"This is the journey album, where people are going to see what I've seen; they're gonna feel how I've felt."
Telling the story of your life gets better with experience. After a life rich with trials and accolades, Wretch 32 is ready to deliver his story in the form of his eagerly anticipated fourth album, fittingly named 'Growing Over Life' - and it packs a powerful punch.
The endlessly acclaimed North London rapper puts it simply: "This is the album I've been waiting five years to release - and been waiting a whole lifetime to make". It's a lifetime digested and reflected upon, and 'Growing Over Life' sits neatly in the middle space between rap freestyles and chart hits.
Five years in the making, and with a new energy, the British Caribbean
Londoner has taken a deep breath and relaxed into his musical approach
("my knowledge has increased, and I've got a lot more to say").
As a result, 'Growing Over Life' is uncompromisingly soulful and raw, and expertly stakes his claim as part of a generation of great British singer songwriters.
Since his last album, he's collaborated with the best of British talent, from a collaboration with Emeli Sande on Naughty Boy's 2013 'Hotel Cabana' album, stormed into the Top 10 with the critically acclaimed 'Six Words', and last year, released a mixtape titled, 'Young Fire, Old Flame' that re-ignited his capital with the UK underground. It led to the (now infamous) performance of his 'Fire In The Booth' freestyle on BBC 1Xtra that sent fans into raptures and views into overdrive.
'Growing Over Life' was written and recorded in east London's Genesis Studio, and it was fitting that the team used the space (owned by Phil Collins) to made a sonic point - big songs are part of the fabric of Wretch's music. It's certainly no surprise that Wretch cites the elaborate, expressive music of reggae legends like Dennis Brown and John Holt alongside "enormous records that my mum played by people like Sinead O'Connor and Lisa Stansfield" as influences growing up.
"When I'm listening to songs like that I'm always going back to how those records made me feel" he says. "I think if you're influenced by big songs, like I was, you to make big songs. It's something that's in you."
"Big songs" have appeared at all stages of Wretch's career and chart successes like 'Traktor' and 'Six Words' are testament to the finely tuned ear that has spent a lifetime picking up influential sounds and stories. Now, this album sees him creating a canvas which sees his vulnerability and strength take centre stage.
Musically, this uncompromising fluency of expression means he is as exciting as he's ever sounded. That, alongside a fresh ear for production, thanks to two new producers, 'Mikey and Mo' (Mikey Muzik and Mo-Samuels) has elevated his sound. 'Growing Over Life' is what Wretch considers, a satisfying by-product that comes with "working with family". He met with the South London producers who had been working with the likes of Ariana Grande and Stormzy, and it was this ear, for pop and the underground that appealed to Wretch.
"Musically I feel like my ear's got better" he says. "When it comes to chord progressions and music progressions, I have a stronger influence on the producers that I bring in to work with me. I want to look back and know that this story is mine. When I was making it, I kept thinking, 'this really sounds like who I am now'".
'Growing Over Life' is a confident expression of Wretch taking
things at his own pace, which moves between urgency and calm reflection.
He strikes a balance on 'Antwi', perhaps the album's most powerful moment. Inspired by the death of his friend and mentor, the song deals with issues of class, loss and the day to day realities of estate life and is a captivating moment of sonic vulnerability and power. The clipped bass claps punctuate each word and as he raps, "Man will throw shade on the slums / But I rate what it made me become" and with that, we get a sense of how he navigates his changing world.
Talking about it, he explains, "I want people to listen to this and really understand what it is to grow up on an estate. On Antwi I rap about remember being about eight and going to the shops to buy a tin of corned beef. A car pulled up to do something to me, wound down the windows but saw I wasn't the person they were looking for. Some people don't understand that any day we walked outside of your house we could have been killed for something that didn't concern us."
He says, "In a Caribbean household, children should be seen and not heard. You don't get to ask people too many questions. You spend most of your time listening, or getting out the way. You become fascinated with what's in the room when the door's closed. This album is my opportunity to be in the room, who weren't allowed in what was happening behind closed doors."
Opening the door to a life that shaped his worldview is crucial, and it's in his ability to allow his pain to rise to the surface where Wretch really excels. On 'Dreams to Sunshine', he reflects on overcoming struggle as he raps, "They always want to see struggle / they always wanna put something in my way". Through light, catchy dance-pop lines and clipped bass claps, he discusses the euphoria of finally, realising aspirations that seemed impossible, and we feel the contagious euphoria of the track as he proclaims, "it was all a dream".
On 'Something', over gentle piano lines and soft hums, he brings back the softness of 'Six Words', reinforcing that we are all vulnerable in love as he pays homage to the ecstasy of relationships: "Sky full of stars / hold me in your arms / I just want to dance/you give me something I can feel. Now we're standing chest to chest / we can have a heart to heart / you give me something I can feel".
Later, on 'Church' as he asks, "What are you thankful for?" as he takes us into his wandering mind during a church service. The sunny vocals and gospel inflections conjure up images of his childhood spent in church, as he reflects that "I could have been in jail on a Monday / Instead I'm in church on a Sunday".
'Growing Over Life' is at its heart, a commentary on Britain, and the black British experience in 2016. From constant referencing his roots through live shows - his last tour saw him incorporate fixtures to emulate the street he grew up in including street lights, a phone box and his bus stop - to discussing "have-nots" (Antwi) and race ("Would you walk a mile as a black man in their shoes?" - 'Dreams To Sunshine') this is the culmination of five years of navigating emotion and using the studio as catharsis. As a result, we're met with his most forward-looking offering, drenched with emotional density and rich, pop production at the helm.
'Growing Over Life' is a well-paced, rap offering filled with gentle
vocals, catchy pop hooks and a thrillingly playful relationship with the
mainstream. Honest, unabashed, and ambitious, this is Wretch
ready to secure his position as one of our most exciting home-grown
talents at a time when Black British music has never been more exciting.
Welcome to the journey.