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Wiley, the British musical mystery man

In 2011, Dazed interviewed grime superstar Wiley in the run up to his hotly anticipated comeback to talk fame, family and money

Taken from the March 2011 issue of Dazed

He’s reshaped the landscape of British black music, had more record deals than any self-respecting artist you can think of and is regarded as a legend, genius and probable madman. If you’re looking for the epitome of a paradox, 32-year old Richard Cowie is your man.

“My wish today is that I was Wiley, and I was 17 or 18, and got sent to Japan to make music, because now it’s over, really. The only thing that’s going to happen now is that I’m going to do what the fuck I want until people say, ‘We hate you Wiley!’ I’ve always tried to please the grime kids who moan. The album I’ve just made is pleasing me, though. I just wanted to make beats and spit on them because the people who should be aren’t.”

As Wiley exhales, smoke plumes filling the room, he stares out to sea, the tour bus parked up on Brighton seafront housing a man who’s at times harder on himself than his worst critic. “I just think that if your peers are gone and you haven’t gone, then it becomes something inside you. When I’m walking down the street it dawns on me sometimes – it’s like being stuck in the fifth year at school. People want me to be Grandmaster Flash, and I’m not dissing him, but I don’t want to be Grandmaster Flash. I don’t just want to be the guy who started it. I guess me and money have got a bit caught up with each other...”

“The only thing that’s going to happen now is that I’m going to do what the fuck I want until people say, ‘We hate you Wiley!’” - Wiley

For a man who has sold in excess of 100,000 records from the boot of his car and has surpassed the £1million mark where earnings are concerned, it’s food for thought. But that’s the thing with Wiley; he’s an abundance of contradictions. Renowned for being generous yet shrewd, loyal yet unreliable, his biggest penchant over the years has been for cars – a Bentley and an Aston Martin Vanguard among the purchases. “I’ve splashed out on studio time beyond people’s wildest dreams, I put money back into music… I pay for other people, not just for me, because no one else is going to do it.”

Ultimately, those who want to be part of the Wiley equation must learn to work with what they’ve got and leave the master at work. But since joining the Twitterati there’s never been more talk surrounding his mental state, something that actually raises more questions for Wiley than it does answers. His recent spate of “adverts” (check his YouTube channel), ranging from the pros of Hartley’s squeezy jam to a step-by-step guide to making boiled eggs, resulted in numerous accusations of drug-taking.

“I’d just woken up and I was boiling eggs at 9.30 in the morning,” he says. “People ring me up to get footage and film me, so I’m rebelling and using Ustream or YouTube. That’s me saying, ‘I don’t want to be on your show, I want my own.’ People who watch that and think I’m Charlie Sheen? Well, they’re lost.”

“I couldn’t love a woman like I love my children, music or money” - Wiley

The insults are nothing new for Wiley either. For years people have been telling him he’s in dire need of therapy, to which he argues otherwise. “People say I’m bipolar. What is ‘bipolar’?” he says, not dissimilarly to the aforementioned Sheen. “I’ve grown up around loads of people who are like me in terms of their mood swings. Maybe it’s the weed – and I don’t mean weed psychosis – weed doesn’t make me mad, it makes me record and chill. I think what they’re trying to do is explain my stretch from 18-32 and not succeeding. Sometimes I just feel like my time’s been and gone, you know?”

Anyone who hears his new album 100%Publishing will no doubt disagree. After uploading The Zip Files for free last year – 200 previously unreleased tracks, including The Elusive, his album for Island Records – his return to Big Dada sounds like an artist intent on making a deeply personal statement. Everything on it was written, produced and performed by him.

“The most important song to me is ‘Music Not Money’, the one I’ve done with my daughter,” he explains. “She’s five but she’s a music fanatic. She told me, ‘Dad, I love you, I’d rather you make the music you like – you don’t have to make those pop songs.’ You see, your children are like wireless humans – always there. I couldn’t love a woman like I love my children, music or money, though.”