There’s a chance the name ‘Wiley’ might not mean anything to you. Or, it rings a faint bell, and there you are remembering “Wearing My Rolex”. “Not a bad tune that”, you think. But otherwise, the stage name of Richard Kylea Cowie might have passed you by.
Which, of course, is fair enough. If your musical diet consists of whatever’s in the Top 40, you could be forgiven for thinking that the achingly omnipresent Adele, David Guetta and Gotye are the only people to have released any music since 2010. Fortunately, the well of music has not run dry just yet. Despite the reassurances that our digital siphoning of tunes will create an arid plain of dusty musical death, it seems some artists have just about managed to keep going. And Wiley’s one of them. Since 2006, Wiley has released eight albums, with his recent ‘Evolve or Be Extinct’ lp coming out in January of this year.
I’ll admit right now, I don’t own these albums. I can’t even say that I gave him much of a second thought until a few weeks ago. But, even without my unquestionably vital support, he’s continued to make his music, produce and MC for other artists, front the ‘Roll Deep’ collective and set up club nights across the UK. In short, the guy works hard. And it shows.
The reason he came back on my radar was his relentless tweeting. The man is incessant. But, one way or another, I started going through his 140 character blasts until I came across a link to the video for Boom Blast. Liking its sounds, bit by bit, I discovered more of his songs, found out more of his back story and sure enough, bought the whole ‘Evolve or Be Extinct’ album.
As an album, it’s pretty good. It deserves a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 and the beats stay around the high end of grime, being insistently catchy and innovative. And Wiley’s flow is never less than passionate, delivered with the fluidity that lifted him up to the Godfather of Grime status he surely deserves. But what really shines through is his work ethic. From the album’s eponymous track which boasts quite simply “I’m going in, I ain’t comin’ out” to the reflective ‘Life at Sea’s “I wanna be an artist, can’t do what I did early on”, Wiley’s agenda eschews stereotypical hip hop conventions. While it may occasionally dip into the celebration of accumulation, Wiley never forgets the hard work and effort it took to get there, and what it’ll take to stay. If anything, he actually seems more at ease revelling in the graft than its rewards.
And perhaps justly so. Artistically, Wiley is one of a growing number who have come to realise that their success ultimately depends on their own work ethic. Perhaps quicker than any of their other media counterparts, musicians have come to realise a vital lesson: In an online world, free access to product is almost inevitable. As a result, the need for independent distinction is key. So, whether it’s from the shameless self-promotion that twitter allows, or the continual output of mixtapes and albums, the struggle to gain and maintain relevance has never been more crucial.
Needless to say, Wiley is not alone in his entrepreneurial approach. Although he may have slipped into the middle-of-the-road bracket by virtue of some shopping baskets, Ed Sheeran’s success was largely due to a never-ending touring schedule. Equally, the cult following that Odd Future have garnered – whether you agree with its sentiment or not – is entirely due to their bottomless creativity and willingness to market themselves and their products. Even Simon Cowell’s Olly Murs has set himself apart from a host of X-factor washouts by putting in the effort that others lacked.
In short, doing things by their own terms, a new wave of musicians are taking back the corporate machinery which for so long distanced themselves from their fans. And while ‘Indy’ music may originally have had something to do with Independence, the spread and rebirth of that ethos in “urban” genres has refuelled a dedication that speaks volumes for the artists that have made it work. As one comment beneath the video for ‘If I Could’ (a song that actually puts Wiley together with Ed Sheeran) states, “love them or hate them, they came from nothing to success, its [sic] an example to set”.
Clearly, the credit crunch didn’t set about making artists want to work hard. But it sure as hell made for the economic conditions that mean popularity doesn’t necessarily translate into record sales. And that may damage the pockets of a few people. But long term, it means one thing: that the people getting into music, are doing it for the music alone. And realistically, that’s a scenario in which everyone wins.