Richard Kylea Cowie (born 19 January 1979), better known by his stage name Wiley and in his early career Wiley Kat, is an English rapper, songwriter, musician, record producer and DJ with Caribbean roots from Trinidad and Antigua, originating from Bow, East London. He first tasted success as a member of UK garage crew Pay As U Go, with whom he had a top 40 hit, “Champagne Dance” in 2001. In the early 2000s, he independently released a series of highly influential eskibeat instrumentals on white label vinyl, most notably the first in the series “Eskimo” and rose to fame as a grime MC both for his solo work and for material released with his crew Roll Deep.
Wiley has continued to make grime music while also releasing mainstream singles, such as the UK Singles Chart top 10 hits “Wearing My Rolex”, “Never Be Your Woman” and his UK number-one “Heatwave”. A key player in the creation of grime music and often called the Godfather of Grime, he is considered a pioneer in the English underground music scene with a prolific work rate and a versatile music artist with many crossover hits. It is reported that Wiley turned down £700,000 to appear in Celebrity Big Brother 2017.
1996–2003: Early years
As a teenager, Wiley featured on pirate radio stations such as Rinse FM and drum and bass stations. In 2000, Wiley went from SS Crew to join The Ladies Hit Squad, a garage crew with his college friends DJ Target and MC Maxwell D. They achieved some success on the UK garage scene and soon decided to combine with rival crew Pay As U Go to become a ‘super crew’ containing members of Ladies Hit Squad, as well as DJ Slimzee, DJ Geeneus and MCs Major Ace and Plague A Lero from Brown Brothers whom Wiley occasionally deejayed for. God’s Gift from Deck Collecters Crew, Flow Dan and Riko Dan joined soon after. In 2002, the collective achieved a top 20 hit with “Champagne Dance”. Wiley also received wide recognition in 2000 for his UK garage record “Nicole’s Groove” which he produced under the stage name, Phaze One.
After Pay As U Go disbanded, Wiley went on to form the Roll Deep entourage, which included Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder. They moved away from a traditional UK garage sound, and eventually found themselves creating music that would be termed grime.
From 2001 onwards, Wiley began producing instrumental singles on his Wiley Kat Recordings label. The most famous ones are the “Eskimo”, “Avalanche”, “Ice Rink” and “Snowman”. These led to a solo record deal with XL Recordings.
2004–07: Treddin’ on Thin Ice, Da 2nd Phaze and Playtime Is Over
In 2004, Wiley released his debut album, Treddin’ on Thin Ice on XL. Singles from the album include “Wot Do U Call It?”, a record questioning what name should be given to his music, and “Pies”. Many reviews, including that by Pitchfork Media, made comparisons between Wiley and his previous labelmate Dizzee Rascal, who had achieved success with Boy in Da Corner the previous year. Alexis Petridis of The Guardian noted the “comically polarised” fanbase Wiley had accrued; “At one extreme, its sonic experimentation has attracted the kind of people who run music blogs… [where] lengthy essays are posted on issues as the differentiation between Humean and Kantian views of motivation in the lyrics of Bonnie Prince Billy. At the other extreme, it is favoured by inner-city teens who appear to communicate entirely in an impenetrable mix of street slang and patois.”
During this period, Wiley occasionally referred to his music as “eski”, short for “eskibeat” – the name he initially gave to grime. Also, Wiley released mixtapes under the name ‘Eskiboy’. He explained his choice of name for his music and the continuing theme in his song and album titles such as Treddin’ on Thin Ice, partly because he likes the wintertime, but mainly meaning cold in spirit. Wiley was quoted in conjunction with his cold theme:
“Sometimes I just feel cold hearted. I felt cold at that time, towards my family, towards everyone. That’s why I used those names”
Many of Wiley’s early vinyl releases, such as ‘Eskimo’, were released under the alias ‘Wiley Kat’; this name was derived from a character in the cartoon Thundercats. However, the ‘Kat’ is never officially used by Wiley anymore, only being mentioned loosely in some of his songs.
In 2006, Wiley released his second album Da 2nd Phaze on the Boy Better Know label. The album consists of 20 tracks that have been put together by Wiley from the past three years, including exclusive bonus tracks from Gods Gift, Alex Mills and More Fire Crew, which is believed to signal the end of the Wiley-Lethal feud.
This was followed in by Wiley’s third album Playtime is Over on Big Dada Records, an album which followed his eskibeat roots. Wiley’s eskibeat and solo material is managed by the Perpetuity Music Group. The album was released on the same day as Dizzee Rascal’s third album Maths + English and includes a track “Letter 2 Dizzee” which calls for the end of the Wiley-Dizzee feud.
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