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The Godfather of grime grows up

NEW MINDSET: Wiley

WHEN AN interview with Wiley is scheduled, journalists in the know will always ensure they have no other engagements for at least a few hours after the allotted time. Or better still, they’ll just keep the whole day free.

After all, the much-loved MC, dubbed the ‘godfather of grime’, has built up quite a reputation amongst us media folk for his unpredictable nature and tendency to be late for interviews.

So imagine my shock when my phone rang at 11.30am – the time that the interview was scheduled to happen – and rather than hearing an apologetic PR rep telling me that Wiley was running late or was nowhere to be found, instead, the said PR rep greeted me politely before handing the phone over to the man himself.

Unable to contain my surprise, I felt compelled to tell the Heatwave hitmaker that this was the first time I had ever interviewed him on time.

“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry,” Wiley laughed. “I’m getting there – I know about punctuality now.”

Resisting the temptation to ask ‘who are you and what have you done with Wiley,’ I instead asked the 34-year-old what had caused him to turn over this new punctual leaf.

“My grandparents always instilled in me the importance of punctuality, but when you get older and you start to fall into your own ways, you start to get a bit lazy. It’s always been on and off with me.

Sometimes I know I have to be on it, so I’m organised, but other times I might be under a lot of pressure or I might have family stuff on, so my head will be all over the place. But I’m definitely trying to be more punctual and organised nowadays,” he responds.

This mindset is perhaps an extension of the east London MC’s new outlook on his career. Gearing up for the release of his new album The Ascent, the skilled lyricist, born Richard Cowie, explains that the album’s title represents his readiness to embrace more commercial success.

“I’ve had a chance to ascend many times before in this industry and in my career, but I’ve always tried to stay more underground than overground,” he explains. “But I’ve realised that in order to be successful, you can’t really do that. I’ve accepted that now, so I’m not gonna battle with myself anymore about trying to please everybody. That’s what this album is about.”

Surely that must be hard for the MC who has always prided himself on staying true to his underground roots and pleasing his core grime fans?

“It is hard, very hard,” he admits. “When somebody goes from liking you to suddenly not liking you anymore because of the career moves you make, it can be hard to accept. So I think I’ll always be slightly affected by that, but I know I have to get passed that. 

“You just have to try and block it out as much as possible. You can’t keep looking at YouTube comments or Twitter comments, because one negative comment will always stay with you more than 100 positive ones.”

Wiley’s outlook is representative of an artist who has grown up in the music industry. Making his tentative steps into the business in his teens when he demonstrated his lyrical talents on several pirate radio stations, the budding MC went on to be part of garage collectives, including SS Crew and the Ladies Hit Squad, before forming the grime collective Roll Deep in 2001. 

The group featured MCs including Tinchy Stryder and Dizzee Rascal, but Wiley would go on to fall out with the latter due to a series of well documented feuds.
 
Reflecting on the numerous spats he’s had throughout his career, the notoriously outspoken MC says his disputes have taught him a lot.

“I’ve definitely grown and I’ve learned a lot over the years. The people I’ve argued with and fallen out with are the people I’ve learned the most from. In music, when people argue and then go their separate ways, I think they part with equal energy to go on and do what they wanna do. Like me and Dizzee... we went left and right, but he went on to do what he wanted to do and I did the same.”

Would Wiley like to reconcile with his one-time friend?

“I would but, you know... time passes and tomorrow’s not promised to anyone. You haven’t got forever so you just have to get on with life. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I would like it to happen, but I can’t sit around crying about it. I have to just crack on.”

Whilst cracking on with music, the MC balances this with family life, taking care of his two daughters, aged five and six. He admits that the more sensitive side of his character is the result of fatherhood.

“I think that sense of caring is something you really get when you become a father. You can be wicked and bad but as soon as you become a father, you have to care for your child, and in general, you start to care about things on a whole new level. I think that’s been the case with me.”

Is it hard juggling music with fatherhood?

“Yeah, it’s hard, but I don’t really separate the two – I just get on with all of it. Like I’ll do what I’m doing in the kitchen, then I’ll do music, then I’ll do stuff with my daughters – music is just a part of what I do and it’s part of all our lives.”

Wait, did he say ‘do what I’m doing in the kitchen?’ Does the MC’s role as a doting dad include regularly cooking for his daughters?

“Yeah, all of that! But more importantly, I’d go to the end of the Earth for them. For me, the secret to fatherhood – especially when you have daughters – is that you just have to be there. I’m a man so I know how men stay! So I just have to be there for them and be prepared.”

The Ascent is out on April 1 on One More Tune / Warner Bros. Records

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