The originator himself, Wiley is widely regarded as the founder of grime, and the one who has done the most to ensure its continued existence. That being said, it doesn’t change the fact that he hardly ever performs anywhere he’s booked to play; Wiley once described himself as like the number 38 bus, because he never turns up.
But let’s say for argument’s sake he did turn up, and you found yourself in the front row. The sweat forms on your forehead as you look around. You don’t know any of his songs. You were so certain he wouldn’t show that you didn’t even bother to learn the chorus of ‘Wearing My Rolex’. You’re doomed.
Doesn’t sound fun, does it? With that in mind, we’ve compiled five tracks that provide a jumping off point into Wiley’s back catalogue, and ensure you won’t be caught short if you see him in Sainsbury’s and want to look like you know what you’re talking about.
Wot do U Call It- 2004
This track refers to the early attempts to categorise what ‘grime’ actually entails, although at the time Wiley was calling it Eskibeat because of the cold instrumentals (Eski=Eskimo, geddit?)
Featuring lines like ‘Wiley Kat’z got his own style but it’s not garage/make it in the studio but not in the garage’, Wot Do U Call It has all of the humour and genre hallmarks that grime is famous for.
Wiley’s love letter to his origins (and grime’s homeland) in Bow, East London, Bow E3 has become one of Wiley’s most recognisable early singles. Honestly, it hasn’t aged incredibly, with Wiley saying the word ‘E3’ enough to give you a headache, but it’s still an important touchstone in his career.
Wearing My Rolex-2008
This breakout into the mainstream polarised Wiley’s existing audience. On the one hand, he was finally getting the wider recognition he deserved, but on the other, he seemed to have split from the genre he invented in the process. Looking back now it’s a lot easier to appreciate Wearing My Rolex for what it is: a stone cold banger. Just don’t ask why the music video features fox women hiding in bins and eating fried chicken.
Heatwave (Feat. Ms D)-2012
The big one. Wiley’s first (and currently only) number one single, Heatwave went even further into the realms of pop than Wearing My Rolex, unashamedly embracing the mainstream. Again, this was a polarising choice, with one question on most people’s lips: Did he get a free motorbike for including the incredibly clunky lyric “I ride out on my Yamaha R6” in every chorus on this track?
With grime’s resurgence, Wiley has once again moved closer to the genre he created. Speakerbox is a back to basics grime banger that reflects on Wiley’s journey to where he is today, as well as his massive influence on the scene, summed up in lyrics like: “Me and Dizzee made it an occupation/ Came from a council estate, I know ’em all, you can name ’em”.
Wiley may have moved on from grime before coming back to the fold, but he’s still the defining figure in the genre. He sums it up best himself on JME’s Test Me, saying:
“Hold tight the people who leave grime and think you’re gonna achieve something. It don’t work, I tried it way before all of you. Bye.”