Wiley: soundtrack of my life

The godfather of grime on how Bobby Brown and Michael Jackson made him want to dance – and how Bob Marley made him want to record

Wiley was born Richard Kylea Cowie in 1979 and grew up in Bow, east London. Making music from a young age, he first achieved success in the early 2000s on the UK garage scene as part of the Pay As U Go Cartel. Wiley later formed Roll Deep, a hugely significant grime collective that helped launch the careers of several stars, including Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder. Wiley is still part of Roll Deep and is often referred to as the godfather of grime. After finding solo success in 2008 with Wearing My Rolex, Wiley had his first solo No 1 in August last year with Heatwave. His new album, The Ascent, is released on 1 April and he'll be touring the UK from 18-23 April.


No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley and the Wailers (1974)

This is the first song I can remember hearing when I was young. I must've been two or three and could probably only murmur along to it – but I remember it as the first reggae record I heard. That was the first song that made me want to go on to try to make that music. My father made reggae music; at that time my nan lived in Chatham but I was based in London so I was going back and forth, and this song reminds me of all that.


Roni by Bobby Brown (1988)

He was an R&B singer when the new jack swing era was just coming to light, which I liked because it was all about the dancing. Bobby Brown put the solo in me. Because he was on his own, singing and dancing, I imagined he'd done everything – the beats, the words, the production. I don't know if he even did produce it, but I used to wonder about it because when someone sings their song and dances to it, there's a strong connection with it, as opposed to just spitting, MC-ing through the telly. He made me want to do things myself.


Don't Turn Around by Aswad (1988)

Aswad had other tracks but this was their best. The reason I liked them was because they were a band, and my dad had a band. I always wanted to listen to them and watch them on telly – I was a drummer so I wanted to be their drummer. The singer's voice [Brinsley Forde] was so distinctive. Now when I hear that track I remember their stage shows, like the Reggae Sunsplash at Crystal Palace, which they played in 1984.


Iesha by Another Bad Creation (1990)

I saw Another Bad Creation play Iesha on an MTV show called In Living Color, and I was amazed, seeing kids performing. That's why I formed a group, really, with Target, Danny [Target's older brother], Breeze from Roll Deep, and Jet Li. We were very young, no more than 13, but we were writing raps, trying to make beats, DJ-ing and mixing. We all lived around Bow and did music at my house, their houses, my dad's friend's studio, my uncle's… I've always had access to a studio, I practically lived in one. My family's why I'm here, but Iesha moulded me too.


Rock With You by Michael Jackson (1979)

I remember hearing this as clear as day and just wanting to dance and bust a couple of moves. By this point I'd been making beats but now I just wanted to dance. The song's really stayed with me. It's me and my childhood, growing up – it wasn't to do with anyone else, I didn't listen to it with other people. It was my own ear. When your ear finds what it likes at a young age, and your parents look at you sort of like, "Oh, you like that?" – that's what Rock With You is for me.


Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth (1982) 

When I watched Musical Youth singing this on TV I just wanted to do what they were doing. They were my favourite, I used to listen to them religiously. I could play along to them but I was still learning. I was really trying to write my own little reggae sounds and then stick them over my own beat on Atari at my dad's workspace. I was producing basically, on my own. I guess I learnt to do that sort of stuff from Musical Youth.


Interview by Corinne Jones

The GuardianTramp

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