Imagine it's 2002. Jeans have never been baggier. Westlife and later Girls Aloud are topping the UK charts. And somewhere in a London pirate radio station's studio, a 23-year-old Wiley's letting listeners know "the war's starting" before the soon-to-be-iconic "Igloo" instrumental kicks in. Once the track was in full flow, any noise in Choice FM's studios would be drowned out, so the story goes, by the wail of the station's phones ringing off the hook with grime fans calling in, desperate to their say on Eskiboy's latest beef.
Wiley's history is marked with conflict – mostly just healthy competitive clashing rather than any serious personal issues, with his recent Dizzee flare-up resolved within about a week. His Lord of the Mics clash with Kano might be considered his most legendary, but an earlier face-off that newer fans may have never heard of gave Wiley his first taste of defeat. And it started on that day in 2002 when he went head-to-head with Durrty Goodz (then known as Doogz, and the MCing equivalent of a Catherine wheel, multi-syllable bars shooting off in all directions). The result? A back-and-forth beef that was to flare up repeatedly over the best part of a decade.
"It was an interesting time," recalls DJ Logan Sama, whose Rinse FM show was at various points followed by shows from both Wiley's Roll Deep crew and Doogz's own Boyz in Da Hood lot. "I remember Doogz was starting to get a lot more recognition. He was doing a lot of good stuff on the radio and the raves, and Wiley always tests himself against whoever is regarded as the best out there." While Doogz's name might not mean too much to grime 2.0 fans, 15 years ago he was rightly regarded as one of the most naturally talented MCs in the country, with an "I could shout over the beat for days barely taking a breath" flow. He was seen by many as a more than worthy foe for Wiley.
But, mate, that was nearly 15 years ago – why am I talking about this now? Well, when Wiley recently posted a photo on Instagram with Doogz, confirming they were working on a joint EP, it felt like huge news. Wiley hyped up the project even more by describing the experience in the comments as "going to lyrical gym" with the one MC who – by his own admission – pushed him harder than any other, with plans for an EP and live set quickly following suit. A Wiley and Doogz joint EP says a lot about not only both artists, who used to be bitter rivals, but for the scene in general. To know, we need to go way back to 2002, when one of grime's most enduring beefs was just bubbling up to the scene's surface.
Back in those days, verbal sends flew all over the airwaves, and if you were an east London MC, locked into pirate radio, there was every chance you'd hear your name being called out among the crackling static. Sure enough, Wiley heard Doogz on the radio spraying bars that included the phrase "why he" and took that as a subtle play on his name. He jabbed back, over his own "Igloo" instrumental – all scratchy strings and buzzsaw bass – recorded at Choice FM DJ Commander B's studio in Walthamstow and let Doogz know that Wiley simply Was Not Having It.
Grime DJ AG remembers locking into Commander B's late night show when the dub was first aired: "I was in year 5 and back then Choice FM was lit," she tells me, laughing. "I used to have little pieces of tape stuck on my radio. There'd be a piece of tape for Choice FM and a piece of tape for Rinse, to make it easier to find them".
Once Doogz released a dubplate of his own – a (usually) one-off recording pressed on acetate not intended for general release – in reply to Wiley, over the same "Igloo" riddim, Wiley's second dub followed, complete with its imitation conversation between fans (and a Diddy send at the start that, sadly for musical history, was never addressed). Doogz fired back, flipping Wiley's "who got murked?" bar into "you got murked" in a move that would've sparked 1,000 "my chest.jpg" reactions had Twitter existed at the time. "It wasn't a full-on clash," Logan Sama says, "but I remember he cussed Wiley's oblong riddims because Danny Weed played "Freeze" and he couldn't catch the drop on it. Doogz was basically one man up on that set as well so he definitely gets credit for that".
After that the two would continue to trade vocal blows for almost a decade. Perhaps the most prominent of these was "Where's My Brother" from Wiley's album Race Against Time. Although the track never mentions anybody by name, its thinly-veiled sends kicked the rumour mill into action again. "I remember when 'Where's My Brother' came out," AG says, "it was like an industry secret and all the grime heads would have conversations like, 'you know who he's talking about?' There was one bait radio rip going round from Tim Westwood's show and at the end you had Westwood shouting, 'CALL IN AND TELL US IF YOU KNOW WHO HE'S TALKING ABOUT'. It was bare hype". Logan Sama thinks the track was about Crazy Titch. "Obviously it's gonna therefore be relevant to Doogz as well," he says. "It wasn't an out and out diss record but obviously it was a very personal subject".
At the heart of rough-round-the-edges, early 2000s grime stewed a number of personal battles between artists trying to establish themselves. AG reckons things have somewhat mellowed now: "I feel like the younger scene is definitely more collaborative; they're making leaps and bounds so quickly because they're friends." Logan disagrees, pointing out that the scene has always been collaborative and as recently as last year you could almost hear the friction crackle between acts like AJ Tracey, Big Zuu and more. "I don't think the conflicts are as severe," he says. "There's more going on so they don't escalate as much as they used to".
Until Wiley laid his hands on the chest of his ancient Dizzee Rascal beef to try and resuscitate it, there'd been a notable lack of conflict among grime's biggest names. The scene's been enjoying an incredible few years. Old rivals like Wiley and Ghetts (or Wiley and Devlin, or Wiley and basically anyone) appear on tracks and at shows together. Wiley and Doogz finally squashing one of the scene's longest-running beefs to work together is perhaps the biggest acknowledgement that as the grime the genre grows up, the artists making it are too, and there are times when old personal rivalries are put aside for the love of music. Think of it as an inverse Gallagher brothers spat; reconciliation and reinvention rather than childish sulking and two decades of creative stasis. Logan Sama, though, points out that Wiley has always been willing to work with MCs whose ability he respects, regardless of any personal issues between them.
"I think he'd have done a tune with Doogz a long time ago because he's always respected his ability," he says. "He's always spoken very highly of Devlin and Ghetts, even Dot Rotten. He's one of the most consistent people I know. Wiley's a prolific creator and if he gets excited by the prospect of something then he's always willing to look past anything". For AG, seeing the two work together is heartening: "It's made me happy cos I like to see things like that come full circle. Right now things are going very well for Wiley and he doesn't need to do this. Doogz doesn't need the help because in terms of ability he's amazing but for Wiley to be doing shows with him is just massive respect".
The pair have supposedly finished the EP and Wiley tweeted recently that he is working on a video for its first single. Billing it all as "Wiley vs Doogz" suggests that an element of competition still thrives between the two MCs, despite the difference in their mainstream standings. For Logan, the EP is potentially a piece of history. "It's sad that it's taken maybe 15 years for it to come about, but it's an exciting time and hopefully it'll get the reception it deserves," he says. "Hopefully the fans will do their due diligence and they'll understand what it means. There are lots of grime stories that people don't know and hopefully things like this will help people know how much history and culture this wonderful genre has". Let the next round begin.
Paul is thinking about the good old days on Twitter.