‘The Godfather 3’ Is A Perfect Swansong In Wiley’s Glittering Career

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Hyperfrank

Before the release of his new album, The Godfather 3, Wiley announced that the third drop in his Godfather series would be his last ever album. “I’m 41,” he told The Guardian’s Dan Hancox. “I don’t want to try and fit in with kids. I just need to not let my genre die on the way out.” A poignant announcement but, given his history of unpredictability and living completely on his own terms (the grime legend has done everything from miss his own video shoots to firing and rehiring his manager an absurd amount of times), his words may be seen as hollow. After all, this isn’t the first time he’s played the retirement card, over a decade after initially contemplating retirement. But Wiley has seen and done it all in his legendary career, earning the right to bow out when he’s good and ready.

The last year or so has proven eventful to say the least for one of Bow E3’s finest. “Boasty” and its star-studded remix became a worldwide smash, proving Wiley’s mainstream power hadn’t faltered from its early 2010s peak. On and off record, he sent for Drake, Skepta and Dizzee Rascal to name a few. Meanwhile, The Godfather 3’s protracted release date of New Year’s Day 2020 wasn’t heeded, and his sends for Dot Rotten and Ed Sheeran indirectly led to a clash for the ages with Stormzy, seen by some as awakening the grime scene from its Sleeping Beauty-like slumber. What would be chaos to us mere mortals was light work for Wiley and, after such a year, the cherry on the top of the grime-flavoured cake is his latest, and potentially final release.

And it was worth the wait. If The Godfather 3, a 22-track colossus, proves anything, it’s just how sharp Wiley’s lyrical prowess continues to be. Likening himself to a pioneer akin to DJ Kool Herc in the album’s intro, he tap-dances over the instrumental as he continues to re-establish himself as the reason why everybody’s here. The album’s frenetic energy carries that of the old pirate radio era, from the Eskibeat production to Wiley’s bullet fast flow patterns and bars. But the difference between then and now is that Wiley is seasoned, having lost not one shred of hunger. “I showed them a blueprint for free, so they can’t take nothing from me,” he spits on “The Game”, a clear sign that the scene is, and always will be, indebted to him. Perhaps one of the purest grime tunes of all time is “Eskimo Dance”, an experience that takes you straight to the club night of the same name, with the genre’s finest (K9, Capo Lee, Flowdan, Jammer, Tempa T and more) lenging everything down.

Employing the genre’s veterans and new school (special shoutout goes to J2K’s show-stealing contributions to “Double Dragon’ and the partial Roll Deep reunion on “Amsterdam”) demonstrates Wiley’s ‘share the wealth’ philosophy, using his platform to uplift any and all. He’s rejuvenated on The Godfather 3, with the probable knowledge that this is his final offering, serving as a weight off his shoulders. He coasts from track to track with lyrical ease, particularly from “Alla Dem” to “Family”. In amongst the grimier tunes lay various modes of self-reflection and introspection that point to Wiley’s growth throughout his career, standing in stark contrast to his social media rants.

The emcee continues to exhibit the range that a career balancing grime with more mainstream offerings has given him. “This Is It” slows his flow down and he gets on his half-sung-half-rapped flex. “Balance” scratches the love song itch he always has, affirming his undying loyalty to his love despite impending relationship ruin. Following track “Free Spirit”, which samples SWV’s R&B classic “Weak”, sees Wiley relishing a return to past harmonies—“I wish life was like before, we’ve gotta move forward”—but his intention remains to progress in his life. This shift in mood, typified by slower-tempo instrumentals, lay him bare, further revealing the man behind the rants, the sends and the antics.

By the album’s end Wiley is resolute (as he has been his whole career), having exhibited all sides of himself that we’ve grown to love and hate in equal measure. “Press Record”, the set’s bittersweet finale, pictures Wiley still at war with the music machine (“Last year, I could have killed the game, the system didn’t let me / A&Rs and bosses wishing fans would just forget me”), but he’s still here, coming out the other side intact and nowhere near weary from battle. It’s an energy the grime scene is all too used to and will sorely miss. But the likelihood is he won’t be too far away, because he still has so much to offer.

With his upcoming podcast on the way, Wiley’s transition to a cultural commentator will resume and he will likely continue to big up the generations that follow him. But, ultimately, his true impact will always lie in his music. The Godfather 3 is an exhilarating ride, and if it’s the ride Wiley uses to take himself to the sunset of a glittering career, it will have done him—and grime—all the justice in the world.

Posted on June 17, 2020