Every once in a while colossal events occur in life that can have such an earth shattering effect on the rest of the nation to the point all we can do is watch in awe at the spectacle unfolding before us, with the knowledge that we are unlikely to witness the occurrence again in our lifetimes – The supersized eclipse of the sun courtesy of the planet Venus in 2012, the UK being the only country in the world to win more medals at an Olympic games 4 years after hosting it, getting extra days off to snooze in ‘celebration’ for the queens diamond jubilee and the coming together of four tiny turtles by the names’ of Wiley, Maxwell D, DJ Target and a little later Dizzee Rascal who was invited to step into the sacred circle by Wiley (On the track ‘2far’ “I’m a ninja turtle step into my circle”) The tiny turtles hurried to the underground sewers to train. Dwarfed by the tremendous but run down tower blocks of Bow E3, the windows of each tower block seemed to glare at them threateningly with narrow eyes questioning their intentions as our underground heroes scurried to safety to spar and strengthen their carefully crafted bars.
All Roads Lead to Wiley
The rise and rhymes of the Godfather of Grime is a perfect example of seemingly random events (some of which were triggered by Wiley himself and others pulled Wiley in like the mass gravity of a faraway planet) swirling and colliding in complete chaos and as a result something complete and wholly organic, which made perfect sense emerged. Once all the flying shrapnel came to rest – Wiley with a little help from his friends had unwittingly laid the soil to plant the seeds which would eventually flourish as the genre we know and love today – Grime; but let’s take it back to the days of the genre with no name – our tiny turtles Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Maxwell D and DJ Target were underground perfecting their flows when they all began to roll deep in a glowing green substance which left them covered in slime and Grime, their skill sets began to solidify and transformed them from tiny turtles to ninja turtles, enabling them to train at the dojo’s of De ja vu, Rinse FM and Choice FM. But what is it about Wiley, the most persistent and charismatic of them all, that when you walk down the paths of other MC’s and rappers (Lethal Bizzle, Tinchy Stryder, Skepta, Stormzy, Chip and Novelist to name a few) their paths ultimately lead back to Wiley or their journeys are intricately entwined along the winding roads of Wiley. Come with me as we journey on the yellow brick road coated with layers of grime, to see the wonderful wizard of Wiley!! Let’s tread the paths that he once did which led him to claim the title – The Godfather of grime.
Genesis, Tiny Kylea
Most children of Caribbean parents grew up surrounded by sound systems trembling with a thudding bass that could be felt in our chests, and dub mixes from popular reggae artists Sanchez, Yellowman, Beres Hammond and Gregory Isaacs. Richard Kylea Cowie was no exception to this unwritten rule; an inquisitive child tiny Kylea would determinedly crawl from his cot to reach his musician fathers’ instruments eager to bang about on the drums or do an Eve and shake his tambourine it was clear from an early age Richard had inherited his father’s affinity for music and had a mischievous glint in his eye which has only intensified with age. As Richard junior observed Richard senior run a successful food business alongside juggling being part of a successful reggae band, it’s clear that Wiley’s penchant for balancing many different projects at once and turning those projects into profitable businesses was learned from his father – All hail Richard Cowie senior! The Wild child (DJ Wildchild as he was in 1995) was submerged in the synths and dizzying 150 bpm drum patterns of jungle, where Riko Dan reigned as king of the jungle during the genre’s peak in 1994 and 1995. Riko Dan and Wiley would go on to form an alliance from those early days which has stood the test of time. Another alliance young Wiley made which remains intact to this day, was with BBK’s Jammer, the two met as young producers and Wiley would go on to make tracks at the original dojo – Jammer’s infamous basement. You cannot help but wonder if the MC’s we know and love today, clung to their creativity and each other as teenagers amidst the struggles surrounding them in East London; choosing to translate the raw energy of the streets into a positive, by making music. In a sense music was their salvation from the streets, but those streets were equally pivotal in shaping the sound of Grime.
There’s a Kat in the garage
Wiley has spoken about how he saw jungle as a producer’s playground of sorts for himself, and views the genre as the solid bark of Grime’s tree long before grime had even begun to sprout leaves and branch off. As jungle began to die out and the gloss of garage emerged in 1998 / 1999 helmed by ‘So solid crew’ and ‘Heartless crew’, DJ Wildchild became Wiley Kat and with the name change Wiley added producer to his credentials. By this time Wiley Kat was a musical magnet to straggling junglists and garage heads as he was able to flit effortlessly between the two genres and began to do something which I believe is the very reason he is the most prolific and multifaceted artist in Grime today – he began to adapt and reinvent with the changing sounds and shifting scene around him; those who could not adapt got left behind. Wiley Kat leapt with the kind of power and exuberance possessed by a tiger into the garage scene. Once he had landed, he then picked up his bow and arrow and hit his target as he and childhood friend Darren Joseph aka DJ Target formed the collective Ladies hit squad with ‘serious’ microphone master Maxwell D. The collective went on to have their own show on Rinse FM where they met other garage DJ’s and MC’s including DJ Slimzee and God’s gift; eventually it was decided that they should join forces (think Power rangers and Ninja turtles) and ‘Pay as you go cartel’ was born.
‘Pay as you go’ had massive success in the garage raves and a smash hit with ‘Champagne dance.’ It was also around this time Wiley Kat produced his only garage track (under the name Phaze one) which sits gleaming in garage’s golden vaults – ‘Nicole’s Groove.’ As ‘So solid crew’ brought the streets to the stage with a slick of sheen to prime time show ‘Top of the pops’ we were gassed to see 20+ mans (and first lady of Garage Ms. Maffia) dressed in black screw facing down the camera to the homes of the uptight middle classes. A shadow was being cast from the supersonic epicentre of East London, looming large and ready to eclipse ‘So Solid’s’ grip on the charts.
Shape shifter and cultivator
Wiley Kat is not just a cultivator of a genre or the creator of great music one thing that has become apparent during his epic expedition to claim the deserving title of godfather; is he is also a good student who knows how to listen, and is eager to learn from those around him. It was Maxwell D the frontman of ‘Pay as you go’ who suggested to Wiley Kat he spray 8 bars and introduced the notion of having a catchy hook – “It’s Wiley and I’m gettin’ em hyper…” it’s at this stage in his career I think of Wiley as maturing from tiny turtle playing with those synths in the concrete jungle of Bow, to teenage mutant ninja turtle kicking his way (along with Jammer, ‘Pay as go cartel’ and later ‘Roll deep’) through the locked gates of garage which remained firmly shut and reinforced with steel bars to keep the rude bwoy rebels of Grime away from the glitz of the garage raves. Wiley Kat’s ability to traverse genres, put him at the forefront to act as gatekeeper to the garage raves for which he had access to as a DJ. It was Wiley Kat’s impulsive and unpredictable nature which allowed hungry, underground MC’s to snatch some time on stage.
Lovin’ the crew
With MC’s spitting about mobbing and robbing over sweet like chocolate 2 step garage and with the garage community resisting the underground movement, it became evident darker instrumentals were needed to cater to the MC’s raw lyrics and pent up frustrations. Garage had begun to fracture and sub sections began appear. Wiley (by this time curiosity had killed the Kat) and Jammer began to produce darker instrumentals such as ‘Know we’ and ‘Destruction’ to give underground MC’s a home where they could fully unleash their fury. With the demise of garage so to came the end of ‘pay as you go cartel’ but not before Wiley had learned from mistakes he had witnessed and most likely made himself over the 2 years he was part of the celebrated garage crew. Watching Maxwell D lead ‘Pay as you go’ gave Wiley the confidence to recruit for his own tribe of Taekwondo ninjas to descend upon the airwaves. With his fathers’ entrepreneur spirit Wiley was able to recruit the biggest, brashest and boastful MC’s to form the first official Grime collective – ‘Roll deep crew’. The 16 strong crew included Wiley’s day ones, DJ Target, Danny Weed, Scratchy, Breeze, Flowdan, Riko Dan, Trim, DJ Karnage and Tinchy Stryder.
Driving us Dizzee
Wiley was content to be taught by his peers during his DJ Wildchild and DJ Wiley Kat years and credits ‘Heartless crew’, his own crew ‘pay as you go’, Stormin, Sharky Major and in particular MC Precious for giving him the confidence to transition from Garage DJ to Grime MC. Now the captain of his founding crew ‘Roll Deep’ he was on the hunt for new talent, his generous nature prompted him to steer up and coming talent to dizzy heights which saw Wiley change his Akademiks jacket again like a grime version of Joseph and his technicolour dream coat, and assumed the role of teacher. Wiley made one of the most important discoveries for ‘Roll deep’, the scene (Which still remained nameless in 2002) and the culture – he discovered Dylan Mills who you might know better as Dizzee Rascal. Wiley suggested Dizzee roll with his crew and Grime’s greatest partnership had landed. Wiley saw in Dizzee a hunger, cockiness and bravado which surpassed his young years, he heard how Dizzee was able to bring fresh intellect and ferocity to his bars. Having been around since 1995 and now in his third crew it made sense that Wiley became Dizzee’s mentor. The two swooped in like Batman and Robin at sidewinder raves, back to backs and the historic Dizzee vs Asher D clash. So strong was Wiley in his conviction of Raskit’s talent he decided to feature him as the main MC on Roll Deep’s first release ‘Bounce.’ You could say Wiley acted as the springboard to catapult Dizzee towards cheeky chappy dance / rap popstar. The dynamic duo’s pairing has become part of Grime’s Holy Grail and provided some of the most memorable moments we look back on wistfully. The Ayia Napa incident in the summer of 2003 saw their mentor and protégée relationship come to an abrupt and premature end with Dizzee now preferring to be the nemesis ‘Shredder’ to Wiley’s ‘Sensei Splinter.’ The rift remains unresolved to this day. The rift between the legends has caused obvious sorrow to Wiley and also disappointment to Grime fans who would love to see the ‘Michael and Quincey’ (Big up to Kano for the accuracy in that comparison) of Grime reunited on stage. We can only hope Dizzee one day accepts the olive branch extended by Wiley which remains hanging in the air.
An Avalanche of Riddims
You may have realised by now that Our godfather is not the type to have one project on the go, nope he likes to have all his fingers and possibly toes in all the pies at the same time which is the reason he is celebrated for his consistent work rate (I’m sure he’s invented a cloning machine and just not told anyone. Can I rent it?) One thing we can be sure he did invent was Eski beat. Wiley dropped ‘Eskimo Riddim’ also in 2002 (busy bwoy) after garage had become stale. ‘Eskimo Riddim’ is largely considered as one of the very first Grime instrumentals created by the experimental producer, it’s signature sound can only be described as – icebergs crashing into each other, melting icicles, sliding glaciers and frozen formats which would have the snow queen from the chronicles of Narnia running for her hot water bottle!! A slew of MC’s spat bars over Wiley’s ‘Eskimo Riddim’ including Roll deep, Skepta, Dizzee, Shystie and countless others as it became the go to Grime instrumental along with pulse X. Our sonic scientist had birthed a sub-genre of Grime so we can sew the badges inventor and innovator to his lab coat. After ‘Eskimo Riddim’ landed and shook the ice under our feet we were carefully treading on, Wiley then blessed us with ‘Igloo’ in 2003 (In 2004 Wiley would vocal ‘igloo’ and it would become ‘Wot Do U call it?’) a series of ice cold riddims followed – ‘Ice rink’, ‘Snowball’, ‘Ice pole’, ‘Avalanche’ to cement the Eski beat sound which helped to coin a new nickname for Wiley – Eski boy.
There’s thin ice in the corner
It was only a matter of time before Roll deep’s standout members Wiley and Dizzee were offered record deals, by now the genre had been off handily called ‘Grime’ by a pirate radio DJ and the name stuck better than Wiley’s original name for the genre, ‘Eski.’ In 2003 Dizzee released Grime bible ‘Boy in da corner’ and Wiley released the critically acclaimed but less commercially successful ‘Treddin’ on thin ice’ in 2004. By this time Dizzee and Wiley announced they would not work together again. Dizzee’s frustration and delinquency throughout ‘Boy in da corner’ seemed to come at the right time with its gloomy and moody backdrop it seemed to capture the attention span of the country who were ready for anti-pop and made Dizzee the poster boy for the cause. ‘Treddin’ on thin ice’ is an equally raw and brilliant album from Wiley, but the Ayia Napa feud the year before its release and the harsh realisation to the mainstream that these artists were not just pretending to come from violent surroundings but were actually surviving within them; saw the initial excitement for grime music cool off within mainstream circles, ironic considering the title of Wiley’s debut album; no one was prepared to tread on thin ice with him or help him across it, but instead they backed away leaving Wiley and his album flailing. ‘Treddin on thin ice’ is still hailed as a Grime classic.
As we approach the cross roads lets rest, reflect and spin some riddims.
Part 2: Tuesday 7th March.
References: ‘This is Grime’, my memory and tapes!