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‘Eskiboy’ book review – Wiley, Bow’s godfather of grime

The pages of Wiley’s autobiography, Eskiboy, crackles with an energy that is unique to the man dubbed ‘The godfather of grime’.

The book is a non-chronological mosaic of memories and anecdotes pulled from Wiley’s life. His own narration is sometimes interspersed with accounts from people who know him best: his father, sister, old friends.

This style may be unconventional for an autobiography; for instance, he is not interested in explaining past controversies or taking a deeper look at key musical periods or productions.

Instead, the larger contextual evolution of grime music is only hinted at in these deeply personal snapshots: of a teenage Wiley ducking and weaving through the streets of Bow to get to the pirate radio stations which he’s been involved in since he was a teenager.

‘Pirate radio is the reason I’m Wiley’, he says. 

The narrative is entirely from his first person perspective in a tone and language that almost reads as if spoken aloud. Each chapter, an anecdote from different parts of his life,  is from the perspective of the man reflecting on the boy, as well his younger selves throughout his life. 

If you are from Bow, or parts of East London, you get a certain satisfaction reading about these anecdotes of a young Kylea running with his music crew, Pay As U Go. After all, these are kids that you might come across on Roman Road every day.

And these particular kids created a brand new genre that was unique to their lives and experiences – a sound that is uniquely London.

There is no doubt Wiley is a flawed narrator – he contradicts himself more than once, and he is only interested in telling you about what is important to him: not what you may be interested in hearing about.

But this deeply personal voice is also the strength and joy of reading Eskiboy. The one consistency that emerges in this story is his very distinctive character and personality that makes Wiley, Wiley. 

His brashness, his confrontational nature that compelled him to go up against Stormzy, the self-titled, current king of grime, has been a defining part of Wiley since he was Richard Kylea Cowie Jr.

Anecdotes like his experiences with knife crime – where he was stabbed, then immediately confronted his aggressor the moment he got out of hospital, only to be stabbed multiple times again – makes you realise that his current feuding with Stormzy is not a personna, or a bid for attention.

It is simply, Wiley, the Godfather of Grime, defending his title.

But the true gems in this book are the moments of emotional vulnerability.  At one point, he worries that although history has recognised him as ‘the godfather of grime’ he still may be replaced or forgotten.

Stormzy may have called out Wiley for his age, terming him a ‘dinosaur’, but from these moments of reflection it is clear he embraces his role as the progenitor of grime.

‘There is only one godfather’ he says. ‘I’m an elder statesman, and people know they’re here because of me.’

Front cover Wiley book Eskiboy book review

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