Godfather by Wiley (Wiley/CTA Records, 2017)
Skepta won a Mercury Prize last year for Konnichiwa, his victory lap of an album by an artist who sparked media interest for U.K. grime again. While his run rightfully diversified the attention to more of the scene’s newcomers, one founder who could use more ears to his music is Wiley, a member of Skepta’s Boy Better Know collective.
The veteran announced his latest album Godfather will be his last, but who knows if his promise will be kept. Because despite it being quietly released, it’s one of the first exciting albums to come out in 2017.
Potential singles don’t immediately emerge from the artist’s eleventh album. One shared as a loosie for the web, “U Were Always, Pt. 2,” with Skepta and Belly, is a somber look upon a failed relationship. Tracked by a loop of a pained soul sample, it’s the least indicative of what Godfather feels or sounds like except for the fact that things are reportedly ending.
A better pitch for a preview would be “Back with a Banger.” The goal of Godfather is fixed in the song’s title: this is all work, no games. He sidesteps mainstream radio entirely in favor of the pirate. But also as the track suggests, his final statement is not a diss to the business. Rather than gripe about industry struggles on record, he just lets his work show for itself. And he makes right with his promise: “Back with a Banger” is, yes, a banger that follows its own rhythm—instinctively but also musically with Preditah’s drunken glitch of a beat.
The rest of the producer lineup follows the freak of Preditah. Of course, Wiley himself produces a few, a favorite being the space funk of “Birds n Bars.” Fellow Boy Better Know member JME hands in an 8-bit battle track in “Name Brand.” Mucky and NoizBoiz contribute a blast of wonky bass in “Speakerbox.” Darq E Freaker blasts the room with booming brass in “Can’t Go Wrong.”
Wiley’s experience makes the chorus of “Can’t Go Wrong” ring bittersweet: “If it’s straight from the heart, it can’t go wrong,” he boasts. Work dominates as the main theme throughout Godfather so the message is humbling though also kind of a bummer, reflective of the album cover with Wiley sitting alone, hunched upon a cramped cubicle of a studio. He doesn’t wear the titular crown so much as an originator but a survivor of grime, and it’s a wonder how his words don’t echo so jaded with his history behind him. The quality of the album shows he made right on his words. The man didn’t say anything about sales after all, and I get the feeling he can care less.