No-one could deny that in 2016, grime experienced a banner year. With artists like Skepta breaking through to global acclaim, the genre finally got the widespread recognition it’s deserved for over a decade. It was also the year that the godfather of the genre, Wiley, released an album, cementing that title for himself. And it’s a title that he earned through his love of fostering new talent within the scene; continually giving MCs a leg up to achieve success. On Wiley’s newly minted imprint, CTA Records (an acronym for Chasing The Art), the MC’s doing what he does best, offering the Mashtown-affiliated Margs a coveted slot on the roster.
Clash grabbed some rare phone time with the grime don while he was out in Rotterdam, to talk the newest signing to his label, plus his thoughts on the #Grime4Corbyn movement and how ‘Godfather’ won’t be his last ever album...
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Hi Wiley! What have you been up to today?
I was Go Karting. I went Go Karting because the other day I went and my lap time was not very fast, so today I went back to better it. And I actually did it, I was like, 'Riiiight!' I need to go back in a few days.
How fast are we talking?
On this track, right, the first time I come it was 29 seconds, but there was someone getting 25. I didn't know who it was, it was probably someone who worked there. I need to understand why that man got 25. I think his Go Kart was derestricted. Yeah, a little bit of a faster one he had.
So we're here to speak about Margs, who you've just signed to your label, CTA Records. What was it about him that first sparked your interest?
I listened to him when he was really young, just because we're from the same area and my friend bought me the CD — they put a mixtape out ages ago and I just liked the whole movement, what him and his crew were doing. But then I realised that Margs has got, like, a fire. When he raps I feel his energy, d'you understand what I mean? I saw him on a Westwood freestyle and it was just energy. When I spoke and spoke to him more he explained to me how he used to come and watch Flowdan and me and [Crazy] Titch and they used to be in the raves, and they didn't do grime but they did the energy. I think that's where I connected with him.
Continuing the legacy...
Yeah man. And also, he's been through a lot. I'm really glad that I was able to connect with him so that he could get into the system, into the industry and be able to tell his story from the point of view. 'Cos he's got a very strong story. Likewise with some other people in London who grew up in areas that were predominantly black — bit hard work sometimes, d'you know what I mean? That's why I gravitate towards him. I realise I can help people in different ways but they have to want it, as well, and he wants it. There've been times when he's shown me that maybe he don't want it, but I've got him back on it.
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How much creative control do you personally have as label head, when you're working with an artist?
I let him do his thing. He picks good beats anyway, he's picked beats for me so his choice of riddims to vocal is always good. I think with him he just needed to step away from whatever was holding him back. He needed to look at the game, you know like Giggs, Youngs Teflon... There's loads of rappers, and, look — not copy them, but understand how they are putting their work in to get where they wanna get. And that's what he did. He needed to almost look into himself and say, right — that's them, I like them, I'm me, I need to do me, now.
Is it also about knowing how to play the game, I mean you've been in the industry for such a long time...
It's definitely that, it is a thousand percent that. Because I'm not gonna lie, when I first got a record deal and came into the industry, I didn't know everything that I thought I knew. I went into there thinking, yeah man I know everything, I've read this book, I've read that book, my dad done music, this, that. I thought I knew everything until I started to learn the business. Everyone doesn't know the business. You know what I mean? Your favourite musician knows how to be a musician and play music, dah di dah. But not everyone knows how the business runs and the fact that when you do do business it's actually based off who you are and who you're doing business with. If you're gonna do business with Warner and you're nobody, the deal will be like that, unless you don't do the deal and build yourself into somebody.
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I thought I knew everything until I started to learn the business....
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Let's talk this year, what direction are you planning on taking the label?
I always look into London and see what's going on. I support the stuff that I like, I support the people I know and love working with. At the moment when I look into London, urban music — all the different elements of urban music — a few of them are popping, it's not just one. I could be naive and say, 'Yeah man, grime, da da da'. But I'm not gonna do that. Because I'm grime, that's cool. Okay, so if I have some friends and then they do another element of the music that I can help push, I wanna try and help push. I don't wanna jump in the scene and pretend, oh yeah, I'm part of the scene. That's not what I'm gonna do. But what I will say is that I'm part of urban music, and part of the industry. That will be the reason I wanna jump in. I'll do the grime, but if I wanna release something because it could be a good business move, then I will do that.
You've clearly got a broad taste, judging from how many artists you push out on your Twitter.
I don't just listen to grime, but d'you know what I do know? I am grime, and the only reason that people like me is because of the fact that I MC, and I make beats. This is what I do. I can't lose focus on the reason why people actually like me. That's where I'm at right now. I've done all different things in my career, I have, but they didn't all work. The ones that didn't work, it wasn't that they wasn't good. But when you speak to your fans and you're bigging up your chest and you're the King of Grime or you're the Godfather, it's a bit hard for you to go away... You'd be the King of the Grime, and you couldn't just hop over there and say, I'm the King of something else now. Once you big up your chest, like I am this, or I am that - that's what you are. The problem with us, with MCing, we're always bigging up our chest, you know, if we're number one...
Once you've said those things, it's very hard to go back. In England we'd all be hopping from genre to genre if it was up to us. You know what I'm saying? Everyone'd just be jumping on whatever's popping now. I've met a lot of jungle producers, DJs and MCs and all of those people told me all of these things and I wasn't listening properly. But now I do. Because jungle is its own thing.
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What I will say is that I'm part of urban music, and part of the industry...
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Yeah, I mean history doesn't tend to remember the people who jumped from genre to genre.
You know what I'm saying? I'm not hating on anyone who does that, but God knows I only loved the bars, the beats and the lyrics.
You've got the book [Wiley's autobiography, Eskiboy] coming soon... Is there anything in there that's gonna surprise everyone?
Yeah yeah yeah. The book's gonna be amazing. Definitely. Because we all think we know everyone, don't we? How clever do we all think we are? Every human has got a side to them that they haven't shown someone else. It could be private to them. People have been through different things, with their families, their parents, you know — didn't see their parents sometimes, for years. All different shit. So what you'll learn from the book, is that you'll understand me a bit better and you'll be like, OK, he went through this at this time - blah blah blah, and it had an effect on his music, and then you saw him stray a bit. You'll see the events. It’s when life happens.
What's the most exciting chapter of the Wiley story?
I reckon... probably when you get onto 3. 'Cos you know 1 and 2 is like the intro. The intro, get onto 1, dah di dah, 2, but by the time it's 3 and 4 you're getting into it all. I let my family speak, I let my sister come in and structure it so that they make it into a good read instead of just an autobiography, someone bigging up their chest. I've read autos — the artist or the footballer, and it's weird when it’s like, oh when we were young we had never had nothing... I don't really want to get into all of that. Because even if we had milk tokens we still had food. I just want it to be straightforward. It's not a sob story, feel sorry for me. It's an honest thing. I think a lot of people paint pictures, but it's not always the picture of them. Sometimes it's a bit exaggerated, and then that's not really their life.
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That's what the fans want to see, the truth.
They do, they really do. And you can tell — you read four or five pages, you can tell.
What do you think of the whole #grime4corbyn campaign that's been doing the rounds on social media?
I did see that... Jme is leading that isn't he? Great stuff. Listen, Jme is an amazing kid, I love to see him do different things, and I learn from him. When I saw him having the conversation and keeping his integrity, not losing himself in front of Jeremy — he wouldn't anyway — I was like, riiiight! One of the mandem's talking, bruv. It shouldn't be me — I am not a good talker. But I am happy. If someone said, 'Wiley, why don't you go down there?', it's not going to be what I'm gonna do. But I am supportive of what Jme does. And if he comes to me and explains — I might be hiding under a rock, but if he comes to me and says, listen, and he sells me the dream, he could get me as the customer.
And Jeremy just got added to the Boy Better Know Wikipedia entry, how do you feel about that?
Well it's all good — listen, anyone who wants to see humanity not suffer... Some people wanna see one rule for one and one rule for the other. We're all human, we've all ended up here. If we could get some fairness, then maybe I would step in. But I haven't seen much fairness, and basically I think that if you've got a voice and you can talk to people and try and get people on side, and if it can benefit both parties then it's all good. Some people say, 'Oh [Jeremy's] just coming in to use Jme'. I hope it's just for the better. I hope Jme and Jeremy change something for the better, I'm not gonna lie.
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We're all human, we've all ended up here. If we could get some fairness, then maybe I would step in.
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You're making your return to Glastonbury soon — what's it gonna be like going back after the infamous 'fuck them and their farm' incident?
I can't wait to go there. I'm getting my little squad together — my publicist and my fashion week friends, and we're going to have a really good time. You know what it is with me, I love festivals, right? What happened with Glastonbury was, this person, it was between me and them and it was a bit, hmmmm.... Maybe someone else would've said, nah. But it upset me. But you grow up, and I've got nothing against them.
I have got a lot of respect for anybody who is a key member of festivals. Because I love festivals. So for me to have a bad day, or for me to moan at Glastonbury, is silly. Really, basically I think I was just having a bad day, I was upset at a few decisions that were made at that time. So, y'know, I was upset at the time. We've moved on.
I really really wish someone took me to a festival at 17, 18, and showed me the real festival vibe. I walked into a festival blind, basically. I didn't realise the time I could have there. Get some good food, don't give a shit if it rains, we're gonna have a good time.
I always went with people who were gonna perform, then after we're gonna smoke some weed and we're gonna go. You're just gonna smoke weed, get tired, then not be able to stand up. That's what it is, I think I've always gone to Glastonbury or any festival on the wrong type of vibe. Instead of a natural vibe. But if you go to a festival like Glastonbury you could have the best time of your whole life.
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People who are prepared to wait for their time will get to see what was meant for them.
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Finally I'm going to ask the question that everyone's asking you: is ‘Godfather’ gonna be your last ever album?
No, this won't be. It was gonna be. Like I say, you wouldn't say this is your last album unless your fans or people or the perceptions or just the moods of people didn't make you feel that way. You wouldn't say it. So anytime anyone says it, it's because they're either not getting no love, they're not selling anything, or it's just not happening for them at that time. Everybody has their time. It might take 17 years, it might take one year, you don't know. People who are prepared to wait for their time will get to see what was meant for them. If you don't wait, or you rush, or you change your mind or you make any decision that takes you away from making music then you won't.
So I think 'Godfather' was the first of a series of three, maybe. That's what I think. Would I have one godfather moment or would I keep going until someone else becomes the godfather? If I was in doubt about whether I could sell records any more or do people still like me, then I'd say, yeah it's my last album because I don't know if they even like me any more! They said I'm getting old. Everybody does this, from Jay Z to me, to anybody, we don't know if they like us. So we say, ‘You know what, seeya later, you don't like me’, and then they say, ‘Nah nah! We do!’ It's one of them.
That’s good to hear. How are you gonna spend the rest of the day?
Yes, I'm just going to have a good day, I'm going to go eat some food. There's a really nice restaurant in Rotterdam called Granny's. It does spare ribs and all this stuff. Prawns. I'd love to show you because it's really nice. I've told so many people about this place but I really really need to show someone so they can go away and they can show someone else.
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Words: Felicity Martin
Margs’s ‘What Have You Done?’ is out now on CTA. You can purchase a copy here.