Walking into The Roundhouse, the space already packed by 8pm, the audience a mixture of young, wide-eyed teenagers and older, grumpier fans positioned towards the back of the room, there was something surreal about the atmosphere — this wasn’t your average grime gig.
As DJ Logan Sama repeatedly implored the crowd to make noise for veteran MCs Scratchy and Discarda, both of whom were trading verses and generally trying to amp up the watching masses before Scratchy performed his latest single, Scratchy’s About, things felt strangely calm. “Who’s ready for The Godfather?” Scratchy would shout periodically, drawing loud cheers form those watching near the front, many of whom seemed to be using the warm-up hours to mentally prepare for the inevitable chaos to come.
For all the sense of occasion though, the staging was modest, aside from a huge projector beaming custom visuals onto the stage, perhaps an ode to Wiley’s back-to-basics rhetoric. For him, it’s always been about being the best on the mic, not off it — and looking back, it’s probably the one thing that stopped him breaking the mainstream with the same force and momentum of contemporary artists like Stormzy.
As Wiley took to the stage a little after 9.30pm, there was a huge roar from the crowd, before he launched straight into a barrage of new album tracks, rattling them off at a rate of knots, barely giving himself time to catch a breath. When he did, much of his interaction with the crowd was in relation to the special guests he had joining him — an exhaustive list of grime faces past, present and future.
The first were Lethal Bizzle (although Wiley still referred to him by his original name, Lethal B) and Devlin — two artists he had well-documented beef with in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Here, the hatchet was buried live on stage, as both artists saluted Wiley after performing, before taking their bows. Now, visibly humbled and suddenly excitable on mic, Wiley the showman started to come out of his shell. Obviously live shows had been his bread and butter over the years, but it felt like magnitude of what he’d accomplished in his career suddenly dawned on him as he rattled through his new album live on stage. London had turned out for him.
Next up were veterans Flowdan and Jamakabi, who performed album track Pattern Up Properly together, before he explained to the crowd that all his guests were here to support him on a “show Wiley some love ting” — a perfect motif for how the night would ultimately unfold. Out of nowhere, the first of the big hitters, Skepta, then appeared on stage to perform U Were Always, Pt.2, the pair sharing a genuine moment as he departed the stage to a huge chorus of cheers and screams; “Love my brother”, they could be heard saying to one another.
Moments prior, Beats 1 Presenter Julie Adenuga, also took to the stage to announce that Wiley had been crowned Noisey’s Greatest UK MC Of All Time, the news of which he appeared visibly humbled by. While the tributes were all richly deserved, as a spectacle, it soon set the tone for the gig to become more of ‘An Audience With’ than a headline Wiley show.
That said, there were still plenty of moments — standout performers were Chip, whom he still referred to as Chipmunk, the name he originally broke through with as a Wiley protege back in 2006, and P Money — while a brief throwback interlude also saw Wiley perform old hits like 2007 smash, Gangsters.
However, the biggest moment of the night was reserved for the grime’s current poster boy, Stormzy. “Make that mosh pit bigger honestly, get your phones out too, with the lights on. Get them lights on”, he barked at the crowd, before the opening bars of new Stormzy single, Big For Your Boots started to play on The Roundhouse system. Finally, the touch paper was lit.
It was perhaps symbolic that Stormzy was the only guest to perform his own material on the night too, the crowd going absolutely wild to first Big For Your Boots and then viral smash, Shut Up, but Wiley didn’t seem to care. For the first time in his career, he seemed happy with his lot. Wherever his music goes from here, this was his legacy — played out live on stage. And he deserved every moment.
All photos by Ashley Verse