UK

Wiley forfeits MBE for ‘bringing the honours system into disrepute’

The musician had been honoured for his services to music in the December 2017 New Year Honours list.

Rapper Wiley, real name Richard Kylea Cowie
Wiley Rapper Wiley, real name Richard Kylea Cowie (Yui Mok/PA)

Grime artist Wiley has forfeited his MBE for “bringing the honours system into disrepute”.

A list published to the Cabinet Office website said the award had been forfeited this month.

The musician, whose real name is Richard Cowie and who is often referred to as the Godfather of Grime, had been honoured for his services to music in the 2018 New Year Honours list.

In 2020 the musician was banned from X, still known as Twitter at the time, Facebook and Instagram for antisemitic comments.

Musician Wiley, also known as Richard Cowie Jnr, holds his MBE following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London
Investitures at Buckingham Palace Musician Wiley, also known as Richard Cowie Jnr, holds his MBE following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London

He was widely condemned for his posts on social media, including anti-Jewish posts on X and an Instagram video where he said “crawl out from under your little rocks and defend your Jewish privilege”.

In an interview with Sky News in the days following the backlash, Wiley insisted he was not racist and apologised for “generalising” in his tweets.

He told the broadcaster: “I just want to apologise for generalising and going outside of the people who I was talking to within the workspace and workplace I work in.

“My comments should not have been directed to all Jews or Jewish people.

“I want to apologise for generalising, and I want to apologise for comments that were looked at as antisemitic”.

His social media accounts on X and Instagram appear to have been deleted.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), who called for the musician to be stripped of his MBE, said in a statement that the forfeiture was a “vindication” of their efforts.

On June 29 2023, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), he entered guilty pleas at London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court for an assault on an emergency worker and for criminal damage to property valued under £5,000.

He was given a one month prison sentence suspended for 12 months for each offence and was also ordered to pay the victim of the assault £470 in compensation, with a victim surcharge fee of £128, the CPS said.

Wiley at the investiture at Buckingham Palace
Investitures at Buckingham Palace Wiley at the investiture at Buckingham Palace

On receiving the MBE, Wiley, who was born in Bow, east London, said at the time that it was like receiving “the school grade I wanted and didn’t get”.

He told the PA news agency: “I’m honoured to be receiving an MBE.

“It feels like the school grade I wanted and didn’t get but now I’m finally there.”

The musician became known for combining rap with the prominent garage music scene of the 90s as well as Drum and Bass, resulting in some of the first ever grime beats, such as Eskimo.

His first taste of success came with garage collective Pay As U Go before forming the Roll Deep entourage which included future stars Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder.

They moved away from the garage sound and into grime and Wiley’s debut album, Treddin’ On Thin Ice, arrived in 2004, a year after Dizzee’s Mercury-winning Boy In Da Corner.

One of his most well-known tracks is Heatwave which became a summer anthem in August 2012 when it topped the UK singles chart.

In total he has had six top 10 tracks in the charts with offerings that include Wearing My Rolex (2008) and Reload featuring Chip (2013).

Wiley performs on the first day of the Wireless Festival, in Finsbury Park, north London
Wireless Festival – Day 1 – London Wiley performs on the first day of the Wireless Festival, in Finsbury Park, north London (Matt Crossick/PA)

In 2017 he was honoured at the NME Awards with an outstanding contribution to music award and returned to his grime roots with Godfather.

He followed this album with Godfather II in 2018 and completed the trilogy with The Godfather 3 in 2020.

Wiley has had online disputes with various artists throughout the years and mocked rapper Stormzy, who he said had commercialised the genre, for collaborating with pop singer Ed Sheeran.

In an interview with The Guardian in June 2020 he said he had spoken to the Croydon-born rapper about the Twitter spat and said they were “over it”.

“We’re over it now,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Stormzy, I’ve got love for him.

“I just wish he hadn’t jumped in the way to defend Ed; that’s the only reason it happened.

“Ed Sheeran, England’s golden boy – he can use you, but you’re not allowed to use him.”