Artists Of The Year

CMU Artists Of The Year 2011: Wiley

By | Published on Wednesday 14 December 2011


2010 was a bit of a strange year for Wiley. As leader of Roll Deep he had two number one hits, ‘Good Times’ and ‘Green Light’, plus another top ten appearance as a solo artist with ‘Never Be Your Woman’. But at the same time, Roll Deep’s critically panned fourth album, ‘Winner Stays On’, failed to hit the top 40 and the rumours that the rapper’s deal with Universal/Island was on thin ice, as both sides disagreed about the direction of his next solo long player, followed him around for months.

Somewhere along the way, Wiley cracked. He announced via Twitter that he had sacked his manager John Woolf, before uploading a series of zip files containing over 200 previously unreleased tracks, many of which were intended for that Island album. With nothing left to give away, Wiley’s next trick was to give his life away, spending several days in September broadcasting his every move on Ustream.

Whether it was making his entire hard drive available for free or his endless unpredictability (or perhaps the fear that he was in the midst of some sort of breakdown), he was apparently released from his contract with Island at around this time too. Wiley himself said it was more of a cleansing process, allowing him to start again. He didn’t quite wipe the slate clean though, as he soon patched things up with Woolf, who now remains as his manager. Then in February of this year, he announced he had re-signed to Big Dada, the label which released his third solo album ‘Playtime Is Over’ in 2007, marking a return to more focussed output.

Preceded in May by the single ‘Numbers In Action’, Wiley’s seventh solo album, ‘100% Publishing’, was released in July. Dividing opinion amongst fans, it saw a return to his grime roots. Many praised his lyrics, while others suggested that the perennial workaholic was simply blurting out anything that came to mind. Lines about losing a pair of headphones and then finding them, and searching Google for possible takeaway options have been cited as a lack of inspiration by some.

And that might be a fair criticism in part, but there is a certain genius to the simple couplet, “Some days I’m asking God but then the internet is quicker/The music was getting sold from a shop but now online is bigger”. And the fact that he delves into parts of the music industry rarely plumbed lyrically is another reminder of what makes Wiley so compelling. The general public on the whole doesn’t realise that there is any more to the business beyond the ‘evil labels’, so explaining to them that he plans to take control of his publishing rights – “I want 100% publishing so I’m gonna DIY” – let alone naming the entire album after that concept is almost bordering on perverse.

It’s Wiley’s eccentricities that won him many of his fans, but also what has meant he’s always struggled to maintain commercial success across releases. This is something which frustrates many, considering how many of his protégés – such as Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder – have enjoyed a much higher profile. But his phenomenal work rate always suggests that the next hit is potentially around the corner.

Just a month after the release of ‘100% Publishing’ he was back to putting out free music again, this time a collection of more pop influenced tracks called ‘Chill Out Zone’, which featured a collaboration with Ed Sheeran, amongst others. And then last month, wasting no time at all, he announced his next album, ‘Evolve Or Be Extinct’, a mantra that seems apt, and one that sees him moving again to a sound with more mainstream appeal. That’ll be out (apparently at his insistence) on his birthday, 19 Jan. It could well signal the start of another great year for Wiley. And with a new Roll Deep album not far behind it, it’ll certainly be another busy one.

Check out the Alex D remix of ‘Boom Blast’, the lead single from ‘Evolve Or Be Extinct’, here:

Find more of CMU’s ten Artists Of The Year here.