a track-by-track look at wiley’s triumphant swan song, godfather
The godfather of grime is in full focus mode on his eighth and (possibly) final album.
There are many things to love about Godfather, one of Wiley's strongest, most coherent and consistent offerings since, arguably, Playtime Is Over (not counting the genius of The Zip Files, but coherent and consistent they were not). Throughout Godfather, Wiley is leaner, meaner, stronger, harder than we've heard him in some time. There's a clarity and lucidity to the record that has been missing from previous releases; this is the music and the musings of a man with a point to prove. It's also a brilliantly thoughtful album, not only lyrically and sonically but, in true Richard Kylea Cowie spirit, Wiley generously shares his platform with a litany of other lyricists - in this case often-overlooked members of Roll Deep such as Manga, J2K, Breeze and Scratchy. This is Wiley all over; he could have commanded cameos from the entire scene (and does, in places), but at the top of his agenda are those that perhaps need it a little more than Skepta or Lethal B.
Read: Grime I rep to the T, 140 I kept to the beat. This Is Grime is the definitive tome on the most exciting musical subculture to emerge from London in the 21st century.
The only slight criticism is the lack of Wiley beats - bar two co-productions, Godfather is entirely crafted by others. While taut, thrilling even at points, Godfather too often sounds like an impression of vintage Wiley rather than actual vintage Wiley. While there's no denying the power that those 140 BPM beats pack, the sonics rely too heavily on imitating Wiley's distinctive sound, rather than innovating it. As Wiley himself has previously pointed out, Evolve r Be Extinct. But this is a small gripe and there's something honourable that he allows newcomers like Rotterdam's Mucky and also-rans such as Dot Rotten take the reigns.
Though he claims this eighth album will be his last, lets hope that Godfather won't be Wiley's final offering. If it is, he has at least left on a high, a real high, with an album that he can be proud of in years to come.
Here is i-D's rundown of Godfather, track by glorious track.
1. Birds and Bars
Produced by: Wiley, Preditah, Teeza.
Sounds like: Pre-2002 Wiley.
Complete with upside down synths and teardrop plops, the original grime innovator joins forces with (comparatively) new-gen curators Pred and Teeza. It feels like Wiley stepped offstage at Eskimo Dance and straight into the studio to record this one. Energy crew!
Standout lyric: Constant winning I won't take a dive/I will keep going to till the wheels fall of 'cos even when I'm dead my vibe will be alive.
2. Bring Them All/Holy Grail
Produced by: Mr. Virgo, Preditah.
Sounds like: #Greatness.
Nottingham's Mr. Virgo and Birmingham's Preditah pop up a couple of times throughout The Godfather, adding some merciless Midlands menace as they go. The unforgiving beat here might challenge lesser MCs, but Wiley and Devlin breeze past the punishing drums, effortlessly reminding newer MCs of their accomplished command of the mic.
Standout lyric: I ain't normal, I'm sicker than my bars.
3. Name Brand
Featuring: JME, Frisco, J2K.
Produced by: Jamie Adenuga.
Sounds like: Sonic the Hedgehog with snares.
A fast-paced four minutes featuring Wiley shouting out Giggs, one-time Roll Deep member J2K nodding to JME, and Frisco squeezing in a mention of Liam Neeson. Big, bad and bold.
Standout lyric: Hold tight Giggs, the real vibes supplier/London's changed a bit, but I can still hit the booth/Start spraying and give the crowd fire/We don't deflate/We stay pumped up, them man are flat tyre.
Produced by: Mucky.
Sounds like: A song to dun the dance.
Opening and closing with Skep's ruminations on the power of the people, this is Wiley in full focus mode, furiously attacking the beat while barely taking a breath.
Standout lyric: We had the first 110s that ever came out/I will book a New York flight, get the plane out, wanna get my name out/We ain't got the same clout, went through a bag of shit, let the pain out/I had my watch, my bracelet and chains out, realised that's dead, right then is when I had to get my brain out.
5. Back With a Banger
Produced by: Preditah.
Sounds like: Skippy. So, so skippy.
Wiley once more proves no man, woman or BPM will ever hold him back. Skating perfectly across Preditah's punctilious patterns, Back With a Banger is a masterclass in flow, control and bars, bars, bars.
Standout lyric: I got the KFC, man got the Dixie flow.
6. Joe Bloggs
Featuring: Newham Generals and President T.
Produced by: Rude Kid.
Sounds like: The Holy Grail of Grime.
D Double namedrops the Wizard of Oz, Bill & Ted, Sharon Stone, Tupac and smoking with old-school rastas, before Wiley blazes through to reflect on his wild upbringing before admitting it might soon be time to think about pensions. Happens to the best of us, tbh.
Standout lyric: My life's crazy, I never get bored/Can't lie, man-a-man's toured/On top of that, yeah, man-a-man's warred.
Read: Mess with Newham Generals, you get left in Newham general. D Double E and Footsie are the most perfect pairing in grime.
7. Pattern Up Properly
Featuring: Flowdan and Jamakabi.
Produced by: Teddy Beats.
Sounds like: A horror show.
Something missing in contemporary grime is the Jamaican flow, highly prevalent in the early years via Riko, God's Gift, Flow Dan and Jamakabi, all of whom later found new audiences via dubstep and forward thinking experimentalists such as The Bug. Hearing Jamakabi and Flow Dan here is a timely reminder of just how well it works.
Standout lyric: I got bars for the shoobs, bars for the gal-dem, bars for the crooks/Anyone trying to set pace, gonna get a 'nah look' straight in the face/Anyone trying to get lairy, better be careful, don't come near me/My dons are in here, I'm right but a couple of wrongs are in here.
8. Can't Go Wrong
Produced by: Darq E Freaker.
Sounds: Like a new brand flex.
One of the first tracks Wiley dropped to announce the arrival of The Godfather, Freaker drives the track with a mighty momentum, and Wiley, as ever, rises to the challenge with confidence. A real standout, sonically.
Standout lyric: When it's straight from the heart, the music gets heard/Could have been a roadman, could've been a nerd/ Dad told me, don't follow the herd/Instinct, yes, I follow that word/I used to go and get when I'm given, now I go and get what I'm worth/ Still going strong 'cos I gotta believe that I'm the wickedest grime MC on this earth.
Produced by: Maniac.
Sounds like: Bow E3.
Full of hype but a little lacking in concept, theme or direction.
Standout lyric: When it comes to the grime in 2016, rude boy I'm the 'ardest out.
10. U Were Always, Pt.2
Featuring: Skepta & Belly.
Produced by: Kid D.
Sounds like: Sistas With Voices.
A sublime love song in which the boys cheat and get cheated on, before getting dumped in Nandos. Kid D samples SWV in a musical move made by Wiley himself way back when, while newcomer Belly sounds reminiscent of a young Tinchy Stryder.
Standout lyric: I pick up on what's goin' on, trust, I'm not a snoozer/I know you heard I was spendin' bare time in the boozer/I know the ting we had was cool but this tings much cooler - icey.
11. On This
Featuring: Chip & Ice Kid & Little D.
Produced by: CJ Beatz.
Sounds: Ice Cold.
Will picks three previous protégés, all of whom appear as eager as ever to please their mentor now as they were back in 2006. Ice Kids sounds brilliantly mental, Chip is effortlessly cool, calm and collected, while Little D by his own admission, spits "pure meth".
Standout lyric: Top grime dons are the livest, all the fans come through and decide this/History's written I ain't gotta rewrite it/Man are the elite bro, we ain't gotta hide it.
12. Bait Face
Produced by: Wiley/Scratchy.
Sounds like: The Best of Both Worlds? Watch the Throne?
Well, not quite, but what Scratch and Will lack in global star power they make up for in force, energy and imagination. Working best when they go back-to-back the pair sound as comfortable and well-paired as a pipe and slippers.
Standout lyric: When I get off the plane I'm still flying, them man are at the bottom of the food chain, dying.
13. My Direction
Featuring: Lethal B.
Produced by: JL SXND7RS.
Sounds like: Flute-y. And Synth-y.
It might not reach the energy of their Déjà Vu clash, but the pace and energy of My Direction comes close.
Standout lyric: Flow's so wavy, fitted like a snapback/Grew up on the Prodigy, grew up on the Ratpack/My flow's the Gola, my flow's anthrax.
14. Like It or Not
Produced by: Swifta Beater
Sounds like: There's a boy in da corner
Roll Deep's Breeze stays on hook duty, leaving Wiley free to bar at his boastful best.
Standout lyric: I was in jungle spraying bars with riddles, used to blaze weed, eat food, get the giggles/ See me in the sweet shop looking for the Skittles.
Produced by: Dot Rotten
Sounds like: Wiley can sing.
The return of the elusive Dot Rotten who restricts his duties to drum programming as Wiley reflects on the past, present and future of himself and the genre he created.
Standout lyric: Now when I think about what I want to do, I wanna do what's never been done/I wanna see my genre where it belongs, it's getting bigger, you can hear in the songs. I wanna A like Meridian Dan and the rest of the Meridian gang/Big up the youngers who are coming up in the game, yes you can make a million pound/I was with Geeneus we made Wickedest Ting, from day we've been living in sand.
Read: Meet i-D's music class of 2017. We meet the writers, thinkers, players and performers who are creating, crafting and composing the future of music right here, right now.
Produced by: Morfius.
Sounds like: Playtime really is over.
In which Will and Manga pay homage to the power of the big Mac.
Standout lyric: Started off with the cracked software/All them plug-ins made man so much money and it didn't stop there/Went on for years of my life, I was in kitchen making riddims all night/Soundcard, mic and a keyboard and I wasn't looking for a reward/I was doing it for passion, the leader, since Morphy Street and the Fever.
17. P Money (remix)
Featuring: P Money.
Produced by: Teeza.
Sounds like: P Money but with actual P Money.
P joins Wiley on the 2015 song that paid respect to the South London OGz member and grime stalwart who helped keep the scene alive when very few cared. A fitting closer if only for Wiley's final bar, which ends, as the album began, with Wiley absolutely on his a game.
Standout lyric: No one's ever gonna do what we done again.
Godfather is out now.
Text Hattie Collins