A founding member of the Roll Deep Crew, Wiley was a founding member of the grime movement that transformed British music, helping to nurture big-name hitters including Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder. With a string of top 10 hits now under his belt, Wonderland caught up with the ‘Godfather of grime’ as he’s just about to unleash his summer anthem ‘Heatwave’.
When was the first time you realised that you had a passion for writing and recording?
It was when I was about 11, ‘cos I actually started to do it without being with my dad anymore or being at home. I was in school, just thinking of it. So I think 1991.
Would you say that you use your status as a platform to alter people’s perceptions of youth/gang culture alongside the grime genre?
Not really. Grime is not the main thing in English youth/gang culture. It’s rap and all different other stuff. So wherever the party’s at, and wherever that does occur, in whichever areas it occurs, that’s gonna happen or it’s not. Sometimes I think they put that on us a bit, the gang/grime culture. No one from grime is in a gang.
You have successfully made the difficult transition from underground artist into the mainstream. Do you still remain true to your original ethos?
I still remain true, but in the underground you can be quite self-centred. Some people are always boasting about how good they are. In the ‘overground’, it’s not about that, really. Your attitude has to change. What you gotta do is be more open-minded and just find the balance that’s comfortable and that’s winning. You gotta go forward with that. So I don’t think you can have the same mind-frame. You gotta be able to adapt to which zone you’re in.
You’ve had numerous top 20 hits and the new single ‘Heatwave’ is being hailed as a “summer anthem”. Tell us a little bit more about this song.
Well the producer sent me a beat called ‘Numb Beyond Belief’ and it was just sitting there for ages, but then it was like ‘Rolex’ again. When I heard it I knew what could happen, I just thought “it’s not built-up enough, it’s not loud enough”. But one day I just did it.
You collaborate with a lot of other artists. If you could have any vocalist feature on a Wiley track, who would be your first choice?
I would love to do a song with Lil Wayne or someone like that.
What music were you listening to when you were growing up and what inspired your creativity?
Dancehall music was the first one, and then I think it just turned into soul and stuff. But dancehall is the main reason, I think.
Your last record was released in January. What and when can we expect from the follow-up?
I think the following album will be 12 elements of UK music. One down, 11 to go and Heatwave was one of them. I know how you would structure an album but when you get hits, it all falls into place.
Do you think that allowing all sorts of people to be able to access music is important? You give away free downloads via social media networks.
Yeah, it’s right for me but at the same time, it can mess up stuff for others… And me. It’s just me giving to the fans. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have 161,000 followers on Twitter, and that’s the truth. There comes a time where you have to say “right, well it’s not all about that”. But if we didn’t do it, grime would just be unheard of and that’s why it has to be done.
So what else is on the Wiley calendar for the remainder of 2012? Dates, gigs?
We’ve got an Australia tour in September, we’ve got Fire On The Beach in Ayia Napa on the 9th of July. We’re gonna start promoting the ‘Heatwave’ tune, smashing that in all the clubs and then get that chart position and carry on. Another single is scheduled for late September/early October.
Words: Shane Hawkins