Grime and hip-hop have never been great havens for the humble. Humility is tricky for ambitious MCs, as Wiley admits on this tellingly-titled new album.
“I gotta believe,” he raps on the mighty track Can’t Go Wrong, “that I’m the wickedest grime MC on this Earth”.
In fairness, Wiley – aka Richard Cowie – has more reason to boast than most. Now in his late 30s, the self-proclaimed “Godfather of Grime” has ridden the scene’s evolving rhythms for almost two decades. That journey includes big UK chart action for his pappier cuts, including the bling-happy 2008 single Wearing My Rolex.
Godfather finds Cowie back in keeping-it-real territory, however – a little too real, as his 11th album rarely veers from the old blueprint of sparse-but-fast beats.
Grime can be grimly oppressive, and this record largely sounds like a nightclub battle-rap, with numerous relatively fresh guest rhymers on board.
On the militaristic Bang, Cowie explains their recruitment: “If I send for an MC, then man better reply tonight.” There are occasional oases of sonic diversity. U Were Always (Pt 2) channels retro R&B, while the most left-field sounds back up Laptop, which is essentially a three-minute commercial for a certain electronics company, but also explains how he perfected that lo-fi ethos.
His lifestyle might still be similar. If the global news is troubling to many, you won’t find any lyrical reminders of that here.
Beefs are clearly now beneath Cowie, as he is refreshingly upbeat about several rap contemporaries.
Meanwhile, the atmospheric track, Lucid, offers useful advice for lesser MCs: keep striving. “Rise in the morning, I put the work in,” he says. “Flow’s wavy like a duck surfing.”
Well, perhaps, he could have spent a little more time on that particular rhyme.
* Si Hawkins