Naming your new album Godfather is some statement, but within the context of the grime genre, it’s a title of which Wiley is worthy. He and former friend Dizzee Rascal co-created the genre itself with their debuts, Wiley’s Treddin’ On Thin Ice and Dizzee’s Mercury Prize winner Boy In Da Corner. Since 2004 he’s stuck to the genre he helped birth fairly resolutely, with a few detours into pop territory. Having called out other rappers for going pop in his own music, 2013’s The Ascent was quite clearly a one-off get rich quick album, with its dance-pop songs about going on holiday, clubbing and girlfriends.
And yet he slotted straight back into grime without much being said, with this latest LP being hailed as the return of the Godfather. It says a lot about Wiley himself and his enormous influence within the scene; other British rappers who sought the big popular music bucks such as Tinchy Stryder haven’t been heard from much since. Chip, who features here, is still struggling to shake the ghost of Oopsy Daisy.
Eleven albums and 12 mixtapes deep now, and with newcomers such as Stormzy referring to him as ‘the Godfather’ in their lyrics, it seems Wiley’s self-aggrandising album title is justified even if the record itself wasn’t mob-leader worthy.
Thankfully, Godfather is an album of early noughties nostalgia, yet still feeling as essential as Skepta’s Mercury Prize winner, Konnichiwa.
Opener Birds n Bars has some very cleverly chosen samples and synths to trigger said nostalgia. This is followed by Bring Them All / Holy Grime; released as a single a few months back, and already up there with the very best the genre has to offer. The militaristic low brass synths pounding out the pulse, the syncopated hi-hats and a cutting snare gives us a beat worthy of some of Wiley’s very best lyrics: “Spitters can’t match these levels of terrors / I leave my brain in the car but my head is together / I make a team of dons quit when I put on the pressure / rate Devlin, why? He’s a grime treasure." Devlin guests on this one, with his trademark acid-tongued delivery.
In fact, Godfather reads as a who’s who of the grime scene. Skepta, JME, Ghetts, Newham Generals, and several others each provide a verse. And these legends are the perfect selection for these beats which deliberately hark back to grime’s beginnings.
Tracks like Speakerbox with its manically dischordant bass and shakey percussion, and Back With A Banger brilliantly utilises a ‘90s garage sound with rapid strings and an eye-watering tempo.
Another stand out song is the lead single and Darq E Freaker produced Can’t Go Wrong. It’s huge in every feasible way, perhaps partly because it has the most modern production sound on the album, utilising a more modern grime sound which incorporates trap elements. It could be a cause for concern for the London Metropolitan Police, who have always carefully monitored live grime events – mosh pits will be a natural occurrence when this one drops.
U Were Always is the wildcard here, a mid-tempo, more American sounding song which features grime golden boy, Skepta. It may upset the purists, but I tip my hat to Wiley for throwing some variety in there. There’s also a danger of Godfather overrunning at 17 tracks, but fortunately there’s enough quality in there to keep the flame burning.
So in the end, Godfather does enough to justify its title, and Wiley’s peers and protégées will continue to look to him for inspiration. It’s an album that expertly combines the old school with the new, and is much more than a mere exercise in nostalgia. People have been talking about the golden age of grime for a while now; it certainly feels that way now with the return of its leader.
Review by Adam Protz