With 2008’s ‘Wearing My Rolex’ recently turning Gold, and ‘Heatwave’ standing alone as Wiley’s solo number one, it’s hard to deny that the East London rapper’s brief flirtation with pop was successful. However it was the surprise 2014 release of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ that heralded a return to the form that established Wiley’s role as UK grime statesman.
As JME reminded us on ‘From the Outside’, Wiley is a “national treasure”. From his signature self entitled ‘eskibeat’ instrumentals in the early 2000s, Wiley began to develop a darker approach to UK garage which soon became the cornerstone sound amongst a host of inner London Pirate Radio stations, championing the tentative first few footsteps of the grime scene we know today. This era briefly culminated in Dizzee Rascal’s Mercury Prize Award before the sound was swept into the peripherals of the UK music industry – the brooding, abrasive younger brother of UK Garage.
However this brooding, abrasive younger brother has made an unprecedented comeback in recent years, with Skepta, JME, Kano and Chip, all protégées of Wiley’s, now carrying the buck forward into unchartered territories in the mainstream. In February of this year, riding off the back of 2016 Mercury Prize winning album ‘Konnichiwa’, Skepta was lauded as 2017’s Best British Male by NME. Whilst in 2016, Canadian superstar Drake announced his love of UK grime with a BBK tattoo, a UK grime label he has now signed to. However none of this would have been possible without the path caved by Wiley himself.
Wiley’s seminal Godfather album, released earlier this year, feels like a victory lap, cementing Wiley’s role as its namesake. This album celebrates grime’s recent achievements, showcasing the UK talent that has emerged from Wiley’s wake in the likes of JMS, Frisco and J2K on ‘Name Brand’, Flowdan on ‘Pattern Up Properly’ and Skepta on ‘U Were Always Pt.2’. However it does so without losing track of the scenes origins, with ‘Birds and Bars’ displaying Wiley’s signature early ‘eskibeat’ production, and ‘U Were Always Pt.2’ giving a nod to his early Roll Deep days.
Like all father figures, Wiley isn’t afraid to speak his mind – once telling Michael Eavis of Glastonbury “F*ck you, and your farm” and leaking his own album in the form of The Ascent in 2013 due to label disputes. However it is this desire of Wiley’s to forge his own path that resulted in the development of the grime scene we see flourishing today, and it is this unpredictable, enigmatic nature of Wiley’s that makes him a must-see act at Nass this year.