after your family?]  yeah that was basically it. But I feel like had I not done that stuff I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to do this stuff. So Godfather I for me was me going back to the drawing board and looking at my scene and saying you know what, you’ve given me this Godfather title. I didn’t want it, but I’ve got the age and the time in my life where I actually have to accept it. I’ve lived and I’m experienced. I don’t tell everyone but I know a lot of shit, so therefore it’s my duty to actually accept that Godfather title and teach, you know what I mean.

"It takes something bad to happen in life like getting stabbed to make me think oh man I’ve gotta do it. It’s silly, but if it didn’t happen I wouldn’t be so driven. So, I feel like I can’t make music unless it’s coming from somewhere"

Now I have been reading your book over summer and I must say it’s got to be one of the more realer auto- biographies that are out there.

Haha it’s weird. With my book I just wanted it to be on point and honest and not talk myself up because sometimes people in those books would big up their chest and make themselves look too good. I don’t want to look good, I want to look how you’re meant to look. So if you had a bad time that time, you had a bad time. I felt like I had to do that in order for people to accept it, I had to as much as myself as possible. You have to just be honest, people accept the honesty.

Was there stuff in the book that was a surprise to people?

Yeah. The thing is we could have gone even deeper.

One of the things you said in that book was that there’s no more battling in grime.

Yeah, it’s not like it used to be. It is but it’s in a different form, it’s in a music video form. But if I’m dissing someone I don’t need to do a music video, I’m gonna get on the mic and diss you. It’s changed. If I had made a diss record the last thing I’m trying to do is visualise and make it into a visual. I’m going to talk directly to the MC, otherwise from afar we can say anything to each other, we can lie. So I feel like face to face battling is much better, but I understand it’s the next generation so I accept what they are doing.

"if I’m dissing someone I don’t need to do a music video, I’m gonna get on the mic and diss you"

You also wrote “shit helps with my creative process, niceness doesn’t”. Is that true of all musicians and creatives, is that where the best stuff comes from?

I don’t think so because I know a lot of people, like Disclosure, their music don’t come from a place of pain does it? I love 'em to death, to the high heavens, they’re one of my favourites! Their music is to bring joy to people and love and it's happy, its different.

So they couldn’t make a grime record?

They could, but they are happy. Not that they haven’t been through anything, but I am very most 100% sure that when they are in the studio it’s not because they're pissed off! It’s not just because they’ve had a massive argument with their mum and then some home truths have come out and now you feel like shit and now you realise oh shit, family is powerful. It's different circumstances as to why people make music I believe, so that’s why unless some shit's going on it's hard for me to make music. It’s bad that something bad needs to happen like getting stabbed so much, to make me think oh man I’ve gotta do it. It’s silly, but if it didn’t happen I wouldn’t be so driven. So, I feel like I can’t make music unless it’s coming from somewhere, if I make a happy song you feel that there wasn’t no pain in it. That’s just me. Its like the beginning of grime is the same as punk rock.

An angry explosion of emotion?

Yeah, it’s the same thing. Because obviously we all think we’ve done something new that nobody’s done, but if you stop and be honest with yourself you will realise nothing is really new under this sun. Some people made music because it was revolution time, you know like Bob Marley. I think everyone makes music for a different reason but when it comes to being able to make it, if you make pain music and then you make 17 years and now you’re a multi-millionaire you can’t make that music again. It’s like Dizzee Rascal, he can’t make Boy In Da Corner ever again because that’s when you had nothing. I feel like his time is up, like you’ve had a career, you’ve done it, you’ve done whatever you wanted to do, you’ve won the race, go and sit down. But him himself, if you say that to him, he’ll go mad. Even when it’s time for a man to stop, he doesn’t want to. And when it’s not time for a man to stop and he gets paid he might. 

Is this why you said "okay no more albums" after Godfather and now Godfather II is on the way?

Yeah, yeah. Godfather 1 did quite well, it’s like my best album I’ve done sales wise - top 10 in the UK. But the reason I wanted it to be my last one is because I done it thinking I’m gonna do this album and I’m gonna tour it for 2-3 years and then that’s it, I’ll be 40. Because at 40 you can’t be acting like a kid. So, when I said I was only going to do Godfather 1 it's because I was limiting myself. Because England is that kind of place, it’s a limiting place. Then I look at Jay and Eminem and they’re almost 50. So basically yes, you sit there and think well okay now what next? Well I don’t know next, all I know is how to do music, so it’s just battling with yourself. 

So, Godfather II, I’ve heard various things - it's coming out in February, it's coming out in March. Do you even know when it’s coming out?

I think It needs to come out on February the 23rd but I made the frame of the album since January 1st and making the album and putting the hook down and then deciding on who should be on that track, I have the three or four singles that are going to be there and I need to add some features but it’s easier said than done, I can’t rush it or it will come out wrong. And on my first Godfather I have the scene on there, so I’m like well I can’t do that again can I? So I’m in a few different minds whether to just do as much work on it myself that I can, and just forget the features. but then I’ll have people like “oh well there’s no one on there” because people from this day wanna see people who they like. It’s all about features these days. So I’m in limbo there at the moment but I will complete it and it will get done but I just need time because now when I do music I’m not in a rush. I make music knowing that if I rush it, it sounds wrong and I can’t change it it’s just out there and so I want to make an album where there’s no mistakes, where every mix is perfect and it all sounds right. Like when you listening to the Drake song you can hear him more than the beat, even though the beat is there, you can hear him, there’s not one drake song you’ve listened to that you can’t hear him as clear as day. So when you’ve done the project, your managers will influence you to do this, “oh lets send it to him to mix” then you send it to him and you don’t like the mix. But I can mix it myself, I could mix my album and it will sound better than any album but that’s my confidence in knowing what I want to hear. But they took it away from me when they signed me - "you don’t have to do this, you don’t have to do that, well do it all, oh what kind of video do you want, just write your ideas down and we’ll do it”. But all the videos look wrong. If I shoot the video that was in my head because I made the song it would have been the right video all along. I’m happy now because everything is back with me, when I release a record, I get paid, there’s not ten people getting paid. So yeah, I’m happy today. I feel like I wish I knew all of this when I was like 21-22. I kind of did because I knew I was doing it in the beginning, I was selling records. Then they come and sign you. When you get signed it takes away your DIY and that’s why I’m happy I’ve got my DIY back.

Wiley, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks for talking to us.  We can’t wait to hear more of the new music that you’re putting out. 

Definitely, I met some New Zealand artists yesterday, I’m also going do some work with them. When I come to a country or a place and they embrace grime, I work with them, unconditionally. Because I know that if I work with them and they help me out, when I come back to New Zealand, there will be more songs that the people know. And grime is a culture, it’s not one language or accent. So if I go somewhere and they’re doing grime stuff in their own accent and language then I like that even more because it shows that you heard the beat, you knew what they was doing, then you done yourself. So I'm definitely going to be working with some more New Zealand artists.

Wiley's album Godfather II still has a TBC release date [update 16/04: Wiley announced on Twitter that the album is due out in 10 days]