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The Godfather 3 James Butterworth , June 15th, 2020 09:06

Whether or not it ultimately proves to be the last ever Wiley album, The Godfather 3 will remain a thrilling milestone, finds James Butterworth

Whether Godfather 3 really is the final album in Wiley's huge discography, only the man himself knows. It's not the first time he's spoken about retiring – way back in 2007 he said Playtime Is Over would be his last project, and when the first Godfather album came out in early 2017 it was billed as his swansong. But if it truly is his last, then what better way to go out?

Spanning 22 tracks, Godfather 3 is in equal measures a celebration of his own history and the scene as a whole, all the while giving a platform to the new generation of MCs who will fly the flag for grime long after Wiley's contemporaries have called it a day.

Wiley declares his love for grime music from the album's intro, proclaiming, "I do it for the fun of it" as he spits double time over a bass-heavy, self-produced instrumental. This is followed by 'Come Home', featuring Realz and Blay Vision, a rousing turn where Wiley announces he "got [his] vibe from the tower blocks in Bow."

There's plenty on this album that pays homage to grime's past. On 'Alla Dem', Wiley digs up a Scratcha DVA instrumental from the late '00s, his punchy, incensed bars pierced by a militant vocal sample from long-time collaborator Riko Dan. 'The Game' is a reworking of the opener on his 2004 debut, Treddin’ On Thin Ice. 'Rinse', named after the pirate station where he cut his teeth, sees grime's godfather spitting new bars before lapsing into his classic reload bars: "who's on the riddim, the lyrical sniper, all bad boy dem fi flash the lighter."

'Eskimo Dance' is Godfather 3's crown jewel, three-and-a-half minutes of electrifying energy that sees Wiley and 11 other MCs spitting eight bars in succession as the beat switches between various classics of years gone by. Grime stalwarts Jammer, Flowdan and Tempa T are among those representing the old guard, going back-to-back with more recent stars of the genre like Jammz, Capo Lee and Ten Dixon. It's the closest any track in recent years has come to capturing the spirit of the actual Eskimo Dance and Sidewinder raves. 'West London' and 'South London' similarly feature a relay of MCs, both tracks showcasing up-and-coming artists from those parts of the capital.

But although this is an out and out grime album, there are a few moments where Wiley slows down and delves into other styles. On 'Balance', singer Aisa delivers silky R&B vocals over melodious synth sounds as Wiley reflects on the trials and tribulations of romance. Wiley is pensive on album closer 'Press Record', sounding aggrieved as he raps, "Last year I coulda killed the game, the system wouldn't let me / A&Rs and bosses wishing fans would just forget me." On these tracks we're reminded of Wiley's lyrical versatility; he’s just as capable giving sentimental musings on his life as he is spitting fiery, spittle-flecked rave bars.

In a sense, Godfather 3 is more like a mixtape than an album. Many of the tracks are shorter than three minutes and the number of features gives it a collaborative, crew-project feel. But this is what Wiley does best. He's never been one for concept albums or eight-minute tracks with intervals, so it would be strange for him to start now. Godfather 3 is like a 2020 version of his old Tunnel Vision mixtape series, and it's a fitting way for the man to bow out. If this is the last full Wiley album, then it marks an important milestone for one of 21st century British music's most pioneering and visionary talents.