Wiley, the Godfather of grime, the man whose latest album saw him return to reclaim the genre that he helped to invent, will release his autobiography on November 2. When he sat down with NME for his cover interview back in January, he reflected on the renewed successes of UK rap. “I’m so happy grime’s come back ’round,” he said. “Those guys are doing things we never did. Stormzy is having meetings with the people from The Brits. None of us ever did anything like that back in the day.”
He’s clearly been feeling reflective, as his autobiography, Eskiboy, takes us right back to the start, when he was making grime alongside fellow pioneer Dizzee Rascal in east London in the early noughties. In this exclusive extract, taken from two chapters of the book, he explores his roots in pirate radio and recounts a notorious incident involving Dizzee and the currently incarcerated rapper Crazy Titch.
29. Deja Vu
“Pirate radio has been a part of anything that’s ever come out of England – garage, hardcore, jungle, drum and bass, everything. It was the phone-ins that let me know that it wasn’t just a bit of fun. People would ring up and be like, ‘Yes, Wiley, you’re killing it!’ or ‘Big up Blah-Blah from Blah-Blah!’ and I knew then that we were making a culture.
I’ve been on pirate radio since I was fourteen. It’s the reason I’m Wiley. We were never gonna get a set on Radio 1 or whatever, so we built a fan base ourselves. And it was illegal, you could get arrested and all that, but it was our blessing. You could get charges just for being on a rooftop, but it was our only chance to grasp at. To be honest, it was better than the other stuff we could have been getting up to.
We were always hiding, ducking around, couldn’t tell no one where the studio was. It all had to be kept a secret. And it was that element of it that kept it all going. That was part of the magic; because it was illegal, it became a movement.”
“I don’t know what would have happened if things went differently that night. It could have been the end. We didn’t know how much danger we were in.
This is like summer of 2003. Hot summer. Crazy Titch had just got out of jail, and he’d heard that there was this kid called Dizzee Rascal. Until then, Titch saw himself as the king. But Titch had been away, and now Dizzee was the guy.
So we go to the Deja Vu block in Stratford, in the middle of nowhere, and everybody’s there: Roll Deep, Newham Generals, Nasty Crew. That block’s gone now, but back then it was mad. I walked out once and this man was waving a shotgun around. Things happened there, you know.
We were in this room, about fifty people, no space, music loud. I was standing next to Dizzee. I spit, then give the mic to Titch. Titch in the middle on a mad ting. Man was sweating, you get me. Titch wanted it. He had this anger and drive that just made him go for it. Plus you’ve got the fact that one’s from Bow, and one’s from Stratford. So there’s competition. Automatic. So then Titch gives the mic to Dizzee. Dizzee was spitting fire, but not like Titch. Titch was on something else. He takes the mic back, then gives it to Dizzee. So they go back and forth like this, reh reh reh. Energy building.
And then suddenly Titch turns to Dizzee, kind of talking at him: ‘What?’
Dizzee didn’t want to clash, but he just wasn’t having it.
Titch pushed Dizzee, and everything just went. Music stopped, Titch bundled through the door onto the rooftop. And then everyone follows. It was a madness. Pitch black. People holding Titch, Dizzee standing shouting, ‘Don’t hold him back.’ Every time we got it calmed, it started up again.
Suddenly I realised that the edge of the roof is right there. No barrier. And I was looking at them, thinking that if Titch breaks through, that would be it. We all could have gone down. Fourteen floors.
It was mad, but that was the scene back then.”
– Extracted from Eskiboy by Wiley, out in hardback on Nov 2 from William Heinemann. Order your copy here