Just one of the laugh-out-loud lyrics on grime kingpin Wiley’s booming, swaggering, long-awaited new album: “I’m not a lager lout / But I’m still throwing bars about”. The whole album is stuffed with similarly brilliant gags and one-liners – including a joke about George Best, leading you to wonder just how long the east London rapper has been working on ‘Godfather’.
His 11th studio album was originally intended for release in September, but was subject to several delays. At one point, Wiley threatened to call off the release entirely, tweeting that it was “pointless”. Over the years he’s carved out a reputation as one of the most unpredictable figures in grime, missing lives dates and cancelling interviews, leaving dejected journalists clutching Dictaphones. When he turns up, though, Wiley really turns up, a fact that ‘Godfather’ attests to in dazzling fashion. With features from current genre dons Devlin, JME, Frisco, Flowdan and, of course, Skepta, it feels like a celebration of all grime achieved in 2016.
Opening track ‘Birds n Bars’ sets the tone with a shout-out to the all-conquering London crew BBK, before snaking synths weave their through brittle beats and his deliriously confrontational flow. “I can do it,” he rallies, I don’t need to try. It’s a statement of intent: Wiley has come to reclaim the genre that he helped to create more than a decade ago, a case he makes most compellingly on the Devlin-featuring ‘Holy Grime’, a demented march through chanted vocals and battering rhymes such as, ”For years I’ve been killing it, trust me / Swear down, I will never get rusty’’. The frantic pace lets up only on ‘You Were Always, Pt.2’, a slinky, heavy-hearted slow-jam with guest spots from Belly and Skepta.
Wiley’s 2008 pop crossover hit ‘Wearing My Rolex’ recently went Gold. He’s claimed he conceded to the mainstream in bid to provide for his daughter; that in different circumstances he’d have waited for grime’s popularity to come back around and pay off. Well, he’s managed to have his cake and eat it. And that’s why they call him the Godfather.