It’s been an interesting 12 months for Wiley. Viral feuds with Stormzy that saw both artists release a number of diss tracks, Wiley with the chart-topping ‘Boasty’, and his now abandoned ‘Full Circle’ project, a record which was said to include features from a number of big names, including Nicki Minaj and Future.
‘The Godfather 3’ is, apparently, Richard Cowie MBE’s last outing as Wiley (he had, of course, stated that his 2017 album ‘Godfather’ would be his final record). Widely lauded as the Godfather of grime, this album name seems pretty appropriate. In a recent interview, Wiley spoke of how he didn’t want his “genre [to] die on the way out”. There’s a certain sense of responsibility on this album – the need to prove the idea that he is the patriarch of grime, but also to ensure that his legacy is kept.
That’s really felt on ‘Protect The Empire’, one of the more exciting tracks on the album, especially with lyrics such as “we built this up that’s why we must protect it/ if suttin’ ain’t right, we must correct it”. With a younger generation of grime and British hip hop artists emerging over the last five years or so, such as AJ Tracey and Fredo, it feels as if Wiley is passing a mantle, keen to not let anyone forget whose mantle it is to pass.
‘Family’ belongs on a soundtrack. Equipped with sirens and a warning voice rapping “that’s family/ don’t mess with my family”, it presents a natural break after the first part of the record. Jumping into ‘This Is It’, and, later, ‘Bruce Wayne,’ that cinematic atmosphere remains, with a long intro building tension on the latter track.
‘Balance’ has more of a nostalgic sound, with elements of 90s British R&B and hip hop. This carries on through to ‘Free Spirit’ and ‘Light Work’, which uses melodies that push through and pull away, creating a darker feel. It’s on ‘Light Work’ that Wiley talks about his legacy again, instructing future MCs and challenging them to “now go and do better than me”.
The last track on the album, ‘Press Record’, is mellow but defiant, calling out the industry. As Wiley raps “last year I coulda killed the game, the system wouldn’t let me/ A&Rs and bosses wishing fans would just forget me” he does, of course, refer to the shelved 2019 album, ‘Full Circle’, and, a couple of lines later, featured artist Nicki Minaj herself. ‘Press Record’ finishes with a look towards the road ahead in the lyric “I ain’t got a clue where my life’s going”, with uncertainty around the future for a grime artist who has paved the way for so many other musician’s futures.
‘The Godfather 3’ is a solid effort to make a statement about the future of grime, and to remind us who was one of the biggest forces within it. However, it would be difficult to forget this on an album that certainly hammers it home. It’s a lengthy album too – 22 songs – and the sheer volume of tracks makes it difficult to find something to latch onto when some of those songs sound almost indistinguishable.
The standout tracks, ‘Protect The Empire’, ‘Eskimo Dance’, ‘Starring’ and ‘Bruce Wayne’ do so because they give something a bit different. They’re primed for the dance floor and break away from the rest of the album with harder beats and breakdowns, and a much more fun feel. After decades on the scene, and so many examples of experimentation throughout his career, Wiley took it back to basics on an album to prove who did it first, who did it best but perhaps, he could have done a little more to prove that he’s still an innovator.