Hip-hop is getting a shot in the arm, and it’s not coming from any of the usual places—not New York, not LA, and not the South. Instead, the new sound is beaming in from the slums of East London, thousands of miles across the Atlantic in fair old England. It’s called grime, and although it’s had the internet’s going nuts for three years already, UK rappers are only starting to infiltrate the United States. Their beats are dark and fast, taking elements of jungle and hardcore rave and running them at a breakneck speed under verses way wilder than anything you’ll find on today’s American charts. The emcees are dynamic, stylish, and funny, and they can usually outpace and outwit their Yankee counterparts.
Dizzee Rascal was the first to break any ground over here, and with two albums under his belt and a Mercury Music Prize, he’s by far the best known grime rapper. He used to run with the Roll Deep Crew, but since his departure, a new star has emerged from the collective, and that’s Wiley.
He’s no rookie, though, and in fact, his innovative production helped turn grime into what it is today. His bass sound is infamous around East London, and when he first start cutting grime records, no one had heard anything like it. He recently brought his sound to America for the first time, playing a much-hyped show with the Roll Deep Crew at New York City’s Knitting Factory. The very next night, another UK grime star, Kano, graced the very same stage, and with that, these weird, exciting rappers will find their footing in a country where most people can’t even understand what they’re saying. Allhiphop.com did its best, catching up with Wiley on the phone on the day before his debut while he waited for a train in Londontown.
AllHipHop.com: Were you excited to play in New York?
Wiley: Yeah, of course, man. I’ve been dying to play there. I’ve been coming there for years, and I always expected to get there. I’ve been following Cam’ron and Dipset and all
those people. The whole hip-hop thing, it’s in my blood even though I’m from England.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel being one of the first few grime artists to play out here?
Wiley: Dizzee’s been there. I just can’t wait until the people in New York get it and they look into it a bit more, and get some grime producers in America. There’s tons of good producers, innit? And I know the producers out there could produce grime as well as
us. I wanna meet some producers who are trying different things.
AllHipHop.com: Despite the fact that there’s a lot of buzz about you, most people in America still haven’t heard of you, or even grime as a genre. How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard anything like it before?
Wiley: My music is powerful music. When hip-hop first started, and everyone was doing it over there in the early days… they’ve been truing to do UK hip-hop for a while, but it never really worked because some of the English people tried to talk like Americans. Whereas this stuff is beats done by us and lyrics written by us. I just can’t for it to catch on . It’s a good thing, I’ve heard American spoken since I was born, in films. I know they understand us, it’s just about them catching on to it.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think grime could break into the American mainstream?
Wiley: I don’t know about the mainstream, because I believe it takes years to form a scene. Hp hop, R&B, that sort of thing—it wasn’t always hip-hop and R&B, it was a bit different. So I believe it takes ten or twenty years to build. Obviously I’ll be an old man by then. But for some youth, you know, that’ll be good. It takes a long time to form a scene.
AllHipHop.com: How big is grime in England? Are a lot of people listening to it?
Wiley: Of course. It hasn’t conquered the country yet, but it’s the freshest thing since drum and bass and jungle. The difference between drum and bass and grime, is that they never had artists doing albums, not to this degree. This is just another form of hip-hop.
AllHipHop.com: What’s different about it, from your perspective?
Wiley: The only difference, honestly, is that we’re twisting the language. The music has the raw energy—I wouldn’t know what to say about the difference. It’s basically the same really. Maybe the Heatmakers and them make different beats, and we make different beats. But it’s just hip-hop.
AllHipHop.com: How would you suggest fans of American hip-hop approach your music—what should they be listening for? A lot of people, like Lil Jon, say that they can’t understand the words in your songs.
Wiley: Well, he’s American, innit? If you keep listening, you will understand eventually. If you just keep listening, you’ll understand-- it’s like watching a film, innit?
AllHipHop.com: Some people compare grime to crunk, saying it’s kind of a faster version of it with somewhat darker beats—do you think that’s true?
Wiley: It could be crunk, but see – is that Lil Jon’s sort of thing? It could be crunk, but in grime, we make it all different anyway. I grew up just on music as a whole—country, Western, everything. When I make a tune, it’s just a fusion of all the different musics I listen to. So when I make music it might not even sound like grime—it’s just music, it’s what I grew up on, it’s just coming out of me. I haven’t really gotten into crunk, but you could compare it.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think American artists could potentially collaborate with UK grime artists? Would that work?
Wiley: Of course, of course, of course, of course, of course, of course. But I think there has to be an understanding-- a like of each other. Obviously we listen to Americans. I like Juelz, Jay-Z , Cam’ron, bla bla bla, even some of the youngsters. But for us to merge, it has to be “we like them, they like us” kind of thing. Because in America hip-hop’s so big, they’ve got it so locked, they’re not gonna be interested in it right away. They’re gonna be thinking, because of the language thing, they’re not gonna accept that another language is better than theirs. The way I say things is different! I believe that they have to just f**king listen! Until they decide they like it or whatever. Once they decide that, that’s a good thing.
AllHipHop.com: Juelz is playing a show on Saturday with Kano in the East River Amphitheater. That’s gonna be the first example of a collaboration like that, right?
Wiley: Exactly. If they go on the mic and pass it to each other, that’ll be the first example.
AllHipHop.com: Your song “Eskimo” has been called the Smells Like Teen Spirit of grime, which brings with it a lot of baggage with major labels and all that. Is there a fear right now that major labels could ruin your scene?
Wiley: Naw. I don’t think they can.
AllHipHop.com: What label is your album coming out on in the States?
Wiley: I’m not sure yet. I think they’re talking to Vice.
AllHipHop.com: You started as a producer—how do you work behind the boards, and how do you think your production compares to your rapping skills?
Wiley: I’ve got a G4 Powerbook and I’ve got my own studio set up, but I don’t do much work in the studio. I’m traveling around with my Powerbook. I make beats every day. I do both rapping and producing, really. I’m trying to work on being a producer and being an artist. I try to work so it’s both even, but it’s very hard-- if you ask anyone who does both, it’s very hard to do both. I think I’ve got a good level of both—I believe I can make a beat and that I can rap at a good level.
AllHipHop.com: Who are your favorite American rappers?
Wiley: Today, in this day and age, I think Cam’ron is very clever. Very, very clever. And Juelz is clever. And JR Writer is clever. And I’ve got a CD with some other cat on it—T. Rex is his name. I watch the up-and-coming, the youngsters, because obviously people love Jay-Z and all the obvious people, but because I’m a person who’s trying to come up myself, so I try to look at who’s coming up. That’s who I look at. Cassidy is good.
AllHipHop.com: Cassidy’s in jail.
Wiley: Yeah, I heard that. Attempted murder?
AllHipHop.com: Just murder.
Wiley: Yeah, I heard that. I like Beanie Siegel as well.
AllHipHop.com: What are you offering at your shows?
Wiley: We’ve got fresh, fresh grime—it’s the new grime. I wanna see how people react to it. And see if they can tell that it’s a step up from what they’ve heard. They might have heard Dizzee. They might have some of Kano’s stuff. But what they need to do is when they hear this, if they really are getting into grime, when they hear this, they’ll be able to tell that it’s a level up.