1997–2003: Early Years
Wiley's earliest recordings date back to 1997, when he featured on pirate radio stations rapping over jungle beats. In 2000, Wiley joined with "The Hit Squad", a garage crew with his school 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 and MC's Major Ace and Plague. God's Gift, Flow Dan and Riko joined soon after. In 2002 the collective achieved a top 40 hit "Champagne Dance"
After Pay As U Go disbanded Wiley went on to form the Roll Deep collective, which included Dizzee Rascal. 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 WileyKitKat Record label. The most famous ones are the "Eskimo", "Avalanche" and "Ice Rink". These led to a solo record deal with XL Recordings.
2004–2007: Treddin' On Thin Ice / Da 2nd Phaze / Playtime Is Over
In 2004, Wiley released his debut album, Treddin' on Thin Ice on XL Recordings. 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.
2008–2009: Grime Wave / See Clear Now / Race Against Time
In May 2008, Wiley found mainstream chart success with the hit single, "Wearing My Rolex". The instrumentation (such as the slower, house style beat and lack of sub bass) caused some unrest within the Grime scene, as Wiley had previously vowed that he would never change his origin to break into the mainstream. In the same month, Wiley released his fourth album entitled Grime Wave, which was described by The Times as a "very pre-Rolex album. With its roots firmly based in the harsh, bass-heavy rhythms of the scene". This album was followed by See Clear Now, in October 2008 which included the mainstream hits "Wearing My Rolex", "Cash In My Pocket" and "Summertime". This album took Wiley in a mainstream direction. Despite its success, Wiley has disowned the album as he was "very angry" with the label, Asylum, about the production and also unhappy about his management at the time. Wiley left the label
Now on his own label, Wiley went on to make another album, Race Against Time. This was released eight months after his previous album in June 2009, on Eskibeat Recordings where he had far more creative control. The album includes the 2009 hit "Too Many Man", featuring Boy Better Know.
2010–2011: Zip Files / 100% Publishing / Chill Out Zone
In 2010, Wiley released 11 Zip Files for free download via his Twitter page, containing over 200 tracks of old and unreleased music, including tracks from the forthcoming album 'The Elusive'.
On March 4, 2011, Wiley released "Offload Volume 01" on iTunes. It did not get a physical release and it was partially slated by fans for containing some tracks which had already been released for free on the Zip Files. The album contained many songs that featured Wiley's crew A-List as well as the track "Yo Riley", which had received some airplay beforehand. On 6 March 2011, Wiley released a song called "Bright Lights", which features Giggs and Juelz Santana. On 9 March 2011, Wiley released an instrumental album entitled "Run The Riddim Selecta". "Offload Volume 01", "Bright Lights" and "Run The Riddim Selecta" were all released on Launchpad Records. Wiley's album "100% Publishing" was released on June 20, 2011 on the record label Big Dada, and charted in UK Albums Chart at number 76.
On 8 July 2011, Wiley released a independent EP for digital download titled "Chill Out Zone". Singles from the EP, "Seduction" and "If I Could" were released in May 2011.
On 25 July 2011 Wiley released the radio edit of "Link Up" on iTunes, which is the first single from his 8th studio album Evolve Or Be Extinct which was released on 19 January 2012. "Link Up" is produced by Wiley's protege Nana Rogues and the official "Link Up" single was released in September 2011.
2012–2013: Evolve or be Extinct / It's All Fun And Games Till / Ninth Album
In 2012 he released his 8th studio album "Evolve Or Be Extinct" on his 33rd birthday, 19 February, which peaked at 86 in the UK Albums Chart. In February, Wiley and fellow Roll Deep member Manga released a music video for Valentine's Day, called "Hottie". A week later, Wiley released another two music videos from Evolve or Be Extinct in two consecutive days, "Evolve or Be Extinct" and "Daiquiris". A month later, he released another music video called "Hover Board". Two weeks later, Wiley released a music video for "Only Human", with Cashtastic & Tereza Deizz.
He carried on with his hard work ethic, releasing a sequence of “Step” freestyles after every few days, reaching 10 steps. He complied this into a mixtape called “It’s All Fun And Games Till Vol. 1”. Alongside working on his step freestyles, Wiley released another 9 tracks all within two days of each other. This was then again complied into another mixtape entitled “Wiley Twitter Downloads 2012”. Wiley’s recent hard work and determination saw him receive the attention from a major recording label, Warner Music Group. The grime godfather signed a new record deal with Warner, ending his time with Big Dada. On 29 June, Wiley released the official video to his summer single entitled "Heatwave" featuring Ms. D, for his new and upcoming album. Within four weeks of Heatwave going on YouTube, it hit over 2 million views. Wiley carried on with his Step freestyles, by starting "It's All Fun And Games Till Vol. 2". He again released steps 10-14 all within a few days of eachother, and released step 15 three weeks later after his return from Ayia Napa.
In February 2010, Wiley formed a UK super group/collective called A-List, from a selection of different male and female UK solo artists. Wiley wanted to create a sound which had a mixture of both male and female artists to make it stand out from any other music on the market and to appeal to both the male and female audience, much like the currently successful US group Young Money. This group consists of 8 members, female R&B singers and sisters Shola & Sadie Ama, female grime artist Mz. Bratt, and five male grime MC’s, Wiley, J2K and Brazen all from Roll Deep, Wrigley and Kivanc. The producer for the group is Bless Beats and the DJ is JJ.
A-List released their first music video on the 23rd March 2010 called “Midnight Lover”, featuring Captin. Despite a music video, plenty of airplay and lots of interest, the single was never released. The last 20 seconds off the music video is A-List song "Make My Own Money".
Other A-List songs include "After Hours", "Let Me Go", "Take A Picture", "Favourite Guy", "Keep Searching", "Without You Im Nothing", "Out Of My Life", "Entertainer", "Everytime You Look", "Arguing Ting", "Ooh Ahh", "Ooh La La", "Not Alone", "Runway", "Icey Roads From London To Manchester" and "Say So".
Wiley has always had a strong presence in the Grime scene and his music has often influenced the up and coming MCs and producers. Wiley has been a major factor at the early career stages of several UK Stars such as Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk. Wiley is often cited as the "King of Grime" and "Godfather of Grime". Other Grime artists have cited Wiley as a big influence in their careers. He has been a prolific artist producing several albums and mixtapes for a number of labels. His origins have often been a subject of his work (e.g. "Bow E3").
Wiley has a number of record labels. In 2004, Eskibeat Recordings was formed by Wiley to bring young grime artists into the spotlight as well as release his own music under the label. In 2005 Wiley helped form the label Boy Better Know which is owned and run by JME (Jamie Adenuga) & his older brother Skepta. In 2010, Wiley founded A-List Records (A-List Music LTD.) as a new label to bring young talent into the music game.