Born in 1963 to Jamaican parents, Wheatle grew up in Brixton, South London. At 16 he was a founder member of the Crucial Rocker sound system; his DJ name was Yardman Irie. He wrote lyrics about everyday Brixton life. By 1980 Wheatle was living in a social services hostel in Brixton, South London, and he participated in the 1981 Brixton riots and aftermath. While serving his resulting sentence he read authors such as Chester Himes, Richard Wright, C. L. R. James and John Steinbeck. He claims that a Rastafarian was his cellmate, and he was the one who encouraged Wheatle to start reading books and care about his education.
He received the London Arts Board New Writers Award in 1999 for his debut novel Brixton Rock, which was later adapted for the stage and performed at the Young Vic in July 2010. Wheatle turned to writing for teenagers in 2015 with Liccle Bit the first of his South Crongton series of books.