UK rapper Wretch32’s new album, Growing Over Life, was long awaited by his fans and took a whole new serious route than his usual offerings. The BET Award winner’s 12 new tracks juxtapose social commentary, thoughtful bars and powerful insights throughout and gained a top five UK chart position. Not that Wretch cares about awards and chart numbers ‘’ I never feel pressure for chart success. I feel more pressure to do a good Fire In The Booth’. Wretch’s latest album tackles subjects relevant to youth globally, like challenging relationships, parenthood, police brutality and celebration of life.
I sat down for an exclusive chat with one of the most important voices from the UK hip hop scene today.
JASMINE WITH WRETCH32.
Growing Over Life clearly shows you’ve had a serious, mature, tough journey through these last few years with adult responsibilities being a priority. I myself watched you and your loved ones bury a close friend earlier this year. How tough have the demons and life been this time around and how have you dealt with them?
The affect that my good friend music industry figure Richard Antwi’s death had on me….it was big… I always sent records to Richard for feedback. When I sent him a track called “intro” he loved it. Told me I was a beast and I should attempt America. The conversation carried on. Then that phone chat ended. Less than a week afterwards he passed away. That was the last thing he said to me. He was like my older brother. Without him I don’t know if this could’ve ever been possible. He taught us so much. That’s why I named my intro track “Antwi” in honour of him.
I’m one of those peeps that take things in my stride and have learnt to be thick skinned and expect nothing from anyone. It’s easier if you don’t have expectations and then you can’t be disappointed. I learnt that I’m more comfortable being emotional this album. I used to think it wasn’t manly to cry but now I don’t care. When I recorded “6 words” I cried. No one spoke in the studio. Boys being boys. It’s sick when it’s like that.
I also learnt that a lot of what sells the record is excitement about it and driving promo. This time around I had a mix tape with (fellow rapper) Avelino and peeps have really been open to the lyricism in that. In the past I’ve put out the best song. Now it’s about the track where I’m rapping most. I also did a Fire In The Booth (BBC brand where rappers spit whole verses for radio), session then a song then a mix tape. Full on!
Also with my music, I’ve taken responsibly back with things like directing my videos and plotting campaigns because I’ve learnt more and understand my audience a lot more now. I now know I have to be consistent with my videos. I used director Matt Walker for my video ‘’Antwi’’ and a few others. He’s cool and gets it. They (directors) come to my house about ideas. They tell me what’s realistic because in my head it’s got to look like a Spielberg production. Its like when people ask if there will be a tour to accompany this album; It’s got to make financial sense. We have to have a good return. Often we can lose more than we can make. It’s usually my fault cos I’m a prick cos I want to add more stuff to my staging cos I like a big spectacle on stage. I want it to be memorable but in order to do that I lose money.
So with videos and tours I used to believe that the director is best to do job, and the team know what’s best with tour’s, but I now know its also important to trust in my own ideas. I’m a writing specialist but as I learn I sit down and talk and be a lot more realistic.
You’re very known as a deep wordsmith – Growing Over Life is full of social commentary and slick wordplay, but so much new rap content these days is very weak on lyrics and new artists don’t seem to care about spending hours on clear lyrical content anymore. Do you as a current leader think that this matters for the culture? Can you talk about that?
Different people have different roles to play and different people think differently. If you were born in 1990, your favourite rapper may be Gucci Mane or Young Thug or Future, not Jay Z, so I think It’s dependent on what you’ve grown up with and been influenced by. Biggie, Nas, Jay were all rappers that used similes and metaphors that caught my ear and so that’s what I was influenced by so I guess it’s just about perspective. Both styles have a purpose. No one wants to hear serious songs like my ‘Antwi’ in a club or live lounge but there’s a place for it and vica versa.
Growing Over Life also touches on police brutality, which is both a huge issue in the U.S as well as in the UK. Recently the #blacklivesmovement seems to have been hijacked in the UK by middle-classed white protesters managing to shut down City Airport, with the environment and pollution as justification. In fact there was not one black face amongst the protesters, did this make any sense to you and does it worry you that by speaking up about political issues that it may impact your own music career?
What I do like is sometimes you need to create noise and become annoying to get your point across. The good child that’s quiet might not get all the opportunities. Sometimes our natural thought is to go to police station when e’re unhappy, but when these people go to disrupt the airport it’s annoying but then people want to listen and understand why they’ve been disrupted, so in turn they may wanna help sort it out. Its ironic, they don’t mind the ghetto being a mess but when its the M25 and airport its all up in the news. I do like that element.
Realistically for example, the government doesn’t care if 2000 people demonstrate in Tottenham but once it’s a national problem that’s disrupting everyone they pay attention.
Having said that, I do hope it’s coming from a sincere place with those white demonstrators. I didn’t have an issue with them not being black at all. I may go on a march about blocking sex offenders without having personally been affected by a sex offence, because as a parent I feel connected to the cause. So I guess they as humanity feel connected to our cause too. It’s the human empathetic connection. If they’re coming from a sincere place then I’m ok with it.
In last couple of years you’ve been more politically conscious. You even titled the second part of your record “Mark Duggan” after the young black man killed from your area. I know your gran and dad were really connected to the community and your uncle is an activist always fighting for justice. (Stafford Scott, who has written for The Guardian and co-founded the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign in 1985). You’ve mentioned in the past that in your house there’s a poster of Winston Silcott. (One of the “Tottenham Three”, black men who were convicted in March 1987 for the murder of Polce Constable Blakelock on the night of 6 October 1985 during the Broadwater Farm Riot, in north London, despite not having been near the scene. All three convictions were quashed on 25 November 1991 after scientific tests suggested the men’s confessions had been fabricated) .So you’ve grown up around a family that’s really into politics.
With Mark Duggan, I wanted to speak for the people who lived here in my community. To me he’s not a news statistic or video clip. He’s someone I went to school with.
“Open conversation” is a track about me opening a page in my diary. These are my thoughts as a child. I mentioned Mark’s children at the end of the record.
I never worry about my political lyrics and I think it’s my duty to speak from the heart. When I do that it’s never wrong. We are all in a senior place now and more serious and so it’s important to speak on stuff. I’m looking at secondary schools for my son. Being a parent is a responsibility! I’m looking at routes to school. It all plays on in your head. Which schools are producing good consistent results….
I went through it all myself 16 years ago and here I am 16 years later thinking about it all again!
Maintaining a relationship whilst making music is a topic you cover on the latest album, and it’s a topic that a few other UK artists have made songs about this year. You’ve said that you haven’t been in a serious relationship in years and if you’re making a song about relationships you pick and choose several real life experiences to mix up on a track. Would it be fair to say that you have had to sacrifice love to focus on a successful career. What is the one thing you need a potential wifey to understand/do/get down with?
I do think I’ve sacrificed love for my career. I’m not selfish. A relationship is 50/50 with the time that you both commit. And when it comes to love I just don’t think I’m at that stage where I’m ready to give 100 percent. Its affected my relationships yes. I look for understanding in a woman. For example I can start a music session at noon and end at 6am. Who would understand that regularly? Taxi drivers have the same problem I imagine.
My era had a lot more R&B and soul to keep us all quite romantically minded. I get the impression youth nowadays are less romantic and more sexualized. How do you feel?
I think the energy of what’s around you growing up will affect your thought process and so music does affect ideas about life. If all the kids today are listening to tracks like ‘’These hoes ain’t loyal’ (Chris Brown) ’ instead of like back in the day we had ‘’ Let’s get married’’ (Jagged Edge), then one-night stands could be seen as priority to them instead of a long-lasting relationship.
Even though you’ve used female features on the album from names like Emeli Sandé, Laura Mvula and more, the grime and hip hop scene in the UK is very male dominated, where are the ladies and why are they not as prominent as the guys?
If I’m honest I think some of us are slightly biased. I’ll tell you why. Lady Leshurr and Lil Simz are sick. But as an MC you may have a concept about a certain song that you’re making and then a male MC comes to mind for a collaboration and maybe a female name only comes to mind on relationship themed tracks. Also, with us guys we are often circulating and sharing fans when we collaborate.
As well as that, with us guys I think we all support each other cos we’re fans of what we all do. My worst enemy could have a good song and I’ll tell them. We care about the scene and ourselves. There can’t only be one star – there has to be room for all of us. You know when Skepta’s doing a tour, we’ll all just jump in a van and go out and join him onstage and that way we’re sharing fans and that keeps it exciting cos we bump into each other at live shows all the time.
Is it this ‘sharing and circulating of fans’’ that’s been the top winning element of the UK grime scene making it without major record deal signings?
Record deals. It’s about building super deals. Signing to a mainstream label helps financially cos you receive an advance and then you can just focus on the music. Now it’s about super teams and I understand radio, TV pluggers and press teams managers and A&R. Nowadays finances can come from anywhere but I know it’s a major factor to have a team on board that you’ve handpicked.
I’ve been fortunate cos with the label deal I’m in, I was able to bring my team to my label, but I had to go through both situations to understand them, so now when I speak to Stormzy I tell him ‘I found hurdles here and here’ and I talk about options that he can think about, so my experiences can be useful to others.
Nowadays we all collaborate with each other all the time like never before. It’s interesting, the other day I was talking to (singer) Shola Ama and I told her that I couldn’t believe that back in her era that she and Craig David didn’t have a song together?! I was a fan of both so we would’ve lapped that up. I couldn’t understand why was there no duet?
Hilary or Trump to lead the world next- One is hated, the other is more hated. Discuss?
Hhhmmm Hilary or Trump. I’m still following only God. However, If I had to pick from cancer and leukemia I’d pick Hilary.
This year’s MOBO Award’s is coming up – I know there was a disappointing year when people believed that you were snubbed when you’d had a big year – but awards shows and voting is always a minefield in itself. How do you look back on it now …with some perspective?
With the MOBO’S I learnt a valuable lesson. I have no feelings towards it any more. It put me off awards ceremonies for good as well as attending them. As artists we’re all naturally competitive. But in that scenario all you’re thinking is ‘’Did you really lose though?’’ After all It was just a moment. But you bought a suit and sat with your family and yes, I felt like I’d lost. So I’ve stopped attending so much stuff like that now, I don’t go the MOBO Awards.
I don’t know if I’d attend The Brits if I was nominated. I really didn’t like that feeling of all of us being pitted against each other. The bottom line is we are all winning now without mainstream stuff like that. We’re winning man!!!!
Your song All a Dream is one of my fave tracks on the album. What’s your biggest dream to achieve in your career, could American chart success be for you in the future?
My biggest dream to help people who are talented. I hear talent and I want that to be magnified. Whether my future involves me building a label? Being a mentor? Even watching my peer – fellow singer Shakka – at his live gig at Koko this past month, I felt teary and emotional. I recall calling him early on and keeping him motivated. His gig was sick! Being able to do my song Blackout with him and taking him to festivals has opened him up to so much more. So I’d love to get involved with mentoring talent like that more.
I wanna do it America, but at this stage in my life my son’s ten, my daughter’s five. They’re going through lots of change. Can I just leave for six months? I wouldn’t wanna waste their time and my time. The biggest problem with America is the audience out there understanding our style and lyrics and language. But having said that, when I was younger listening to Jay Z I decoded his words so really American peeps should now do that with us. Yeah, American recognition or from anywhere in the world is important. I’m never in the studio making music for just a few people!