The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Wiley Does It: Ruling The Internet & Bringing In Gold
The Quietus , October 28th, 2010 09:08

Tom Howard chats to Wiley about ruling the internet, mediating between Liam and Noel Gallagher, and music industry woes

Here's what I knew about Wiley six months ago: cover of Plan B magazine, integral to the UK grime scene, Dizzee Rascal's old spitting partner and chum, Wearing My Rolex. Fast-forward to right now and I know more about Richard Kylea Cowie than I do about any other musician on the planet. Not by befriending him or downloading his back catalogue, or studying Grimepedia or joining Roll Deep, but by going on the website Ustream. Wiley's been using it a lot recently to broadcast his life online to his fans and I've spent a horrible number of hours watching him.

Instead of working, I've been watching Wiley working. See also: eating, exercising, shopping, going to the park. Sounds boring, totally isn't. It's a credit to the man's charisma that seeing him come home from Tesco, put a pizza in the oven and talk to his internet friends about the Drake CD playing in his kitchen is essential viewing. I've picked up more intricacies about the everyday activities of a successful pop star than I ever did reading six books written by people who thought they knew more about Kurt Cobain than whoever wrote the book before theirs.

Obviously I'd be naive to think everything Wiley does on Ustream replicates everything he does when not on Ustream, but something about watching him spark up an enormous joint and give a beat-making lesson seems charmingly genuine. It's a nice change to have an insight into the life of someone who's actually talented rather than Big Brother fucktards. Maybe he's just dicking about. Maybe, as The Guardian suggested, he's "helping to kill the practice of music journalism stone cold dead". Or maybe, in another six months, everyone will be at it.

Whatever: I treat my obsession with the respect it deserves and give Wiley a call. He picks up, and does the entire interview live on the internet.

So. Ustream. You're pretty much living on it at the moment.

Wiley: Yeah Ustream's like my Big Brother bro. I don't want everyone to always see what I'm doing but sometimes I think what I actually do is quite human and I'm not an alien and if I just told people what I do then they'd actually look and say, "ahh this person actually does what every other person does, really". A lot of people have got more bad perceptions of me than good ones and sometimes people paint the wrong picture. When I was younger I never used to care ‘cause I used to think "whatever", but as you get older you realise that people are trying to associate me with stuff that shouldn't be associated with me, and that is the main aim bro, to show people that I‘m actually human and that I'm not someone who is famous and got money and got their head up their own arse.

Do you like Big Brother?

W: I'm not a massive fan, it's just everyone I know always watches it so if I'm in a house and someone comes round they just put it on so I've obviously witnessed Big Brother, a lot, but I'm not a great, great, great fan.

Would you go on it?

W: I dunno if I would go on it. One second. [Away from the phone] What's that Halo? Leave me alone stop pissing me off. [Back on the phone] Hello? Sorry I just had to tell someone off on Ustream.

What were they saying?

W: That was just a little boy Halo moaning ‘cause he wants my number, he wants me to give him my number so he can ring me, but, you know what it is, sometimes I just wanna not really ring no one, know what I mean?

Didn't you give your email address out on Ustream the other day?

W: Yeah I gave my email out for people to send me beats. Obviously people get excited and take it to do what they want, but then obviously there's a way around that. I could just go home and set up a new fresh one and just crack on, you know what I mean?

Did you get lots of emails when you did it?

W: No I never, that surprised me. I should have got spammed up to death shouldn't I? I just got nothing really, beats I got sent bro, but then I just got other random things like, "hi friend, my name is blah blah, right now my family is blah." You know, all that.

Do you get a lot of people sending you beats, generally?

W: I get a lot of beats sent. Obviously people just want me to vocal their beat. A lot of people don't know what level I'm at before they send me a beat or they don't know what I might like, so they're trying to please me. The main objective is that they always send grime, so no matter what send me grime ‘cause that's the genre I came from, but then when I want to try and do different types of genres you can send me them and obviously I will listen to it and still vocal it and stuff. But I have to pick out the best from the grime and then that's how I get the vocals for new songs so I do want people to send me stuff.

Do you pick out stuff from people you've never heard of if you like it?

W: Yeah yeah yeah, people who are nameless definitely. I realise that it doesn't matter what someone's name is if the vibe they catch from whichever day is the same vibe I like. Right now there's this new producer, he's not even new, but there's a producer called Dan Kemp yeah, and he's a really good producer and made a song in 2010 that blew me away. But he never knew it would and I said to him "send me a beat" because he would never have sent me that beat. So he sent me a beat and it was called The Smoking Weed Beat, but it was just a good beat bro and I was listening to it for days and days and days and I realised that this person, I was happy that they sent me that beat, so it shows you that you don't have to have a name, and whatever it sounds like, if my heart draws towards it, or my mind wants it, then we're through the loop.

So did you make a track with that beat?

W: Yeah I've done it, I've done it. It'll be on my new album, I'm just waiting."

Is that one of the ones you gave away?

W: Nah nah nah. I've done loads of songs since that. That giveaway is something that had to occur, but obviously ever since then I've made loads of tunes that I've hidden. It's my job innit bro. Like you go to work and do stuff every day and all I'll do is wake up and do songs and go back to sleep bro. I don't really know what else to do though, which means that when I was young I never really built up any other profession other than music and football.

Are you good at football?

W: Yeah I was. I'm a bit rusty now but I can remember football being a passion.

So your new album, is that going to be The Elusive 2?

W: Yeah. Wiley The Elusive 2. And basically that album is the extension of what was meant to be The Elusive. I'm really upset that Island [Records] never realised the value of The Elusive. But it doesn't matter. Life goes on.

Why didn't Island like it?

W: It's not that they didn't like it, they just didn't care bro. When you sign someone but really you don't give a shit and your heart ain't really in what the person's doing, that's no good to me, because obviously every year I can come up with more and be the next best next thing and everyone will talk about that. But that's not what's important to me, what's important to me is the album and that's what I've tried to build. A Wiley album the label couldn't see, and so now I'm on another label.

And I know I won't fail, and Island know I won't fail, and All Around The World, they know I won't fail, because failure would be me not being here at all. A failure for me would be not even getting one record deal. You see what I'm saying? And obviously I've been given six record deals over 10 years, and I've had publishing deals, and to me bro, I've succeeded. There ain't a better job that I could have even studied for or went to uni for five years for. There ain't a better job than this bro, I can promise you that."

So what label is The Elusive 2 coming out on?

W: All Around The World, and really they're not Wiley people either. They're dance club people but one thing they understand is money talks and bullshit walks, so that's good enough for me."

You have your own label right?

W: Yeah, I have them little divisions but right now I've got a proper, proper, proper label that I call A-List Records and basically that was set up in aid of my a-list family of music people. We went to the studio and built up a rapport and a sound, and we've got the new angle to come next. So you know Roll Deep and blah blah blah, A-List Records is next after that. It's something that is gonna take over in the next 10 years rather than just them other things. Them other things I've been doing for the last 10 years so I'm trying to see what's gonna be, to help plan my pension and all the rest of it.

Do record labels get pissed off when you do stuff like give 200 tunes away on the internet?

W: The other day someone said to me, "you're a prick man, why you giving away all that tunes?" and the same arsehole would have been the person who never bought my album anyway. So obviously I'm not gonna listen to dickheads who wanna just say what they wanna say. What I gotta do is analyse who I am and what it's gonna do if I do this. Obviously I'm not stupid, I knew that if I gave away 200 tunes people are gonna be saying my name for the rest of the year. So it ain't just gonna be "you gave away 200 tunes" and you walk down the road and nothing. So basically I done that and I knew what would happen and what did happen is I had a deal in place before I even gave them tunes away, and then the manager who's a point of contact started getting greedy and busy and I pulled out the deal and said, "you know what, that person is getting sacked" ‘cause they are doing the wrong thing already.

And what I mean by the wrong thing is that in business you can tie someone up and you can fuck someone over and there's nothing they can do about it, so I had to stop that from happening. And when I stopped it, the label said, "well Wiley, we're not sure if we wanna do the deal ‘cause you've just sacked the point of contact" and I said "cool". So I went home and it was the evening time, about 7pm, and I was on my computer about to make another beat and I said "nah, fuck this" and I had the tunes zipped so I uploaded the zipped files. I had 12 but I just uploaded 11."

What was the 12th one?

W: The 12th one was just new vocals that I should never have even shown anyone but I didn't let them go anyway. So that was good. But then the next day the label rang back and said "yeah we wanna do the deal". So that's what made me angry ‘cause I was like "you pulled the deal, and I've given these 200 away and I know your gonna ring me tomorrow". And I waited and they rang me bro.

Is the music industry full of wankers?

W: "It's full of people who are out for themselves which I can't hate, ‘cause I'm out for myself. The only difference is sometimes I've got gold and they think I've got silver and then I bring it in and we let it go and then they realise it was gold and it weren't silver. So maybe we should not trust this person, ‘cause don't trust no one, but maybe Wiley brings something in, or Wiley brings an artist through, or maybe we split something ‘cause he has brought all of the UK in basically.

So are you rich now?

W: I wouldn't say that I'm a trillionaire, but I can pay for my own coffin and that means a lot. You know why? A lot of people get old and they can't eat and it becomes awkward to pay for a coffin, so as long as I can pay for my own coffin and as long as I can pay for my children to do whatever they want while I'm alive, I'm happy.

Did you ever think you're life would get this good when you were a kid?

W: You know what, I did. I used to dream bro, and hope that I could get to the level. And there was one day when I probably got onto the level and I didn't realise that I was actually living my dream. You get onto the level, you get your dreams, and then you're living your dream so you think there's gonna be something more, but really there ain't. There ain't nothing more, you know. More importantly you're just living your dream, and the only thing more is when you travel and you do music worldwide. But I'm actually living my dream so I can't moan.

What are your other dreams?

W: To elevate out of England and I wanna try and crack America. Not because I care about Americans and what they think, more because I've seen other English acts go to America and be successful.

Like who?

W: Like Sting, like flipping Bono, from U2.

Do Americans like grime?

W: Americans dig grime slightly but that's not really what I'm going there for. What I wanna go there for is this: I wanna sell my music and my music to be released in America. I don't want it to be forced down people's neck, I don't want any one type of colour or group to like it, I just want it to be something in the moment. I strongly believe that if I play my cards right then I can get chart success in America. Whether it be dance music, electro, whatever, I just know I can do it. If Taio Cruz can do it, then I can do it.

You know how you retired in 2007 and then came back…

W: I never retired bro. What happened is: I looked at the scene of kids and said "well, basically, listen, I'm retiring from being around you because you either want me dead and all I do is help you do music" so that was basically me retiring from them kids, not music. Retiring from that scene of kids who are meant to be wanting to do music but instead were in clubs, and if me and an older person get into a drama then kids will try and stab me.

Did people try and stab you all the time?

W: Not all the time. Imagine you're someone and I'm someone and me and you argue and I don't like you and you don't like me and I run up to you and punch you in the face but then every time you see me you're with four dudes and you don't like it so you gotta do something. That has basically been my life bro. I'm not a victim and I'm not a saint but I know in my heart that sometimes things happen because it was me. It's like when you go to school your parents will tell you if anyone puts their hands on you get them back, within reason. So I'm just that. But basically I wish that no one had ever done shit with me ‘cause if no one had tried anything we'd all be cool. People try and draw me out and people try and get into a fight with me that I don't really wanna get into.

So you're the wise old man of grime these days?

W: Yeah yeah I try to be, but I understand that everyone knows right and wrong and sometimes we do right or wrong, but at the end of the day, let's try and calm down and stay on earth."

Do you ever get people you've worked with or mentored - Chipmunk for example - ask you for advice once they get famous?

W: Nah, never, ‘cause someone who's younger than you don't really want your advice. They're always just gonna try and outdo you and be better than you and try their own way ‘cause they think they know best. I was exactly the same but I'll tell you the truth, every time someone tried to bring me back down to earth I wish I would've listened a couple of times.

Who were the people trying to tell you that kind of stuff?

W: People like my Dad, but obviously I didn't really listen to my Dad ‘cause I used to think "well what does he know?". People like my Grandparents, people who I didn't look up to, but they was looking at me to make sure I didn't go wrong. Them sort of people.

You're a prolific songwriter, so do you find it weird that with bands like, say, Oasis, the only songs they write end up on their albums, whereas you're just pumping them out all the time?

W: I do, I do, and that's all down to my publisher. I've been with EMI for a long time and not once have they ever rang me and said "Wiley, do this, do this, do that". They really don't do shit bro and that's why I've stopped and said "two Number Ones I've had this year" and they helped me to tear that [EMI deal] up and get into different publishing deals. But I just want my own publishing company so I can start doing what I wanna do. And then I will do a little venture with them but I'm very angry at my publishers. Very, very angry bro. Even if they rang me tomorrow and said "yes Wiley we're gonna help you with this", they would have waited all these years ‘til I've got a scar on my face even to decide "yes, let's help Wiley"."

Why are you angry with them?

W: Because just like what you said there, Oasis don't do shit really, but they've got more money than all of us. That's gonna make me angry knowing that I've sat there, working, breaking my neck, and other people don't really do much. But I understand the theory, I really do.

Do people like Noel Gallagher ever come up to you and say they like your music?

W: No, not really. Not him. I know there are people out there who do dig Wiley. But I would like to bump into Liam or Noel and get that stamp of approval.

What would you say if you bumped into Liam?

W: I'd say "why don't you see your brother?" and then he would tell me, or he wouldn't tell me, but I'd say "why don't ya?" ‘cause I'm really unhappy why them two don't talk to each other. I really just wanna know why. I hope it's not to do with money ‘cause someone says that Noel writes the songs and Liam doesn't, so I dunno what it is.

Have you got a brother?

W: I've got a younger half brother right, from a different mother. It's mad ‘cause I'm much older than him. Obviously I got love for him but I feel like he has got his own talent, like, and he can obviously do whatever he wants to do without me in the loop. Like I respect that about him, and he's quite clever so I respect that about him. What I don't respect is the way that my Dad and his Mum are bringing him up. I don't respect that at all ‘cause basically, if they're not careful, he could go wayward and if he did then everyone would probably be looking at someone like me saying "well you're his older brother" and I'm just gonna look straight back at his parents and say "well you're his parents and me, growing up, I didn't have solid parents so ‘f' all of you, goodbye!" That's what I would say.

Could you ever write a song like 'Bonkers'?

W: Yeah, I can write better songs than 'Bonkers', easily. I'm not even boasting - I could write much better songs than 'Bonkers'.

I mean, more, could you bring yourself to do it?

W: Starts singing] I wake up everyday is a daydream. [Stops singing] That is the easiest task bro.

Too easy?

W: It's too easy. It's a disrespect to my vocab and my lyrics.

You'd feel like you weren't doing yourself justice?

W: Yeah yeah, but listen bro, the tune that's paid me the most is "usually drink, usually dance, usually bubble". Come on Wiley, that's not rocket science bro. And that's what I sometimes realise - it's not just about you, it's about the masses."

Someone suggested you should work with MIA on Ustream and you were saying you didn't really like her, or something?

W@ Nah, I'm not really into MIA bro. You know what it is, I respect her and what she does, but everyone gets stuck in because someone chopped her bit of vocals on 'Swagga Like Us' and everyone thinks I'm gonna care, but I don't care. Like my contact will come and say, "come on dude, MIA, she's done 'Swagger Like Us', 'Paper Planes' and I'll just be like, "so what bro, what does that mean? That Kanye West likes it? What's that got to do with me?""

Do you like her albums?

W: I'm not a fan of her. But you know what it is, someone told me she likes what I do here and there and I feel weird ‘cause its really sad to know someone feels what you do but you ain't really bang into what they do. It's weird bro, I feel bad and I almost have to start lying and say "yes I like MIA".

What about worldwide?

W: I just like Lil Wayne and Drake and Nicki Minaj. And them three remind me, with their work ethic and the way they do stuff, reminds me of the way I've grown up and seen stuff all along. And I'm much older then them which shows that if I wasn't in this country and I was in another country I could do what they do, know what I mean?

Do you love Nicki Minaj's bit on 'Monster'?

W: Yeah Nicki Minaj is one of the best rappers in the world. No female is better than her. She's dangerous, she's done to Jay-Z what I wanted bro.

You should go out with her and be like Jay-Z and Beyonce.

W: I know, I know. But I heard on Twitter she got married to Drake.

Yeah, that was a lie.

W: The liars. If they did get married then good luck, whatever. And if they didn't then, whatever. But I agree that I should be with a girl that's in music and sometimes I think I shouldn't be. I've been having that battle for years.