Monday, 12 September 2016

THE BIG REVIEW in the ESPspotlight: 'Growing Over Life' - Wretch 32 (2nd September)

As I studied the list of new releases last Friday, the sight of a certain 'Traktor'-riding artist's name prompted a smile of instant recognition. Not just the stereotypical Grime rapper referencing beefs in his postcode and murking competition, boyden, and anyone that looked at them sideways, I have always rated Wretch, because he presents himself as a gentleman among thugs - and that's not just because he gave way to let me pass first as we both exited a club once. The man spits knowledge, he champions moving with intelligence, and that elevates him from a Grime MC to an Artist in my book

His new 12-track set comes packaged in album artwork that at once says something that makes you think. Implying that he's not just in this for fun, but as a means of taking care of his family; it also implies growth since his last release, that fatherhood has taken him on a journey. In short, the image alone, intrigues you enough to make you want to listen to the album. And so I did. I liked it enough that it didn't take long for me to decide to tell you about it.

'Antwi' reminds you what it is about Wretch that romanced you in the first place. His wordplay is of a standard equalling someone whose experience predates his existence on this planet. Coming out of the gate like a prizefighter, he fires at everyone and everything, with shots that hit the mark every time. As if setting the scene, he brings us up to date, not just with what's happened since his last album, but since he was 9 years old, and experienced his first brush with death. Catching all of his metaphors takes more than one listen, but the effort is definitely worth the repeat.

With his trademark 'Ah Yeahs' in the background, 'Pressure' tells us how Jermaine used his stresses to turn him into the diamond that he is today. The last 13 years were his making, and he has no qualms telling you to stay behind complaining if you want to, but warns you not to expect him to stay down with you. By the time I finished listening to this track, it became a fast storytelling favourite.

That was until I heard 'Take Me As I Am'. Featuring Jordan Thomas and Kranium, it had me flashing back to LL Cool J, and his 'break up to makeup' type tracks. Not so much in sound, rhythm or delivery, but in essence. Out to deliver the world to a queen who swears loyalty to him alone, unfortunately, Wretch goes for the wrong type of female - that is, the kind who lives for now, and doesn't support or understand her man's dreams - and he loses her (personally I say good riddance, but hey, I'm a different type of chick...). Kranium and Jordan Thomas in particular's vocals are exemplary.

'All A Dream' is a 2016 take on Notorious BIG's infamous line from the classic 'Juicy'. Knox Brown delivers strengthening background vocals to Wretch's lyrics about rising up against the negative forces, and overcoming the effect of the naysayers. The opening strains and message of finding inner strength both remind me of Michael's 'Man In the Mirror'.

'Dreams / Sunshine' is the smooth collaboration with Pantha and Shakka that talks of seeing the beauty in the world despite the ugliness trying to hold him down. Wretch also tries to school his peers on living smarter, using brains over brawn to get ahead in life. That wordplay shines everstrong, with lines like "Do what you gotta do to get your rainbow, your SMA Gold to make your chain glow" - absolute brilliance.

'Open Conversation & Mark Duggan' is, for want of a better term, when shit gets real. With help from Bobbi Lewis, Avelino, and Varren Wade; Wretch goes back to Jermaine once again, to bring you tales that start with music and end with real gritty life. The metaphors and similes literally take us back to school. Music made the man who he is, and for better or worse, it dictated his direction through the years. Wherever you stand on the cause of the London riots, we are shown a different side of Mark Duggan, from a school friend's perspective. There is pain in the references, to Duggan's children, in the aftermath, when protests ran rife amongst those condoning and vilifying the riots that followed.

'Liberation' brings a touch of reggae rawness in Wretch's delivery. A short interlude of sorts; he talks of recognising local foes, in uniform, and out of it. Because his mind, heart, and courage are free, however, he will always stay triumphant.

'Cooked Food' is my personal favourite, but then it is the designated chick track. Loving that dangerous girl 'like cooked food', he just can't let her go. Seeing a future for his ghetto girl and himself, at times it might be hard to tell her apart from a portion of chicken and chips, but either way - he's hungry.

'I.O.U' featuring Emile Sande is a touching dedication to his Mum. It's a beautiful thing to see a celebrity be man enough to write something so heartfelt to his Mother, without fear of how he will look in front of his friends. Tracks like this show his real growth.

'Something' featuring Laura Mvula is another love letter, this time penned to the lady in his life. Holding her in such high esteem that a pedestal can't reach her; it's clear to see this was written at a time when he was head over heels, and if this isn't a future single, I will stand up out of my wheelchair and run a mile...(to be clear...that statement was only for dramatic effect, don't actually expect me to do it, or anything).

'Church' featuring Teni Tinks and Loick Essien is, as Wretch says, the "cycle of life" that comes with growing up and realising that there is a lot to be grateful for in his life is a lovely gospel moment where both singers go to town after the main star gives reparation for the good things in his life


And so there you have it for this week! A little later than promised, but you know that I always come through in the end! I sincerely hope you enjoyed this piece, if you agree or disagree with my take on the album, please tell me why on YOUR stage below - I'm waiting to hear from you!

Until the next...

Photos courtesy of Twitter, Videos courtesy of LinkUp TV, Charlie Sloth, Noisey and Wretch 32.