The Lowdown: Eskiboy’s the Reason That Everybody’s Here

When you’re talking about particular songs that had an undeniable cultural impact on UK music, the importance of Wiley’s classic ‘Wot Do U Call It?’ record cannot be overlooked. To this day it’s still one of grime’s biggest dancefloor bangers, but more than that it signified a moment in time; a changing of the guard.

There are arguments to be had for years and years about where grime began. Wiley recently said whoever produced ‘Oh No’ by So Solid could claim to have invented grime, we recently uncovered a “grime” track from a 1994 video game, Big Narstie claimed the first grime track was Skepta’s DTI, the list goes on. Interestingly, in ‘Wot Do U Call It?’ the word grime isn’t actually used once. Make no mistake though, grime starts with Wiley. Eskiboy’s the reason everybody’s here.

With the scene enjoying more mainstream attention and love than ever, Wiley has taken somewhat of a backseat in recent years rather than attempting to lead the scene as he has done in the past. His upcoming album being named ‘The Godfather,’ however, feels like a statement of intent. Wiley has threatened us with retiring from music countless times, but there certainly feels like there’s a sense of legacy about this album. Just like with ‘Wot Do You Call It’, there’s something in the air. Even the lead single, ‘Can’t Go Wrong’ (which he performed on Jools Holland last night, September 27th), is an anthem of the independence and self-belief which saw Wiley part with the garage scene in the first place.

Wiley is an enigma; an elusive character nothing short of a national treasure, so who better to talk us through the origins of grime, pirate radio and the scene than the man himself? To celebrate the upcoming release of ‘The Godfather’, we trawled through old (and some not-so-old) Wiley interviews to find pearls of wisdom from his past.

All of the excerpts below are direct quotes from Wiley.

On grime’s earliest days and splitting from garage…

“[Grime became its own thing] a few years ago, when the Kano’s and Dizzee’s came into it. I was seeing them, and I wasn’t even really ready yet; I was a producer then. I didn’t rap that much. I had to go home and practice and elevate it.” – Pitchfork, 2005

“Some people call it grime, grimey or whatever it’s called. But I want to call my sound eskibeat. That’s what I do call it and everyone else can call their sound whatever they want. So people who make similar music to me, it will go under that anyway.” – Jockey Slut, 2003

“I just want people to like it and then one day it will get named. We don’t really have the power to name it. It’s the people that accept it, the radio stations, MTV and all that, who’ll say “Right, it’s this”. They’re the ones who’ll name it, we just have to wait.” – The Guardian, 2004

“[Wot Do U Call It?] is explaining about how we started doing garage and then “they” started turning their back to us. Pushing us away, trying to say we’re ruining the scene and all that. […] A few people. They know who they are.” – Jockey Slut, 2003

“That’s what (‘Wot Do U Call it?’) is for – separating the two scenes. The house and garage scene really didn’t like what I was doing, so I had to. Not everyone involved in house & garage is open-minded. Some of them are and will listen. A proper house & garage DJ might think it’s just noise but just because he doesn’t like it that doesn’t mean that it isn’t something. Another 10,000 people over there do like it. As long as there’s a following and I’m happy with what I’m doing, it’s something.

I like house and garage, all those songs where the women sing, I like them. So it wasn’t that I hated garage and set out to change the music. But I just realised that to emcee it’s better for the music to be clear, to have a simple beat with a simple bassline. Then when you emcee to it, you’re heard loud and clear.” – The Guardian, 2004

On the origins of the eskibeat sound…

“I listen to a lot of hip hop which is just sampled beats with rapping over it. A lot of my ideas come from that. […] I listen to a lot of reggae: Sly & Robbie, Johnny Osbourne, loads of Studio 1 but most of it from 1983 onwards. I used to sing along to all the songs from then, I knew what all the songs were. I used to play drums and try and copy whatever they were doing. What I’m doing now is a fusion of reggae, soul and everything, even country and western. […]

I like Erick Sermon. People don’t really give him that much respect but he’s heavy, his levels [of production and MCing] are quite even. And Timbaland as well but his beats are higher [than his spitting].” – The Guardian, 2004

“There isn’t an equivalent of me in the whole world. There’s no one like me. Timbaland’s spitting level is nowhere near mine. […] I’ve got a million formulas. Ice Pole remix with the gliding snares was a formula, the tune Scorcher done about labels, that beat was a formula. My formula is more in the beats than the lyrics. I can’t be touched when it comes to beat making in this country. There are people who are good, more musical than me, whatever, but look at what I’ve done.” – Chantelle Fiddy, 2007

“I use whatever [sounds] my ear catches innit. I flick through and then play whatever I want to play with it. I’ll play melodies. […]I like Chinese music. I like Greek music. [I used to buy] loads of kinds of music: Greek, Chinese, African. I just went to some place called Sterns. It sells world music and I bought loads of stuff there. I’ll take it back and sometimes I’ll sample it, sometimes loop it, or take parts and put them in different places. […] [I use] sounds people would think that are weak, or that’s anything. But I just hear things. I play it and it just forms together innit. It’s like a gift you know that? When I sit down I don’t copy nothing, as such. I don’t try and base my music around anything.  Ideas just come in my head and I play them.” – Jockey Slut, 2003

On pirate radio…

“Grime is a pirate radio genre.” – Not for the Radio, 2016

“Rinse FM is my main station. Geeneus always says to big up Rinse in every interview. […] I’ve been on every station in London and some around England, like Birmingham, Silk City, I’ve done pirate radio tours and stuff.” – Tim Westwood TV, 2007

“I just go on any station. I’ve been kicked off loads of stations because they say I draw attention to the station. People just want to be on, when I’m on. […] I fell through a roof before – 20 feet high. I didn’t know what I was falling into. When I fell I got hooked onto a long spike coming out the wall. I injured my leg. I was on a pirate radio station and we were getting away from the police. I fell off a roof into a garage, yeah. But my record bag stayed hooked onto a spike out of a wall.” – Jockey Slut, 2003

“I’ve never actually stopped doing radio. I don’t do it every day, or as much as I used to, but I’ll always rock up one day and do a two-hour set. I’ll always let you know that I can spit bars for two hours.” – Elijah/Red Bull Radio, 2016

On selling your own music, labels and making money…

“Just before I did that zip files thing I was listening to a lot of Lil Wayne – he’s someone I’ve followed from the start of his career – and he gives away a lot of music. I done the zip files because I saw how he’d given [his work] away, and I knew that if I gave mine away, then everything would be okay. […]

You know what it is, with majors and people? See majors, I send them work bruv. If someone from a major stops, and looks at me, they should see that this person has made it so that everyone from my age group down to Chipmunk’s can go into doors and get record deals, because of the scene that me and Dizzee created and nurtured.” – FACT, 2012

“The kids are tomorrow’s world, the people out there now will get licked down by these kids because I’ll put them on a path and they’ll be pass someone who’s been in it for seven years.” – Chantelle Fiddy, 2007

“Really, someone like me in America would be on the moon […] I do so much music I feel valuable, and sometimes people don’t treat me valuable. There’s a way that labels in England can use me so that we’re all bubbling. But it’ll take time to find that way. We have to respect that we’re the UK music industry – that’s where we are – but we still need to kick a few doors down.” – The Guardian, 2009

“I’ve been at zero. I’ve made about £250,000, maybe more out of the back of my boot but it’s how much I work. I’m not getting shitter at what I do. […] Now I’ve got to earn the money back and not spend it so in 10 years I can say ‘Oh shit, I’ve been working for 10 years and still have money left from 2008. […] I’ll be making money until I’m dead. I’ve got mix CDs, a record deal. I look at myself as a commodity, a brand. ‘Hang on you’re Wiley, you’re Kylea, you’re Eskiboy, you’re someone, sell yourself and your product.’ Look at how Jamie’s doing it with the t-shirts.

[Outside of the album, I have] Eskiboy Recordings, ‘Tunnel Vision’ 6-10. I sell about two or 3,000 of each one. Roll Deep’s ‘Rules & Regulations’ has sold 10,000 already. That’s my main source of income.” – Chantelle Fiddy, 2007

“Sarah Lockhart, who works with Geeneus at Rinse, is the reason I understand what publishing is. She taught me about that and PRS, PPL and all that so I knew in 2001-02. In the Pay As U Go days, I knew to sell records – I was selling boxes of records – but after it was Richard Russell, Nick Huggett and Sarah got me into the industry.

[A record is] like a bag of weed, isn’t it? Mark from Rhythm Division told me to go down the pressing plant in Stratford, and I went there, gave them the thing to press up the vinyl then go and shot boxes, boxes, boxes. I always had like bare pound coins and fivers and change. I made a lot of money there but it wasn’t all in one lump like a record deal, it was just scattered.

Whatever the tune is that they want, you sell that and press up a thousand. To press up a thousand was like £570 or some shit, and if it’s a good’n you can sell it for £3.50 or £4. Dizzee sold ‘I Luv U’ for £5, to the shop, and they sold it for a tenner. Big money bruv! It was getting made, but we spent it as soon as we made it because it was change and pounds. That record money was really good but we were spending it frivolously.” – RWD, 2016

To this day, there has never been a grime star as interesting as Wiley, and the chances are that there never will be.

Long live the king. JME wasn’t lying when he said Wiley was a national treasure.

Pre-order ‘The Godfather’ here.