Tottenham breeds creativity – Soul singers Adele, Lemar and Keisha White hail from the area. But its grimy roots really are showcased by its hip-hop acts like Wretch32 and Chip.According to Wretch, he was once his schoolteachers worst nightmare but now he’s called the UK rappers rapper and metaphor man.
Jermaine Scott Sinclair -Wretch 32 (three-two), is the son of a local reggae DJ in the Tiverton Estate- which explains the clear dancehall beats juxtaposed with his north London lyrics that are full of metaphors and soulful hooks and melodies, that will keep you humming for hours after hearing one of his hits. It’s this partnering of dancehall vibes and his soulful melodies that are cool yet classy that have become his signature trademark sound.
Wretch was a member of the grime collective “Combination Chain Gang”, before forming The Movement with Scorcher, Ghetts, Mercston. He initially found underground fame by selling over 15,000 copies of his mix tapes in and around Tottenham ‘’the mix tape scene is like artist development’’.
He’s cut from the cloth of the original rap legends that rhyme about their personal lives. All Wretch’s tracks are like his personal diary in music form as opposed to just another materialistic hip-hop ego trip.
The word ‘Wretch’ might be associated with unfortunate or unhappy people but Jermaine couldn’t be further than that with one of his Adidas shod feet stuck firmly in his glamtastic showbiz life, and the other still grounded back in ‘’Totty’’. (Incidentally re his name; – His mother was from Jamaica, where “wretch” meant slim or skinny. She called him “Wretch” as a child, and the name stuck. 32 is his lucky number and he thought it would be fun to have a number as a surname, so he added 32 to the end of Wretch)
A fully royal member of the #TeamUK family, a look at his twitter timeline shows that he regularly highlights and shows support to his fellow music peers and is as loved by the scene as well as his die hard loyal fans.Now he’s the kingpin act at the centre of a very talented collective called Renowned, which is also home to his peers George The Poet, Jacob Banks, Knox Brown and more as well as sports and media arms. Like Jigga said he’s a ‘business man’’.
He’s a humble, understated character that has reason to trumpet about his successes. His first single Traktor in January 2011 was a huge hit. In 2010, the BBC nominated him for the BBC’s Sound of 2011 and MTV named him as a nominee for MTV Brand New for 2011. The same year he had three top-five charting songs from debut album Black and White and amassed over a million record sales. The following year he was used by both Adidas and coca cola as one of the main faces of their London 2012 Olympics campaigns and on 1 July 2012 he won ‘Best International Act’ at the 2012 BET Awards. His single ‘’Don’t Go’’ featuring Josh Kumra flew to number one in the UK charts. If I were he, the temptation to brag would be just a lil bit tempting.
The end of this year will see him release his third studio album Growing Over Life. We sat down with him this week, for an update on how that albums coming along …‘’I’ve been working hard in the studio on the album, I’ve had it finished for a while now. I was just touching up everything, doing my finishing touches. It’s sounding like a great body of work, its exactly where I want it to be, and its where I exactly what I want it to be. So I’m happy. It’s called Growing Over Life because I think it’s something we all do without even realising. I always remember on my birthdays I would always jump out of my bed and run to my wall and see if I’d got taller. Sometimes I’d say to my mum ‘mum I never got taller this year’ and she said ‘you don’t grow overnight, you grow over life’ and it’s something that just stuck with me, so I thought I’d just incorporate that with the record. My brand new single 6 words is definitely the most heartfelt piece of music on the record, sonically nothing sounds like it on the album, but it still fits through the whole journey because it’s like a journey of my life. It’s just that moment where I wore my heart on my sleeve, kind of stepped out of my comfort zone, to just show a bit of vulnerability if you can call it that. So yeah, I think it’s incredible. I wouldn’t say it’s my most vulnerable album yet, I’m like a cry baby, well sort of, so it’s not my most vulnerable album, but this record is definitely one of my most vulnerable singles. I’ve had like a million ideas as to what the video can be like and it’s just narrowing it down. I’ve spoken to loads of different directors; I’m actually in the process of trying to get 2 directors to work together. I dunno how that’s going to go, I’ll find out by the end of today!’’
Testament to Wretch’s talent and brand, is the fact that all his videos are well thought out pieces of visual narrative, that don’t ever rely on the old worn out stereotype of sexy dancing girls or materialistic wealth. Neither do they look like they’ve had thousands spent on them. They are slick, powerful and effective, complimentary to his vulnerable heartfelt lyrics. This often means he’s referred to as a more conscious, backpack, positive vined rapper. If he is a conscious rapper he has succeeded where many other edutainment MC’s have not in this age where record labels only aspire to sign quick win corny, lazy buffoon like acts. He would say
‘’I think conscious rap is overlooked slightly because, when you think of conscious rappers you might think of Akala, Common, both who maybe should have accumulated more sales, but they both do exceptionally well in each of their lanes. But I think the majority of people just want to have fun. I think when you listen to something that’s very serious, you take it in, you sit down and take it in, and you’re thinking ‘man that’s deep, I get it now, I get it.’ But when you listen to a club tune, you’re just like ‘I want to go to the club’. It’s just 2 completely different moods. I think the majority of people would prefer stuff that’s just, I wouldn’t say uplifting because a lot of conscious stuff is still uplifting, just want to turn up to be fair’’.
Wretch isn’t blind to the challenges that he has had to face when being described as a conscious rapper. ‘Being quite a conscious rapper means you definitely face the challenge that people say or think you are boring. I’ve noticed that when I’ve made certain records, even my own friends will say it to me. My mate will say to me ‘ah bro stop preaching man, if people want to hear that they’ll buy a book’ and I’m like ‘OK, I get it’ I get that that’s just some peoples philosophy on the whole thing, it’s just important to understand. Even me, some days I’ll wake up and I might see something pop on my twitter and I’m going to wanna challenge this lyrically, I’m gonna wanna speak about this. Some days I’ve been in a club, gone home and haven’t slept, gone to a studio session and all I can think about is how sick last night was, I’m gonna make a record that reflects that. With me, my art is just a reflection of my life’’.
When describing the state of hip hop at the moment, how its been perpetuated by the mainstream and the direction he see’s it heading in, Wretch ponders ‘’I think hip-hop right now is very diverse, a lot of it I like, a bit of it I don’t like. It’s interesting how to come through you used to have to go through a series of things. You used to have to be mad credible, have a background check, freestyle you’re head of, like rapping for time. Now, its like, you might have a rapper who has popped up, he’s got one tune and he’s come through and he’s as big as the guy who has done like 25 mixtapes, put in hundreds of thousands of hours of his time or whatever and its not weighing up sometimes. But I always say to people, and there is a lot of frustration with artists ‘how come this, how come that?’ but I say look ‘If it comes in quick, it might go (out) quicker’. The longer it takes to get in, the longer who are going to appreciate staying in and the longer you’re gonna be there in the long run. If something just lands in your lap, you might just push it off”.
I bear testament to Wretch’s grind that he’s put in over the years. Back when I was at MTV Base, Wretch used to come in and hang out as a friend of the brand and also our then intern (now super director) JakFrsh. Their friendship meant I was in the know about Wretch long before he hit the big time He is still today exactly the same well mannered, friendly, articulate young man he was back then many years ago whe he used to come in and chill out at my desk updating me on his latest mixtape and putting down verses for MTV’s Black History Month.
Wretch is aware that people expect all rap acts to branch out into other businesses but he’s making his moves slowly, deliberately and surely unlike many other acts that sign checks for any and every offer that comes up. ‘’There’s many ways nowadays for Hip Hops artists to be entrepreneurial. Of courses you have clothing which goes hand in hand like merchandise which a lot of people do, then you have some artists that open up modelling agencies, because they have a direct link with all the rappers that want to use of all the models for different video’s, then you have some people open up record labels, some people want to sell books. There’s so many things people can do, people like Jay Z have shown that its limitless. Even Pharrell – what they do with clothing and how far they take it- Kanye with the Yeezy’s, even someone like Lethal B with his clothing in the UK – Dench. I think its endless and there is a lot you can do. Probably merchandise is a common area because it goes hand in hand- you wear something, people like what you wear, it happens to be made by you, it happens to be sold on your site and at your tour and that’s also the most obvious direct way of income. I think it’s just how well you manage your brand. If you’re that person that always dresses well, one day I’m going to ask you “raah where did you get your jacket from” and then an artist might reply “naah this is actually one of mine I made it, I manufactured it you can buy it for £69.99 ” and they might reply “incredible I’m going to go an buy one” It kind of just goes hand in hand’’.
HYPER-MASCULINITY IN HIP-HOP
When listening to Wretch’s songs or watching his videos, we are never under any impression that he’s attempting to follow the blueprint for of the hyper masculine American hip hop that came before the UK acts blew up. Hyper-masculinity in hip-hop and the different stereotypes and pressures male hip-hop artists can face are heavy. There seems to be a lot of focus on how women are being stereotyped and objectified in hip-hop videos and lyrics, but this focus doesn’t really extend to the men. Wretch doesn’t think that the females or males have to stay in a box. ’’I think you’ve got to look at the rapper that’s at the forefront- there’s the guy that wears his heart on his sleeve, Drake, and there’s always people criticising him, but he’s the man of the moment. I think it was a beautiful thing that he even came through to get to the position he’s in now. He’s not typical- he’s not street, he’s not hood, he’s not from New York, he’s from Toronto. So I definitely think him coming through and him being so successful broke down a lot of boundaries. I think there’s a lot of other rappers coming through- it’s cool because it did used to be strict and tough and people had to speak about a certain thing and project themselves in a certain way. But now people are allowed to be more themselves, there’s a new wave of people coming through like the J Cole’s who’s not really ‘hood’, but what they do is make the everyday guy feel like it’s possible and I think it’s incredible to have the balance. Then there’s the 50 cent story, which is a story that many people are attached to, there are people who feel like something like that has happened to them in their life, and they just want to rap about it, because that’s the opportunity for them to get out of that situation- and I think it’s great that there is an art which allows that kind of platform. Of course, in everything, it’s right that there is a balance. I think the Drakes and the J Coles balance it out with the 50 Cents and the Young Jeezy’s’’.
Just watching Wretch walk down any part of London’s streets is incredible. He gets mad love. Wretch is looked up to by thousands of younger British music acts and is happy to play an older mentor role ‘’ It feels good knowing that artists are looking up to me. I feel like I’m quite a sensible character and it’s not like I’m going to lead anyone astray. There were many artists that I looked up to and they were very sensible and it helped to guide me and helped keep me on the straight and narrow. I think it’s important because I’m very interactive also, It’s not like I’m mad out of touch or out of reach, you can find me somewhere or contact someone that knows me and I can give you advice’’.
Not only is he a mentor to others but also looks up to acts that inspired him. Jay Z is his favourite artist but he doesn’t feel the need to emulate his style and knows he’s created his own, very unique lane. ‘’Jay is a rap hero, one of my idols, because lyrically, I think he’s the person who pushed me into the position I’m in. I think the consistency; the level of dedication to his craft, his professionalism, his mannerism is something that I admire. You don’t have to be similar to people you admire. The world doesn’t need another Jay Z or another Wretch32- and it definitely doesn’t need another Kanye!’’
HOMOSEXULITY IN HIP HOP
Snoop Dog has quoted that he doesn’t think homosexuality will ever be accepted in the rap music because, “rap is so masculine”. Wretch isn’t sure how this ignorance can be fixed. ‘’That’s a question that I couldn’t directly give you an answer for, I can only answer on stuff close to me, so like if I have a mate that was.. you know.. and he was working in music and wanted advice, I would say ‘be you, rap about you, rap about what you want to rap about’ and I think that’s the problem- I think people have a problem with others not being genuine. So, I’m a guy who’s into girls, and if I was rapping about boys, it would sound weird, it would sound wrong, because it’s not genuine to me. So if there was a rapper that was into something else, you just have to be genuine and be about hat you’re about and rap about it, and whoever is into that, would take to it. But if you think you’re too short, too tall, too dark, or whatever, it doesn’t make sense you just sit in your house and do nothing about it, because nothing is going to happen that way and there won’t be any changes. So it takes for you to come out and make that step’’.
Wretch does also acknowledge that fear of coming out can play a big role in a gay rappers career. ‘’There’s always going to be a fear in coming out… but if you’re in fear, you’re feeling like you’re doing something wrong. If you’re feeling like you’re doing something right, you’re in full right to behave and continue in whatever you’re doing in life. If you feel like you’re doing something wrong, then it’s going to restrict you and that’s a problem on yourself and something you have to deal with. You have to be comfortable in your own skin everywhere and I’m comfortable everywhere. There’s times where, with me being this tall and this dark, sometimes there’s an issue- but guess what, I’m going to walk in that door and I’m going to be Wretch 32. I’m not going to let anything limit me and I’m going to do what I’m here to do. So I’ll just advise ANYBODY in ANY circumstance- to be them and go for what you want to achieve. It’s up to you, I’m not going to pull you out your house, and nobody’s going to pull me out’’.
HIP HOP AND POLITICS
Hip hop and UK politics has never had a warm glowing friendly relationship. Nothings changed since Lethal B called David Cameron a donut in the broadsheets. Wretch thinks that Hip Hop can better engage people with politics. “I think in order for hip hop artists to help people engage into politics they have to understand it better, if I’m honest it isn’t something that I dwell in too much because I almost look at that like a separate world that I have no control over and it’s like, I find it quite interesting that someone like myself couldn’t tell Gordon Brown or Tony Blair, any of these people how to run the House of Commons but they can tell me how its gonna go in Seven Sisters and how its gonna run in Tottenham and how its gonna run in London, because I haven’t been in your world and you haven’t been in mine. So it should be you something you’re coming to me, or you’re coming to us and asking us what do we need’’.
Now talking about an area he feels passionately about he adds ‘’How do you get in contact with these people? You go through a million things but, this is when you need someone who can translate and this is something we see in a guy called George the Poet, where for me, he is the direct mediator because he can speak their language and he speaks our language and he understands so if we can all support him and get him where he needs to be, where he can communicate with them, nobody else will have to. Cos we are two different people walking two separate walks of life they look down on us, and we look down on them, so automatically it’s a conflict of interest, and it’s a lack of knowledge, a lack of knowledge on our front and a lack of knowledge on their front, and understanding, so if you have one person in the middle they can walk the tight rope.”
Last week the controversial Exhibit B show at The Barbican was cancelled on its London dates due to protests. Of course Wretch had an opinion “I was trying to read the pluses and the minuses on either side but I couldn’t quite understand why people would want to see black people in a cubicle in a museum, I couldn’t understand the attraction, I just couldn’t get my head around it, so I don’t think I’m with it to be fair, I don’t think I’m with it, I’m not that person that’s going to scream out with the lack of education, because there’s been many times where I’ve seen someone scream out about something like that and it’s a black person that created it so now it’s like you’re screaming at yourself like, why you screaming, you should have just understood the education and maybe it was something positive in the end but, I couldn’t see the positive in it, I couldn’t understand it, people arguing that it was art, technically if I walk past you in the street is that art then, why don’t I just walk past you in the street why don’t we appreciate that as art why do we have to dig up this history and just have people standing still in cubicles.”
Hip-hop and Shakespeare
I’ve often heard rappers verbal dexterity described as modern day Shakespeare. Wretch agrees that the ability to form phrases and clever wordplay isn’t just something that belongs to the golden olden ages ‘’I definitely think there are some similarities to some hip hop artists and people like Shakespeare. I think when I listen to some rappers and I hear some of their play on words some of the stories, some of the metaphors and similes and double entendre there’s some things that some of the rappers are doing that I doubt have been named yet”.
America isn’t the only place where hip-hop stars have university modules named after them and students study rappers lyrics. ‘‘There’s many times where I’ve gone to school and given English lessons and we’ve broken down some of my songs and It’s like I’ve explained some of the metaphors are and what the similes are and what the similarities are and etc. and I think like it was cool to do that and I think the kids are really engaged and at that point that where I realize that what I’m actually writing. It’s a bit more than just rap I’m not stringing words together I’m giving a lesson to kids here so it’s quite interesting’’
Trying to envisage hip hop for the future, Wretch predicts ‘’I think in years to come there might even be rap shows in the theatre, I might do a tour in theatres instead of normal venues and just stage it different and light it different and perform different, and maybe not even hold the mic, maybe just you know how it goes in the theatre you never know it’s just going to take one person to make that step and everyone’s just going to follow suit’’
Reflecting back to his own school days and how great it would’ve been if he had been able to study acts like grandmaster flash or Eric B and Rakim , Wretch smiles ‘’I think they should definitely pick some songs to be a part of the English module because I just remember being a kid, and I remember my teacher sitting me down saying, look you’re like one of the worst behaved kids I’ve ever tried to teach in my life, and my problem I have with you is like when you write stories, anything you write is incredible but why are you like this?, why are you so disruptive/ and I’m like, I don’t particularly care about what I’m learning about, and had I of had a lesson where I had a rapper that I respected, or a song I knew back to front was the actual lesson I would have paid a lot more attention, because they might have been telling me things that I didn’t even realise. Even like that might have been an easier way to describe what a metaphor is for me, do you know what I mean, or what a simile is for me at that age. I think that there are probably a million kids in this country that would benefit from them, so sometimes it’s just about trying. Because that lesson that I took part in for the kids, it was incredible, they learnt so much and even I learnt something, because sometimes the teacher would say ‘what you done In that last line that was onomatopoeia’
Hip Hop and Religion
One thing that doesn’t cross over from American hip hoppers to the UK as much as other hip-hop ingredients, are the constant references to God and religion. How much of a role does religion play in Wretch’s life and work? ’’ I was christened, all my siblings were christened and my mum was someone who went to church, my grandparents went to church. But my mum used to take us sometimes, and then she stopped, so it didn’t become part of my life. It became part of a tiny piece of my childhood. But at the same time, I understand the importance. For me, I’ve always believed that there is a God, always believed in God. It’s funny, because you turn to God when things are going wrong and expect him to make everything alright, which isn’t right, it’s just the reality of it.”
Wretch is able to understand hip-hop acts reverence to religion though “Because Hip-Hop is mainly for a set of people that have come from nothing. And when you’re coming from nothing, you look for hope. God is hope. Rap is an opportunity, opportunity and hope go together. So in your path of opportunity, you’d love there to be some hope that your fruition comes true. So it kind of goes hand in hand and I don’t think, it’s like a religious thing, like yeah it’s Monday and I am going to make a religious song and say god and then Tuesday. It’s just when you feel the need. Your gonna say a pray and that’s just part of our culture. You might pray before you eat, you might pray at Christmas dinner- you know the Americans might pray thanksgiving- its part of your culture. It may not be every day, every week or every month, but you do always have a moment where our thankful and you reflect. I don’t think there is a contradiction between rap and religion, because rap is art. You can rap about whatever, because at the end of the day, you’re telling a story, you’re just a communicator or the person who the art is coming to. I’m in control of what I am writing and at the same time I am not in control, because it’s coming to me from somewhere and its just for me to get it out from somewhere. I don’t think it’s a contradiction, but what would be a mad contradiction is if you were rapping some kind of devil thing, that’s an obvious contradiction’’.
Will Wretch’s new music hit the top of the charts? Will he continue to inspire younger music acts across the UK? Will he continue to be a great musical role model in the #TeamUK movement? As he himself is known for saying…I’m certain the answer is ‘’AH YEAH!’’
Wretch released his new single 6 WORDS on November 16th with his album GROWING OVER LIFE following soon after.