Grime is the new punk. Not in message, but in self-made, anti-corporate attitude. When UK garage MCs found themselves wanting to rap over something with a more aggressive edge reflecting their love of hip-hop, dance and experimental electronic, a young man from the rough ends of Bow, East London spread instrumentals on freshly cut vinyl all around the city. The different regions were making their own independent sounds, but Wiley’s Eskimo is the one that’s still played over a decade later. His self-branded eskibeats inspired countless others to take up their own DIY approach to beat making and forging a path for themselves. Wiley stayed with grime no matter the genre’s status, churning out albums when nobody else would, dropping hundreds of free tracks when labels weren’t giving him the freedom he desired. Now that Skepta’s global fame has propelled grime to a stage it’s never seen before, Wiley seems to have taken his latest album as a chance to show everyone outside of his home city what he’s made of. Godfather is one of best albums the genre has ever seen.
Part of the reason grime has never found much of an audience outside of the UK is inconsistency. The scene’s roots in Jamaican soundsystem culture combined with an audience that grew up on jungle, drum and bass, house and numerous club hits means the emphasis has always been on live sets and big singles over albums, the lyrical content containing only hype and braggadocio. Apart from Kano and Dizzee Rascal, nobody took their time to craft a truly memorable album. This new wave of acceptance and popularity for the genre has changed all that. Godfather is firmly a hardcore grime album, heavy raps over heavier beats compared to Wiley’s past pop crossover attempts, but with the kind of straight-forward structural immediacy that leads to timeless tunes. The first 8 tracks alone are flawless. Wiley reflects on his climb to the top with a machine-gun flow and infinite ammo, calling back to older songs, shouting out other producers, DJs and rappers, celebrating himself, but never forgetting his roots or the people who helped him up there. He knows how to make beats when he wants to, but he left most of the heavy lifting to numerous UK talents like Teeza, Preditah, Mr. V, JME, Rude Kid, and more. You don’t need to know a thing about grime to enjoy any of these songs, the bouncy strings of ‘Back with a Banger’ will still get you moving. It’s not entirely baseball bat music, either – U Were Always Pt. 2′ is a gorgeous R&B switch up that’s let down slightly by corny musings on relationships, but the beat wins you over, and ‘Laptop’ is a smoother musing on Wiley’s piece of gear that’s helped him make countless songs.
The thing that makes Godfather an even more apt title are the features. More than 15 other rappers appear on Godfather, and the fact that Wiley is able to bring quality bars out of the vast majority of them highlights how he’s always taken the time to shine the spotlight on smaller names. It’s far more common to see many MCs perform together in live grime shows versus one or two. Skepta’s Konnichiwa was the last majorly noteworthy grime album, and whilst the features were good, they were mostly old mates of Skeppy’s. Godfather’s ridiculously diverse array better reflects the variety of styles the genre has to offer, and listening through the record on the whole better recreates a live show’s atmosphere. Just by having loads of great features, Wiley captures the real spirit of grime in a far more authentic form. It’s more like a family than a genre at this point.
The album has it’s issues. Godfather insists on being 17 tracks long like the latest K-Dot masterpiece minus the lyrical depth justifying that kind of length, with the tail end rappers having stagnated careers for a reason, losing steam in it’s second half compared to the mad energy of the first. But that doesn’t override the album towering far above everyone else’s efforts. Wiley has always been at the top, and at this rate, he’ll never climb down.
Overall Rating: 8.5
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