Grime’s health – or lack of it – has been the subject of much debate in the past 18 months. With drill claiming a younger audience and many MCs re-positioning themselves within a broader UK rap spectrum, it’s been an unsteady time for the scene at large.
Wiley has been one of grime’s totemic artists right from Day One, and his recent interview with the Guardian picked up on shifts within the foundations of Black British music. Now 41, he’s old enough to be a genuine father-figure to some of those vital drill talents, while he’s faced with a mainstream landscape that has largely turned its back on the grime sound he helped to define.
‘The Godfather III’ could be his last album, he explains, and he has made it his goal “to make sure the grime scene wheels are spinning before I leave”. A hefty 22 track ensemble piece, ‘The Godfather III’ only seems to accomplish this at points – at best, it serves as a reminder that Wiley is one of the best to ever do it, but it often feels unfocussed, and uneven.
A record that wears its heritage on its sleeve, ‘The Godfather III’ thrives when re-connecting with the machinery that birthed grime. ‘Eskimo Dance’ is an all-star thriller, while ‘Rinse’ is a fond salute to the East London pirate radio station (since turned legitimate) that acted as such a vital platform for grime’s distillation.
‘Family’ causes a ruckus with its harsh mosh pit flavours, while ‘Protect The Empire’ is served up with an incredible sense of purpose. Wiley served up a venmous double-header between ‘Bruce Wayne’ and ‘Double Dragon’, before exploring street level capital-centric viewpoints on ‘West London’ and ‘South London’.
Each track packs a punch, but ‘The Godfather III’ is less concise, less focussed than its predecessors. The final aspect of the MC’s triptych, it works as a love letter to grime in all its unpredictable, chaotic glory, a record whose energy is riveting but sometimes self-defeating. It’s the voice of someone who has had an incalculable impact on British music more pushed to the fringes, bobbing and weaving, attempting to break back through.
A record that dwells on contradictory currents, ‘The Godfather III’ ends with ‘Press Record’, the central figure utilising some messily introspective bars. Yet even here you can find room to praise Wiley’s creative stance – gloriously unafraid to speak his mind, from the studio booth to press interviews he simply wants to stamp out his independence, for good or bad.
From that same Guardian interview he commented: “I don’t want to try and fit in with kids. I just need to not let my genre die on the way out.” ‘The Godfather III’ doesn’t quite re-ignite grime’s spark, but neither does it find Wiley going quietly into the night, on a noisy, at times messy, but ultimately riveting resignation letter.
Words: Robin Murray
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