U.K. grime has been poised for a U.S. takeover for at least a year now — last year, Skepta’s “Konnichiwa” was the first grime album to debut on Billboard 200, reaching number 160. Furthermore, Drake’s decision to sign with grime label Boy Better Know Records (BBK) as well as his friendship with Skepta suggested that this genre will finally reach a larger American market.
Accordingly, Wiley’s fourth full-length album, “Godfather,” is an explosive, punchy and hard-hitting work of grime perfection. His longest record to date, clocking in at 57 minutes, “Godfather” perfects Wiley’s tough street-wise lyricism and electronic soundscape.
To some degree, this record marks a return to form for the British emcee. The tracks are pared down, with every synth note and percussion beat servicing Wiley’s magnificent bars. While the production is flashy, with aggressive up-tempo synth textures and deep bass drums creating a menacing soundscape, Wiley remains in control of the beat, with his flows weaving in and out of the beat.
For example on “Bait Face” featuring Scratchy, the beat is heavily textured and very aggressive, a hallmark of the grime sound, and is complimented by Wiley’s dark and threatening lyrics. He raps, “Jump onstage lookin’ for a reload with your best bar / And don’t get one that’s hype / That means the crowd don’t wanna hear you on the mic.” This song hones in on the distractions that fame affords, as well as Wiley’s desire to just be an emcee and rap on the mic.
Thematically, the album does work within this space of navigating fame, money and staying true to Wiley’s own roots from the streets of Southside London. The track “Lucid” is an affirmation of Wiley’s desire to remain true to his aesthetic vision; propelled by a gothic synth melody and absolutely explosive percussion, Wiley states, “I’ma drop my album on my fans exclusive, / I do it for my people.”
Arguably the best cut on this entire project is, “U Were Always, Pt. 2” which features Belly and fellow grime legend Skepta. Sonically, this track marks a departure from the grime soundscape so prevalent throughout the rest of the record, resulting in a ‘90s, R&B-inspired track, with a laid back bass line interspersed around melodic chimes and snapping. This mixture of Aaliyah-inspired hip-hop fused with classic grime flows by Wiley and Skepta is a refreshing variation on the album.
“Godfather” is an ambitious project laced with biting flows, mesmerizing production and witty lyricism. For those exploring the terrain of grime, this album is a perfect segue into the murky world of British hip-hop.