Rating: 0.7 // 10
Released: 05/06/20, Wiley Records
Wiley returns for yet another victory lap, but this time takes the time to champion his fellow veterans, and to shine a light to those waiting in the wings for his crown.
Wiley is a Grime pioneer – it can’t be questioned. Whilst Dizzee Rascal launched his career from the genre (thanks to Wiley), and arguably gave it the first meaningful bit of attention from the media, he quickly moved into more commercial sounds.
Wiley, alongside Giggs, Ghetts and others, stuck to their genre, and carved out the faces on the Mount Rushmore of Grime in the process.
And whilst we’re arguably approaching a third and fourth wave of grime artists, the old heads still remain very relevant in the game.
After dropping arguably his biggest hit ever, Boasty, a features-loaded dancehall inspired track, Wiley proved that he can cater to a mainstream audience – when he wants to.
Despite the rise of grime stars and the genre as a whole, Wiley is still concerned about the longevity of the genre.
Whilst it is true that the jungle-inspired beats are being slowly replaced with more American influences, and many artists are moving towards the new genre of Afroswing and its Dancehall roots, the scene still feels relatively strong.
There are some notable big names missing if this was meant to be the Allstars of Grime, but after Wiley seemingly fighting every fellow star at the end of last year, that isn’t surprising.
But there are 30 artists on here – ranging from both of the Newham Generals, Footsie and D Double E, fellow fathers of the genre, to new blood such as AJ Tracey’s cousin Big Zuu.
Overall, this project is 22 tracks long. To its credit, this feels like an important moment in the history of grime – not just a passing of the torch, but a snapshot of everything that brought the genre to this point.
The opening five tracks fly-by but quickly establish what this project’s mission statement is.
In the opening song aptly named Intro, where Wiley goes solo, he quips:
It’s always been me and mine runnin’ it”
On the second track, Come Home, where he is joined by Blay Vision and Realz, he adds:
This is clearly a passion project for the 41 year-old, who has genuine concerns about the future of a genre built partly off his work.
The Game follows, and is somehow another solo song despite the heavy feature list – and again Wiley highlights his standing in the genre, pointing out that he came before even fellow legends Ghetts and Kano.
If there was any doubt about the intentions of this project, the title of Protect the Empire banishes them.
This track masterfully combines the concept of being on top of the genre, whilst encouraging the next generation once more to step-up.
Fellow oldheads Jammer and K9 back up the sentiment on a very well rounded track.
Yes, at times, the project feels very bloated. The pacing is fantastic – no track overstays its welcome, an no track is longer than four minutes. Whilst cramming 30 features in sometimes becomes detrimental, it produces my favourite moment of the album.
The star-studded Eskimo Dance is only three minutes and half long, the classic length of a single, but there are twelve MCs spitting bars over beats made by thirteen producers.
This is where the preservation of old-grime tradition comes in – rarely seen any more, but this format of MCs having the mic for just eight bars before handing it over to the next was once a frequent fixture of the scene.
Referred to as an “8-bar rally”, the energy on this infectious and never stops.
Delusion, K9, Capo Lee, Flowdan, Jammer, Ten Dixon, Ears, Jammz, Breeze, Big Swingz and Tempa T (in that order) feature, and with the beat switching up for each artist, there is a uniqueness and personality to each MC.
The result is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far.
Alla Dem sees Wiley joined by Riko Dan for just the chorus and the repetition of one line, but this is Wiley bragging about himself.
There’s a fine line between pointing out that the genre was built by Wiley and his contemporaries, and boasting of your own accomplishments and talents.
This is the latter, with Wiley showing off his flow.
One half of the Newham Generals, features on Bars, one of the more forgettable tracks on the album. It is not a bad song per se, but it is a lot more subdued, with simple flows over a very dark and brooding beat that sounds more from the early noughties.
Perhaps for fear of missing out, D Double E’s partner in crime Footsie joins in on the next track, alongside Goldie1 and Flirta D.
Family brings back a bit of energy, with a subtle jungle flavour to the synths and bass, coupling with the four MCs to create a threatening sound.
Wiley switches up the flow completely on This Is It, a more personal self-reflection. Nowhere near as braggadocious or concerned with the state of grime, this is Wiley discussing his fears and thoughts.
Bruce Wayne returns to the more familiar theme of being the creator of a genre, in a far more defensive tone, with links back to the beef he shared with Stormzy and Nolay.
K9 and Jammer return, joined by GHSTLY XXVII for Starring, another track analysing the MCs stature in the scene.
Amsterdam sees Wiley sample his old song, Morgue, which was very much an old-school, more electronic vibe grime track.
Overall the song is decent, but if I was trimming the project down, it would probably end up on the cutting room floor.
The next few tracks sees Wiley discuss those closest to him – firstly his partner, himself, and then his son. Again, Balance doesn’t totally fit the track listing, but is a passable song with a lovely featured chorus from Aisa.
Free Spirit is another self-reflection, a slower track, that once more is by no means a bad song, but it does lean more towards filler.
Whilst we’ve seen family members share stages, tracks and fame in the grime scene, we’re yet to see a father and his son in the game – and that’s exactly what Wiley envisages his son picking up the mic too, on Light Work.
South London and West London, unsurprisingly, feature MCs from the respective areas of the UK’s capital. Definitely designed to showcase the younger MCs on this track, they do their job well.
Big Zuu, Direman, GHSTLY XXVII & K9 come first, on West London, before the South Londoners come through – Blessed UK, Crafty 893, Faultsz, Jon E Clayface & Ten Dixon all feature.
Overall, I really like the idea, and the execution. Not quite a rally, but everything flows well over interesting beats.
The final track, Press Record, is just Wiley spitting over the instrumental of Khalid’s Right Back.
Once more Wiley turns inwards, talking about his struggles and experiences throughout his career. It really feels like this, along with the other more sentimental tracks, could have been saved for a more cohesive record, but if this is the last project we hear from the veteran, it makes sense to release it before he retires.
Overall this project will go down in the history of grime. A classic not because of its quality, of which there is plenty, but mainly for the statement it makes and the bookmark it places in the current story of the genre.
If this really is Wiley’s last album, then it is a fitting reflection of a true UK music legend.
- Intro – B+
- Come Home – B
- The Game – B+
- Da Vibe is Back – B
- Protect the Empire – A+
- Eskimo Dance – A*
- Alla Dem – B
- Bars – B+
- Family – A-
- This is It – B-
- Bruce Wayne – B-
- Double Dragon – B
- Starring – B+
- Amsterdam – B-
- Balance – C+
- Free Spirit – C+
- Light Work – B
- Rinse – C
- Image Ting – C
- West London – B+
- South London – B+
- Press Record – C