Trying to define Eskibeat, Wiley’s super-influential production style from 2002-2005, means taking a cross-continental trip across grime’s influences. At its core, the frosty, digital sound is an East London answer to dancehall’s millennial anthems, grafted onto garage’s uptempo rhythms. Except it’s also Wiley’s answer to East Coast hip-hop’s own forrays into clean, digital production by names such as Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and The Neptunes. But it’s also—sneakily—the return of rave’s brash synthesized sounds to the hardcore continuum, which had been focusing on garage’s warmth and swing. Finally, for all of its bump n’ flex, it’s a shockingly avant-guard sound—a key component that got intellectual writer types interested in millennial pirate radio, and has kept them interested in grime to this day.
Which is to say, Eskibeat contains multitudes, every element of British dance culture in the 20th century refracted through Korg Triton workstations and E-mu romplers for a new millennium. You know the sounds, for sure. First, there’s the gliding squarewave basslines, the hollow, digital rumbles that approximate King Tubby throwing a jam in Antarctica, all while providing mournful melodies if played at a higher pitch. There’s that crashing, thundering kick drum, seemingly nicked off The Clipse’s “Grindin’” but actually originating from the same sound patch. There’s the infamous Eski click—a ping-ponging sound effect straight out of an 8-Bit Nintendo game. Finally, there’s that bizarre distorted flute, most infamously heard forming the backbone of Skepta’s “That’s Not Me” years later. It doesn’t take much to make an Eskibeat track, but in the nearly two decades since the sound originated, countless producers have taken a crack at the style, though none have topped the originator. With this in mind, here’s 10 Eskibeat tracks that helped define the style.
Oh and Wiley, we know you’re reading this: it’s time to reissue those early white labels digitally, in full. The world needs them! Plus, we’re pretty sure you could bread up self-releasing them on Bandcamp.