Wretch 32’s title for his third album is fitting, to say the least. As opposed to his previous album Black and White, Wretch 32 seems more confident in himself as an artist and the fact that he is able to reach this level of maturity whilst maintaining his unbelievable lyrical ability allows for an enjoyable and critically brilliant album.
With the past 12 months or so that Wretch has had, there was a lot of pressure from grime and rap lovers. His various Fire in The Booths and his joint mixtape with Avelino allowed him to showcase his ability which led to him being acclaimed, not just as one of the best rappers in the UK, but on the planet according to Charlie Sloth and GRM Daily CEO Posty who recently called the lyricist the best rapper alive. It seemed that with this release, the industry wasn’t asking Wretch to better his previous album but to incorporate the lyricism and ability to justify such lyrics like “King Kendrick or Jermaine Cole, Or are you saying “King Wretched” or “Jermaine’s Cold?”
It’s safe to say Wretch 32 delivered. Growing Over Life is a perfect blend of thought-provoking lyrics, catchy hooks, virtuoso instrumentation and storytelling. The Gospel song ‘Church’ sees Wretch’s growth in faith, which is a juxtaposition to where he was spiritually on Black and White, where he raps “Went to church to pray for a top ten then I went top 5, I ain’t been back again.”
Much like the previous album, apart from a stunning performance by Emeli Sandé, 32 enlists a lot of lesser-known talent on this album in terms of features, with brilliant vocals from Knox Brown, Pantha! (who I think is Shakka but I’m not quite sure), Shakka and even voice acting credit from Stefflondon – one of the baddest up and coming rappers in the scene right now. This allows Wretch to tell his stories whilst using features as instruments and props rather than names to attract attention much like Kendrick uses his features in To Pimp A Butterfly.
While the album is easy to listen to with great instrumentals and gripping flows, when you delve deeper into the lyrical content, not only do you find clever punchlines such as “She love me for my net (neck), game, verse, set, match” (a play on tennis and the rapper’s new Vodka called ‘Verset’), but you also find gripping politically charged lyrics like “They say mi shaped like gorilla, that’s why they get away when they kill us”. It’s Wretch’s ability to say so much in so few words that allows this album to have the impact that it does.
One of my favourite moments on the album comes between ‘6 Words’ and ‘Open Conversation’, when Varren Wade sings the reprise “I can’t sing but I wrote you a song that’s grown on me.” Wade’s intro/hook leads into one of my favourite verses from Wretch which sounds like it didn’t take him long to write (but in a good way). It reads like an unstructured trail of thought as he thinks of his past and the struggles he went through, where he is now and the loss of a friend, Mark Duggan who’s death triggered the London Riots in 2012. The B-side of this track entitled ‘Mark Duggan’ uses a vocal excerpt taken from a Black Lives Matter protest, where Stafford Scott Political activist and uncle to Wretch 32 is heard leading a march. This is followed by possibly the most passionate performance on the album by talented RnB/soul singer Bobii Lewis. Together Bobii Lewis and Avelino manage to create an incredibly powerful moment within the album that feels like hours even though it lasts less than two minutes.
Sonically the best and most standout songs are ‘Church’ and ‘All a Dream’. ‘Church’ sees Wretch enlists what sounds like a full choir for this closing track with soulful piano playing, a groovy bass line with clean licks and a harmonious choir that comes in and out. The Gospel influence on the track makes it enjoyable and the song with the most replay value for me. ‘All a Dream’, aside from ‘6 Words’, stands out as the most radio friendly track as it sounds like something produced by Major Lazer with an awfully catchy hook and a beautifully positive message, with a little bit of patois snuck in.
To wrap it all up, I had high expectations for this album, and Wretch managed to gift me with my favourite Wretch 32 album to date, and for that I am grateful.
Image courtesy of Wretch 32 via Facebook