Richard Kylea Cowie (born 19 January 1979), better known by his stage name Wiley, is an English rapper, MC, songwriter, record producer and recording artist with Caribbean roots from Trinidad and Antigua and he also have heritage from Uganda, originating from Bow, East London. He first rose to fame as a grime MC and continuously produces grime music while releasing mainstream singles, such as the UK Singles Chart top 10 hits "Wearing My Rolex", "Never Be Your Woman" and his UK number-one "Heatwave". He is considered a pioneer in the UK underground music scene, and a versatile music artist with many crossover hits.
1997–2003: Career beginnings
As a teenager, Wiley featured on pirate radio stations such as Rinse FM and drum & bass stations. In 2000, Wiley went from SS Crew to join The Ladies Hit Squad, a garage crew with his college 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 & DJ Geenenus and MCs Major Ace and Plague A Lero from Brown Brothers whom Wiley occasionally deejayed for. God's Gift from Deck Collecters Crew, Flow Dan and Riko Dan joined soon after. In 2002 the collective achieved a top 20 hit "Champagne Dance" Wiley also received a wide recognition in 2000 for his UK garage record "Nicole's Groove" which he produced under the stage name, Phase One.
After Pay As U Go disbanded, Wiley went on to form the Roll Deep collective, which included Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder. 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 Wiley Kat Recordings label. The most famous ones are the "Eskimo", "Avalanche", "Ice Rink" and "Snowman". These led to a solo record deal with XL Recordings.
2004–07: Treddin' on Thin Ice, Da 2nd Phaze and 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.
2008–09: See Clear Now era
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". See Clear Now 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 then 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.
2010–11: 100% Publishing
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 4 March 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 20 June 2011 on the record label Big Dada, and charted in the UK Albums Chart at number 76.
On 8 July 2011, Wiley released an 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–present: Evolve or Be Extinct, freestyles and The Ascent
In January 2012, he released his ninth studio album Evolve or Be Extinct on his 33rd birthday. It peaked at number 86 on the UK Albums Chart. Music videos were released for several tracks on the album: "Hover Board", "Evolve or Be Extinct" and "Only Human". A separate promo song "Hottie" was released on Valentine's Day, featuring Roll Deep member Manga. Wiley began releasing grime freestyles over grime beats and releasing them for free via Twitter. This collection was released chronologically with the names "Step 1", "Step 2" and furthermore. After "Step 10", all of the freestyles were compiled and released as a mixtape titled It's All Fun and Games Till, Vol.1. Alongside working on his "Step" freestyles, various other promo songs were released. This continuous releasing of music saw him receive the attention from major recording label Warner Music Group. Wiley carried on with his "Step" freestyles, releasing Vol. 2 of It's All Fun and Games Till.
In June 2012, Wiley released his summer single "Heatwave", featuring Ms D and produced by Rymez to British radio, with the music video released at the end of June via YouTube. The song received major radio airplay and was a highly anticipated release, weeks before the music video was even released. The song quickly received over 2 million hits. On 5 August 2012, "Heatwave" peaked at number 1 on the UK Singles Chart, making this Wiley's first solo number 1, selling an impressive 114,000 copies. Shortly after, Wiley confirmed in an interview on the Official Chart Show that he will be releasing a further two singles and a new album in the coming months. His next single was announced in late August, titled "Can You Hear Me" featuring Skepta, JME and Ms D. and will be released on 28 October 2012. The song was renamed to "Can You Hear Me (Ayayaya)" and premiered on 24 August on DJ Target's BBC Radio 1Xtra show.
Wiley then announced on Twitter that the third single off his next album, "Hands in the Air", will feature Chip, Ice-Kid and Tulisa for release on 13 September 2012. The song originally featured Emeli Sandé. However, Wiley then tweeted that his next single would feature Rita Ora instead of Tulisa. On 27 September, the name of the album was confirmed to be The Ascent. The tracklist for the album was revealed on 11 October via Instagram, displaying 16 tracks. Also on 11 October, Wiley announced he no longer intended to perform at universities and student unions citing professional concerns and stating that he "had better things to do". Despite this, Wiley played a club night at SUSU, the University of Southampton Students' Union, on 25 January 2013 as part of the Ministry of Sound Raveout tour. Afterwards, Wiley took to Twitter to express his disappointment with the event, stating, "A proper crowd would have loved it tbh and tbf".
On 4 April 2013, Wiley revealed that he was leaving his record label Warner following a dispute about his new album The Ascent. Admitting he was unhappy with their choice of next single from the record, he tweeted: "My label are doing 'Lights On' next but I do not like that so you will not see me in the video."
On 11 October 2013, over 2,000 Wiley fans signed a petition, which was presented to Tower Hamlets' mayor Lutfur Rahman, requesting that a monument to the artist be erected in Bow.
On 19 October 2013, Wiley was awarded 'Best Male' at the MOBO Award's 18th Anniversary.
In February 2010, Wiley formed a UK supergroup/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 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 MCs, Wiley, J2K and Brazen all from Roll Deep, and Wrigley and Kivanc. The producer for the group is Bless Beats and the DJ is JJ.
A-List released their first music video on 23 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 of the music video is the 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 I'm 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. He has been a major factor at the early career stages of several UK stars such as Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk, and other artists Ice-Kid and Little Dee. 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 been with 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) and his older brother Skepta.
In 2010, Wiley founded A-List Records (A-List Music LTD). On 26 & 27 September 2012, Wiley signed J2K & Ice-Kid to A-List Records. Two weeks after, he had also signed Scratchy Demus, Manga and A. Star (the younger brother of singer Angel) to the record label. He is also planning to release a Riko Dan & God's Gift album on the label, which Wiley will be executive producer of. Wrigley from Manchester is also signed to the label. Producers include Rymez who is behind big hits "Heatwave" and "Can You Hear Me?" and female producer Flava D.
Wiley is currently signed to Warner Music and Big Dada and has a label deal with Sony Music as of 2013.
Cowie supports Tottenham Hotspur.
Cowie's name comes from the Thundercats cartoon character, 'Wiley Kat', which he used briefly, until he shortened his name down to just 'Wiley'.
The nickname "Eskiboy" derives from the name he originally gave to grime, "Eskibeat". It also comes from his famous underground grime instrumental "Eskimo". He was then known and nicknamed as "Eskiboy".
Wiley has two children, both daughters.
Cowie has been stabbed seven times on two separate occasions. One stab wound is visible as a scar on the left hand side of his face. He has talked about how he got slashed in the face three days before the shoot of "Wearing My Rolex", and the scar on his face ruined his confidence and self-esteem for a while, as he did not want to turn up to interviews or music videos.
In 2011, Wiley brought back his famous Eskimo Dance raves, where numerous grime MCs spit bars on stage whilst a selection of DJs play instrumentals.