Wiley was feeling defiant at the end of 2017. He’d received acclaim for his (excellent) comeback album, ‘Godfather’, and had written his own legend with the autobiography Eskiboy. Soon to be awarded an MBE, he had re-established himself as grime’s co-creator. “When I die,” he explained to Channel 4 at the time, “the last song that I made before my death will be grime.”
Well, based on ‘Godfather 2’ – which he’s promised is the second chapter of a trilogy that celebrates his cultural impact – that’s perhaps not quite true. Though it boasts hard-hitting moments (see the supple uppercut of ‘Been A While’ and the dizzying double-jab of the JME-featuring ‘Call the Shots’), this sequel lacks the punch of its predecessor. Last year’s first installment was a dazzlingly brilliant reminder of Wiley’s show-stopping vocal delivery and confrontational production style. (Did 2017 offer up a more bruising track than ‘Bang’, the muscular collaboration with Plaistow MC Ghetts?) That record was a far cry from sugar-sweet 2008 pop-crossover ‘Rolex’, which Wiley has since dismissed as a money-spinner released to help provide for his family.
‘Godfather 2’, though, often sails surprisingly close to the pop-crossover sound that he’s distanced himself from. Take the clubby ‘Certified’, which features London soul singer Shakka; a buoyant, tropical beat bobs and weaves through shimmering sound-effects, sunny synths and taut, snapping snare-drums. Similarly, ‘Crash’ is the sort of palatable, radio-friendly hip-hop that artists such as Skepta diversified into in the late noughties, when grime’s popularity momentarily waned. ‘Godfather 2’ bows out on ‘Over The Edge’, a plaintive collaborative with earnest north London rapper Wretch-32, which is wrapped around a crooned chorus from UK funky legend Kyla, who enjoyed her own comeback with Drake’s chart-devouring 2016 mega-smash ‘One Dance’.
This is an undeniably accomplished, pop-influenced rap record. Wiley hadn’t released an album for three years before ‘Godfather’, and this follow-up perhaps disappoints simply because it can’t trade on the heroic narrative arc of its predecessor (Wiley’s come back to reclaim grime!). The middle part of a film trilogy often exists as a bridge to the explosive finale. Let’s hope that’s the case here.