Release Date – 13th January 2017
I‘m sure I’m not alone rejoicing the fact that Godfather has finally seen the light of day. After multiple revisions of the tracklist, and even hints of the album being scrapped altogether, the grime originator has dropped his (possibly) final album in the most characteristically unpredictable Wiley manner. Wiley by name, Wiley by nature. The Godfather.
As the mastermind behind one of London’s most heralded underground music genres, we have an awful lot to thank Wiley for: bringing his filthy DIY beats and slang-laden flow to fruition (both alone and as part of Roll Deep, a crew he brought together), and nurturing such artists as Dizzee Rascal, who went on to achieve monumental success with the now-vintage Boy In Da Corner. The grime of the early noughties, succinctly characterised by the producers and wordsmiths of the Roll Deep entourage, was – to me – a centrepiece of national pride, certainly at a time when UK music was booming. And as we see the (welcome) resurgence of the grime movement, with the likes of Skepta winning 2016’s Mercury Prize and Stormzy’s viral par-fest Shut Up, other UK-based genres have been making waves for listeners old and new. The comeback of Craaaaaaaaig Daaaaavid for garage? Probably ill-advised, but it was still successful. Good on you, Craig, but how we miss the 18-year old crooning about his multiple chirpses over some two-step. The noughties were a golden age, in hindsight. It’s not just nostalgia.
‘If this is Wiley’s final solo effort, he’s left on a high’
It’s fair to say that grime has taken a bit of a hit, up until the past couple of years. Roll Deep couldn’t have strayed further from the brilliance of In At the Deep End with such trashy four-on-the-floor, nightclub fodder hits such as Green Light and the even more preposterous Picture Perfect. My goodness, that video. Yet, much like Dizzee’s chart-topping and satisfyingly sing-a-long worthy Bonkers, I personally feel that Wiley’s own swerve into the pop world wasn’t half bad. Wearing My Rolex‘s “usually DRINK, usually DANCE, usually BUBBLE” hook will be looked back on as a generational musical landmark, and the Mark Ronson-produced and Daniel Merriweather-featuring banger Cash in My Pocket is bloody great- please don’t fool yourself into believing what anyone else says. Both feature on the 2008 album See Clear Now – an effort that Wiley hates, claiming to have not had full creative control. Most of the time, that certainly shows, but Step by Step (featuring the forever impressive Hot Chip) is quality, to be perfectly honest. Godfather, however, is a true reflection of Wiley’s grime creation; a celebration of the man, the music, and the scene in general. That’s not to say it’s another Treadin’ On Thin Ice; instead, Wiley’s lyricism is far more self-assured, to the point of supreme confidence in believing himself to be “the wickedest grime MC on this earth”.
So is that true? I’d argue no, but then again, has UK music actually excited me much at all recently? Again, no, so I’m thrilled that Wiley is making grime the way it should be, and bringing some of the scene’s big hitters, young and old, along for the ride. It’s difficult to not let out a bit of a snicker listening to lyrics about a furore in a Nando’s on U Were Always, Pt. 2, alongside some trademark London-based idiosyncracies, but actually, its soulful, sensual, baby-makin’ beat somehow fits in amongst the more rage-heavy, mosh inducing muck beats such as Pattern Up Properly (reminiscent of Dizzee’s I Luv U), which has an unmistakable feature from Roll Deep alumnus Flow Dan. If you’re wondering if Scratchy makes a feature, you won’t be disappointed, and his traded rhymes with Wiley are sublime. Regarding the album’s starter, Birds N Bars, I could have stopped the album contented after only 15 seconds because of the spoken introduction of “Yo. Eskiboy. BBK, dunno.” What follows is one of the album’s strongest tracks, with a minimalist beat to let Wiley’s philosophies take centre stage. His flow has never sounded better than on Bring Them All / Holy Grime, barely leaving himself room to breathe up against the far-less-than-par Devlin, with the two having seemingly quashed their beef.
‘The noughties were a golden age, in hindsight. It’s not just nostalgia’
The grime community is brought together as one with Eski as the magnetic talisman: JME, Skepta, Chip, Frisco, Breeze – they’re all here with some solid contributions. Wiley even chucks in a few other grime-based references; the “manor” and name of the track Back With A Banger presumably citing Kano’s recent successful album. The lyricism mainly centres around this idea of Wiley’s grime journey, love for his mates, and the revival of the scene -with a couple more questionable excerpts- but you have to love them, right? “I can ride riddim as good as I ride bikes”, or “fresh out the oven like a Sunday roast”, plus Chip referring to himself with a strange chocolate-based metaphor, and Wiley writing a love ode to his laptop. The song is called Laptop. He attempts (and somewhat succeeds…) to sing on Lucid, too. And as repetitive as Can’t Go Wrong‘s chorus is, it’s the best chorus of the year, so deal with it – plus, the beat is exquisite. I’m such a fan of the typical bass-heavy grime synth, and listening to Godfather really is like being thrown straight into a crammed home studio full of laptops and mics- or indeed a middle-class university student house party in a gentrified London location. It’s weird how that’s happened; the appeal of grime really has expanded since its revival…
Godfather is overly long, and lacks differentiation a little too much, but then again, I’d be saying the same about the very best albums in grime, and Wiley’s latest is certainly a treat for all genre fanatics. Following on from grime’s revival, its creator has placed another timely stamp on its continuing success, even at aged 37 (how?!), and proves its two main purposes: to jam and spit to with the dons, whilst spreading the dead serious mantra of the joy of community. If this is Wiley’s final solo effort, he’s left on a high. For fans of grime, it seems Wiley is right – he really can’t go wrong.
Image: CTA Records