Wiley, the man from ‘Bow E3’ – as he put it on an early track – has had a whirlwind of a year. In the lead-up to his highly-anticipated 13th studio album, ‘The Godfather 3’, the 41-year-old has been embroiled in a feud with the country’s most prominent MC, Stormzy (which has since been resolved). After a brief war of words, Wiley released ‘Eediyat Skengman 1’, targeting the South Londoner’s mum, his ex-girlfriend Maya Jama and his collaborations with Ed Sheeran, whom he later dubbed a “culture vulture”.
Wiley planned on releasing ‘Full Circle’ last summer; this was to be dancehall-heavy album featuring the likes of Popcaan, Nicki Minaj and Future. Two weeks later, the project was mysteriously pulled and has never materialised. All the while he relentlessly defended his title as ‘The Godfather of Grime’, a label afforded him as one of the key figures in the creation of the genre. Now we have ‘Godfather 3’, the 22-track, third instalment of his ‘Godfather’ series. He’s claimed that this will be his last album, and it feels like both a culmination of a lengthy career and a celebration of the genre he has, at times, held aloft on his back.
The album is sonically charged from the first second. The producers who helped the album come to life – Mr. Virigo, Dizzee Rascal, Mazza, Swifta, Zdot, Dexplicit, Donae’O and Maniac – are also pivotal in ensuring Wiley’s renowned ‘eskibeat’ sound comes through with precision. The album is ably supported by a rotating cast. Opting against veteran MC’s, Wiley harnessed his social media followers to ask fans to nominate the best new talent. In turn, Blay Vision Big Zuu and so many more lend their voices (alongside, erm, veteran D Double E).
This array of voices is most notable on the electric 13-verse track ‘Eskimo Dance’, which serves as the centrepiece of the record’s first half and is modelled as a traditional grime rally track. Alongside Wiley, rappers Delusion, K9, Capo Lee, Flowdan, Jammer, Ten Dixon, Ears, Jammz, Breeze, Big Swingz, and Tempa T take turns spitting over a short eight-bar instrumental unique to them before passing the mic onto the next rapper. A rally track is a rare sight these days, and further solidifies ‘Godfather 3’ as an ode to the genre.
As the album progresses to its second half, the energy wanes to settle into a mellow catharsis. On ‘Free Spirit’, Wiley reflects, “We’ve done things in music we didn’t know we could / The crowd’s gone overground but we all came from the ‘hood / I don’t know where I’m going but where I’m going is good / A long way away from when I was shotting the white and buj.”
The melodic shift on the album acts as both a reminder of Wiley’s influence but also the pull the genre has on the respected veteran. Whether this is his farewell, or yet another stake in the conversation as grime’s presence grows bigger globally, Wiley has executed his vision with aplomb. Rather than cowering from a tumultuous year full of set-backs, he’s taken the opportunity to deliver a long-awaited, cohesive project built on depth, clarity and nostalgia.