"Even when I done 'Nicole's Groove' I couldn't see myself getting any credit, but I cropped up.'"
I'll tell you the truth here. Real grime was born from garage. From Heartless Crew, from So Solid Crew. If we had not listened to Heartless and So Solid, would we have created what we created? Maybe not. I think Dizzee's Boy in da Corner is a grime bible. I think Home Sweet Home by Kano is a grime bible. They're the first, before anything else. They steered us. But a big part of that sound came from garage.
Not a lot of people know this, but I started off DJing. I was called Wildchild. This is back in the mid-90s. Before the Rinse FM days. I played more jungle back then, and people would come and MC with me – Breeze and that lot. But garage eventually took over.
Garage did all the deals. All the girls raved to it, so we used to go down to the parties to check the girls and whatnot. That's one of the first things that attracted us. Otherwise we probably wouldn't have gone. The biggest people on the scene were Heartless Crew, So Solid and Pay As U Go, but also Paco and Plague, Major Ace, even Scratchy and Biggie were doing stuff. Imagine that.
Back then I was spitting bars, but I was into jungle, not garage. Garage for me was music first, lyrics second. MCs were there to hype up the crowd, give the shout-outs. In that way it's American on the sly, even if they're never gonna admit that. Heartless was something in between. Something new. They were the first people I heard mixing garage and ragga, and spitting on it. These were some of the elements that would go into grime.
Preshus MC was the first person to convince me that we could do it. Preshus was like the prince of garage at one point, bro! He was sick, like he had an army of fans and shit. He was the guy, and he showed me garage that was more MC-orientated. He was the one saying, "Look at what So Solid Crew are doing! Look at what Heartless Crew are doing! We can do that shit!"
For a time there was this in-between sound. Maxwell D eventually became the leader of the garage scene for a while. He had the record deal first. He had that song "Serious". Very early, like 1999, 2000.
I was experimenting, playing around, doing a lot of pirate radio, but nothing big. Back then we were still learning. We were still dipping our toes. The Phaze One period was the beginning of coming up for me. Up to that point we'd all been bubbling along, but then I get asked to produce this track for Danny Sayer, Phaze One – "Nicole's Groove". And it took off. This was Wiley after Wildchild. It was something new. All of a sudden it wasn't just me on my own, or me as part of a crew, it was me and this person, so we just made a name – to go forward together. It was like the very first stage of getting it. "Nicole's Groove" is a garage track. A classic garage track, maybe.
I was still signing on when "Nicole's Groove" came out. The people who worked in the Job Centre were from the area, so they were like, "What are you doing? We've seen you on the telly!" They signed me off. I was upset for like a day, thinking, 'Oh shit, what if the music thing doesn't come through?'
But to stay signing on would have been to stay in their palm. They kind of did me a favour, it gave me the energy I needed to get out. Get out of Wilehouse.
Sometimes people say you've made it, and you might say thanks, but you know deep down that you haven't really.
Nothing will change. With this, people were saying to me, "Wiley, you've made it," and for the first time, I started to believe them. But I would also say, "Yeah, but I made it with Danny."
And things were changing. There were a lot of other MCs coming up at the same time as us. God's Gift, for example. When he came through he was very young. He wasn't even allowed in the rave one time. But he was coming up quick. He was major. I remember he recorded some key vocals early, the tribute track for example. He was on the path, he was with Pay As U Go as they were coming up, big money was being made. But then he was sent down. When he came out things weren't the same. He would have gone all the way, man. With those lyrics? He would have made it. It's not just me saying that. People in the record shops, people in the studios, they were all on him, do you know what I mean? And Kano was the next.
Grime wasn't there yet, but it was developing.
Extracted from 'Eskiboy' by Wiley, out in hardback on 2 November from William Heinemann. It's great. You can pre-order your copy here.
Read more: The Big Wiley Interview from January 2017