The long-awaited final album from the grime originator was finally unleashed this month, aptly named Godfather, it symbolises the end of an era as well as Wiley’s musical output. “This is my last album, in theory, you know, Wiley the brand. You’re not going to see me trying to cane the arse out of tens of Wiley’s, you will not. I’ll always use my money to do other, smart things.”
Few have achieved what he has managed in his long career, from personally delivering his own white labels to record stores in the past, to topping the charts as a household name. British music owes a lot to his creativity and entrepreneurialism, his uniquely stripped-back take on Garage (that grew into Eski-beat) helped to shape urban music today. Most people, however, know him just as an MC, releasing huge amounts of music in the form of mixtapes and albums. There are recordings online of a teenage Wiley hosting Jungle sets, he learned his craft in the club but over the years he has perfected it in the studio.
Instantly the album explodes with the ice-cold ‘Birds n Bars’, the playful name and punchline-filled lyricism are a contrast to the concrete production. Traditional sliding squares and a tough bass kick are a tried and tested combination, but the outcome is still fresh – Wiley’s delivery and wordplay are the icing on the greasy cake. Next up, we hear the first of many huge features, Devlin being an obvious choice. He is one of many artists who owes much of their success to Wiley himself, they have always bounced well off each other and this time is no exception. The track has received a lot of hype since the release, the epic scale of the orchestral production enhances the grandeur, but the outcome is a bit harsh. BBK members JME, Frisco & J2K all join forces on ‘Name Brand’ which is the first authentic grime beat. Scattered claps and a double time rhythm spark a snappier approach from all four MCs, old friends spurring each other on as if it were a live set.
‘Joe Bloggs’ adds another two legends to the list, with both Newham Generals members D Double E and Footsie, as well as the unmistakeable President T. With Pres T and D Double E harnessing two of grime’s most twisted flows, this is an entertaining listen. The beat hosts trappy hat trills and snare rolls with orchestral stabs, the lyrics are equally gangster with plenty of London slang. This theme continues seamlessly into the next track ‘Pattern Up Properly’, which is arguably the album’s best so far. Wiley has been known to add a little Patôis twist to his bars at times, but compared to Flowdan and Jamakabi he sounds like a Cockney, both of these heavyweight Roll Deep originators add some contrast with their deep dancehall style.
After that onslaught of collaborators, we are back with Wiley in solo mode on ‘Can’t Go Wrong’, the production follows on the trap/grime crossover, and the hook is a killer. It is obvious why this was leaked early, it has an irresistible chanted chorus that will have crowds getting silly. ‘Bang’ is up next and is almost the polar opposite to the last student friendly, Radio 1 playlist vibe, it sounds so vintage that it must be an old Wiley production. It is so flat that it almost sounds wrong, as if you are hearing it via a cheap car radio in London 2003. The vocal from the mighty Ghetto takes over entirely; as if the whole point was to sound like pirate radio. And if this was a clash then sadly Wiley would have lost.
There are almost too many features to mention, but one that can’t go under the radar is man of the moment, Skepta. His collaboration also features lesser known Belly and is a surprisingly slinky R&B number. More MCs that wouldn’t be anywhere without Wiley’s help also show up on Chip and the elusive Ice Kid are back in the studio following his disappearance. After turning up on the Red Bull Culture Clash last year, old school grime fans have been anticipating his new music, both him and Chip easily hold their own over a solid beat that is somewhat ugly at times. The dodgy production unfortunately follows on for the majority of the following tracks, ruining both the Scratchy and Lethal Bizzle collaborations. Thankfully one of the best has been saved until last, the rough and rocky ‘P Money Remix’ features the man himself and he has some fire in his belly. This seems to bring out some heat from Wiley, as both of them blaze over a particularly molten beat.
Almost into his 40’s Wiley has never been left behind, working with younger artists such as Stormzy and Solo 45 helps to keep him on his toes, as well as breaking new talent ‘that’s why I practice so I stay on point like P-Money‘. It is almost time to say goodbye to the Alex Ferguson of grime, Skepta may have won the Mercury Prize but he can’t call himself The Godfather.
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