Godfather was always going to be an important album. For Wiley — one of the founding fathers of the UK’s grime movement — to release his final album, especially with an openly self-referential title such as Godfather, the result was unequivocally going to make an impact. Having had the ‘Godfather of Grime’ label attached to him for quite some time, Wiley was known to be rather sceptical of being given such a title in the past, but the bold move to name his final studio effort Godfather signifies a sense of resolution for the rapper as a seminal contributor to the genre. The album cover, at first, gives an impression of Wiley going back to a more stripped down, bare-faced grime sound, and this album certainly is the first Wiley album since his earlier releases to be a wholly grime-focussed project. However, when diving into the plethora of grime bangers on this record, it becomes evident that Wiley has little intention of releasing a classic-sounding grime album, rather he seems to draw more inspiration from up-and-coming grime artists; the irony, of course, being that it would be hard to find a grime artist today who hasn’t been influenced by Wiley in some way, be it consciously or not. Instead, perhaps the album cover is a reflection of Wiley as a craftsman. It certainly gives off the vibe of a master artisan huddled over his workbench, having isolated himself in the basement of his house in order to fully concentrate on his craft. Interestingly, the lyrical content on the track Laptop features Wiley essentially praising his laptop as being the tool with which he moulds his art, perhaps giving some weight to this observation. With the teaser tracks leading up to this album being full-on grime bangers, and the personnel of the album featuring numerous important names in grime and UK hip hop both on the mic and behind the desk, it seemed that everything was coming together to make Godfather a fitting final album for a legend in the grime scene. At the very least, things were looking promising for this project to be Wiley’s most focussed and bold grime album in a while.
With 17 cuts in the tracklisting, Godfather clocks in at just shy of an hour in length, and Wiley employs the help of numerous MCs and producers, giving this album an air of indulgence if not ambition. The opening track, Birds n Bars, is one of only a handful of cuts to feature just Wiley with no help from features, and I expected this to be a particularly audacious track given it being listed as having a six and a half minute runtime. As it turns out, this is actually an odd technical fault, in that the actual song Birds n Bars ends after three minutes and goes straight into Bring Them All, which is listed in the tracklisting as being the first half of the second track and was intended to transition into Holy Grime. Of course, this is merely a technical nitpick and I won’t fault the project for it, but I was slightly disappointed in that I was interested to hear how Wiley would shake up a six-minute song featuring bars only provided by himself. Nonetheless, my disappointment was shortly overcome, as Holy Grime, which I first heard upon its release as a single, remains one of the best grime singles to drop in a while. Wiley’s flow is absolutely relentless and Devlin really steps up to Wiley’s level of eccentricity on his feature. The production on this cut also stands out, with the track starting off laid-back as Wiley spits some pretty straightforward bars, only for the instrumentation to abruptly pick up as Wiley comes in with his wacky flow. The sampled female choral vocals that kick in during his first verse sound really satisfying, and play nicely with the religious allusion in the track’s title.
Name Brand is a great posse cut, with Wiley employing help from fellow Boy Better Know MCs Jme and Frisco, along with J2K. This track features two hooks, one from J2K and one from Jme, both of which are equally strong. J2K’s refrain has a great flow to it and Jme really makes his hook his own and it sounds like it would have fit snuggly as a hook from a track off his last studio album Integrity>. Frisco’s verse kicks off with some punctuated bars that sound similar in approach to those provided by Wiley on the front of the track. Once again, the production on this track stands out, particularly as a result of how well it progresses, keeping the track fresh throughout, whilst the four MCs ride the changing beats well and keep it fresh in their own right. This track’s successor, Speakerbox, is yet another outrageously shameless banger. Taking into account the spoken word at the beginning and end of the cut, this is a pretty short track, but there is such an obscene amount of energy crammed into this thing that it feels even shorter in the best way possible. Once again, Wiley’s flow is crazy and the production keeps up as to allow him to go as mad as he likes.
I feel like I’m repeating myself, and I most certainly am, but this album just features banger after banger, with Wiley’s flows continuously coming off crazy and with the production being up to snuff as well. However, this does bring me to my salient criticism of the album, that being the fact that all these tracks are in a rather similar vain, so the 57 minute runtime feels a bit excessive. 12 tracks of this thing are more than enough for me to receive my fix of grime bangers. Of course, the length of this project would probably make it perfect to slap on at a house party and just have banger after banger blaring out of your speakers for an hour. However, when sitting down and listening to this album with one’s full-attention, I can’t help but think it would fare far better as a focussed project if it were whittled down to its 12 or 13 strongest cuts. After all, there are some tracks that are clearly weaker than the stronger ones on Godfather. As an example, the track U Were Always, Pt.2, is one of the more lyrically focussed songs in the tracklisting here, in that it deals with only one topic rather than miscellaneous braggadocio, but it isn’t necessarily better for it. Conceptually, the track is a pretty standard summation of what went wrong in a relationship leading to the breaking up of the couple concerned, but Wiley’s bars are so general and so unspecific that there’s nothing really that gives this track any personality and it feels like it may as well be any MC rapping on it. This is all the more unfortunate given Wiley’s wild character on the stronger of his songs on this new album.
I could probably go on for quite some time picking out specific cuts on Godfather that are great, but I would ultimately be saying pretty similar things about all of those tracks. That’s not to say that this album is at all tedious, it’s just that the stronger tracks on here are strong because they apply the contemporary grime formula so well, and whilst they adhere pretty closely to the typical conventions of the genre, they’re no less strong as a result. Therefore, this album overall is a fantastic compilation of many solid bangers from one of grime’s most important MCs, standing out amongst the other releases under his belt, making it an admirable final hurrah on which to end his career as a rapper.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10