REVIEW: Wiley Lives Up to the Name on Swansong Album “The Godfather”

While the lead-up to grime lord Wiley’s latest project The Godfather was touch and go, with Wiley having scrapped it multiple times and pushing back its September release date, one wondered whether the delays would have an effect on the quality of the music. It turns out that, despite all the fuss, there was nothing to fret about after all.

Since his early genre-bending Eskimo releases, and roles in revolutionary UK crews Pay As You Go Cartel and Roll Deep, Wiley has been continually branded the ‘Godfather of Grime’, hence this latest album title, but with this being his “last solo album”, there’s something about it all that feels a little different.

Packed right to the brim, this 17-track deep album itself is nostalgic without working itself up with the past. It’s a melting pot of all his past work, where he takes the pieces that worked and flips them into 2017. It’s reminiscent of the earliest Treddin’ On Thin Ice cuts while still remaining worlds away at the same time.

Whether or not this is the end of solo Wiley, given his pivotal role in the scene, the atmosphere of this release feels clear. It’s as if he’s vowing to show the kids how it’s done one last time.

Right from the get go, his signature sound shines through. Sharp, wobbly synths and electronic tones, wrapped around unfiltered, pulsating bass lines which result in that distinctive 140bpm head nod. Only ten seconds in and Wiley spits his classic Eskiboy name, going on to reiterate the bars “I can do it, I don’t need to try, I can do it, I done it already, bro”, proving that this music comes easily for him, that he’s made it, and this project really is for the fans.

Devlin is the first guest from an all-star cast to make the tag, flexing on the track Holy Grime. Already the sonic change is evident. From experimental electronic groans, the pair’s explosive bars are now running over a selection of dark horns, with eerie choir wails and rampant drums. Another of the singles, Can’t Go Wrong, sports a similar vibe to this, where Wiley reflects on where he may have been without grime, going on to solemnly teach the youngins if you rap “straight from the heart, you can’t go wrong”.

With underlying thematics of family and integrity, Speakerbox chimes out with the grittiest bassline of the album, extremely reminiscent of grime’s early days. A change of pace, Wiley opens the track with a smooth hook, effortlessly explaining how he’s already at the top and doesn’t need to go further, “I’ve achieved tings I was dreamin’ of” he spits.

This same sound is then revisited on a later banger in Lucid which sees Wiley speak proudly about his role in grime. This gets built upon by Name Brand which speaks on another of the album’s major themes; fame and the evolving definition of fame. Almost 20 years in the game, he reflects on this alongside his Boy Better Know brothers in JME and Frisco along with one of his old Roll Deep collaborators J2K.

There’s certainly a strong sense of reunion with his past Roll Deep brothers, Wiley praises his MacBook on Laptop with emcee Magna, talks grime business with Scratchy on Bait Face, and flexes his lyrical prowess with original members Flowdan and Jamakabi on Pattern Up Properly, a tune which sports an incredibly unique orchestral instrumental.

Yet if there’s any tracks where this nostalgia really shines through, it’s Bang, which plays out like a live rave thanks to the ferocity of NASTY Crew member Ghetts. Similarly on Joe Bloggs which sees Wiley rhyming alongside other pioneering emcees D Double E, Footsie, and Meridian Crew’s President T, each proving their OG status beyond doubt and comparing themselves to the most timeless faceless character in British slang, Joe Bloggs.

Where Skepta’s Konnichiwa had Ladies Hit Squad to take things down a notch, The Godfather has U Were Always, Pt. 2 to serve as its slow jam. A follow up to his classic 2009 tune with Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder this soulful tune is the only down-tempo sequence within Godfather’s hour long story. Featuring the aforementioned man of the hour Skepta alongside up-and-coming emcee Belly, the trio go on to deliver sentimental lyrics about past relationships and in true London fashion they somehow manage to tie this in with Nandos.

As if this project couldn’t feature any more legends, the mysterious Ice Kid, who disappeared in 2011 only to return in July last year, features alongside yet another Roll Deep pioneer in Little Dee and the hugely popular Chip. Over yet another gut wrenchingly dark electronic instrumental, Wiley confidently exclaims that he has “proved his point”, that his “name won’t die out”.

The album closes on yet another high, a remix of Wiley’s late 2015 tune that praised emcee P Money, ironically featuring the man himself. Back and forth, the pair spit lyrical revelry, springing off the heavy beat and proving they are at the top of their game to end a stellar swansong album.

The Godfather is the release we both desperately wanted, and needed from Wiley. He’s back with a purpose, and there’s not a single pop-flavoured or Americanised track in sight; it’s as iconically British as it can get.

When Wiley asserted that “it could only be [a grime album]” (Noisey), he really meant it, yet instead of delivering the same vibe for 57 minutes, each track’s instrumentation, subject matter and guest features feels fresher than the last.

If there was any post 2010 Wiley album that would make him deserving of the title The Godfather, without a doubt you’re looking at it.

Image: Facebook – Wiley