- Mon, 2011-04-18 16:22
With a string of mixtape accolades under his belt, Tottenham rapper Wretch 32 kick-started the year with a BBC Sound of 2011 poll nomination, scoring a nod of approval and ones-to-watch points from fans and critics alike. His huge single Traktor hit number five in the UK singles chart, further highlighting the change in tide for urban and grime influenced MCs making strong waves in popular mainstream haunts.
After chatting to Wretch at the start of the year, I Like Music headed along to catch up with him once more... We chat about his new single featuring Example - Unorthodox, being signed to Ministry of Sound, the importance of mixtape culture, and how, having grown up on an estate in Tottenham with a less-than flattering reputation, he's dead-set on challenging and changing common mis-conceptions about where he is from.
"I Like Music because…it makes me feel me. It makes me express myself, it makes me feel good about myself and feel good about life also." Wretch 32
ILM: We spoke on the phone at the start of the year, you were working on your debut album. How's that going? Have you finished it?
Wretch 32: Almost. The thing with me is, if I had to hand it in tomorrow I could have an album by then. But until I have to hand it in, I'll just keep going. It doesn't drag it on, it just enables me time to make the best CD I can make.
ILM: Since then you've also dropped Anniversary. That track shows a different, softer side to you. What does it mean to you?
Wretch 32: The real stand out line for me is when Alex Mills sings the last line, we fall in love again. For me the song's about that rollecoaster year. So you started going out on the 1st of January, imagine how much you go through from then 'til the next 1st January. You have fights, you split up, you have arguments, someone's cheated...it's just that whole rollercoaster. But then you get back round to the 1st of January and you're still here. It's like, we just weathered the storm man, we're actually dry, we're not wet, we done it, we made it. We fall in love again no matter what happens.
ILM: The video has a moving twist at the end...
Wretch 32: Yeah. I didn't want to make the video too obvious, me rapping to a girl and all that. I don't see myself as that kind of artist. I wanted it to be narration, so it's your life not mine, you don't need to see me in the video. So in the video we just had two actors man. And we kind of put a little twist on it, she's actually going to his gravestone, he's not with us no more. When that twist hit I wanted it to hit home that you should really be thankful for what you have.
ILM: Your next single Unorthodox features Example. How has it been working with him?
Wretch 32: He's one of the coolest guys man, in the world. He's just so street, he's outspoken, he's mad cool man. The tour was phenomenal. When you spend that amount of time with someone, you know, you get along with them man, so now we're still checking on each other, we see each other a lot, especially doing the promo for Unorthodox. I was thinking about half an hour ago, you know, I ain't spoke to him over the last couple of days...I'll send him a text when I finish here!
ILM: Haha! Well, you can certainly tell you're having fun with each other in the video. Cool jackets too...
Wretch 32: Ha! The jackets! You know what...the jackets are creating a stir! I'm starting to wish I could sew! I would've went and got some leather and some cloth and...WA POW! Winning! Tiger Blood! You know?!
ILM: Haha! Unorthodox seems to have quite a strong message behind it too. What does that mean to you?
Wretch 32: I feel like, as an urban scene, we're all unorthodox. This is new to us, this isn't the norm, to see rappers or hear rappers on certain stations. I feel like we're all doing something unorthodox. I feel like every person is unorthodox in their own right because no one is exactly the same as you. No one is exactly the same as me. That's what we really try to emulate in the video. There's a girl doing ballet in one of the worst estates in Tottenham. She's doing ballet across...like, a very dangerous place, you know, where I'm from. It just goes to show that people can have mad talents from anywhere. Little Akai doing the dancing, he's unorthodox but he's mad talented. We just wanted to show that anything that is your talent is you know, a part of the human race.
ILM: Ah. So that's why you got Reeps One in at the end to do some beatboxing...?
Wretch 32: Yeah, the beatboxer, yeah! He's extremely talented... But you know, someone's always going to look at something you do as strange. So you'll always be unorthodox to someone, you know 'that's weird, that's strange, he makes beats with his mouth, she's doing ballet, he's a dancer, he's a rapper...' Someone somewhere finds that strange and unorthodox. I really fell in love with that word man, I just wanted to use it somehow...and that's what I came up with.
ILM: Obviously there are tracks on the album that we're yet to hear, can you tell us about any that are particularly defining for you?
Wretch 32: I got a track on the album that's my favourite, it's called Please Don't Let Me Go. It's basically about being at that point with someone, that point in life, where you just want to be held. Where you just don't want that someone to let go. Whether it be my mum or the music industry... It's just about that feeling, capturing that emotion out there, that specific moment in life. I really felt strongly about that topic at the time, I felt like I executed it right. It's a nice musical moment. Please Don't Let Me Go is a favourite in the album for me.
ILM: You mentioned the ballerina in the video to Unorthodox who dances in the Tottenham estate that you're from. It seems you have a real passion for your roots, how has that affected who you are as an artist?
Wretch 32: When you've seen as much things as my eyes have seen, and you've heard as much things as my ears have heard... I feel like I've got a wide spectrum of life. Obviously I've seen the worst sides of Tottenham, I've seen the best sides. I feel like me narrating stuff that I've seen, stuff that I've done and stuff that I've been through, I feel like a lot of people can relate to me. I feel like people that haven't been through that can listen to it and understand. That's the main thing I want to do, I want people to undersand me, I want people to understand people from my walks of life.
ILM: What type of things do you want people to understand?
Wretch 32: It's really upsetting for me, you know, as a young man walking past a woman who clutches at her bag. Cos it's like...I've got money. I don't need to...I wasn't going to do that. I might be trying to help you, I'm just going somewhere like you are. But at the same time, I understand why she's doing that. I just want someone like her to listen to someone like me and understand a bit more, you know? So yeah, that's one of my main goals. I want people who are afraid of where I come from to understand it. I want them to understand why people are like that, I want them to understand what it's like in shoes that are similar to mine.
ILM: Mixtapes have played a big part in the journey to where you are now. From your point of view, why is mixtape culture so important in the development of young, particularly urban, artists?
Wretch 32: You sort of get to develop yourself as an artist before the world gets to hear you. It really helps people get to know you and it really helps you to understand yourself. It's very important in the scene we come from, because they like to see you've got a work ethic, they like to see that you're here to stay. Us doing the mixtapes is like Wayne Rooney playing football in the park for years, in the cage with his mates. Some people from Manchester somewhere will say Wayne Rooney? You know what, I remember when I was in the cage with him and I tackled him and he came back and won the ball man, he always worked hard. People like to feel like they're with you. That's what mixtapes do. They help you build up your core fanbase and they ride with you man, my core fanbase are riding with me.
ILM: What's your advice to younger artists, right at the beginning of that journey?
Wretch 32: My advice is, nothing happens before its time. Understand that. Try not to let your frustrations show. It is easy to get frustrated when you feel like you're better than a certain artist that is ahead of you. It isn't his fault that he's ahead of you, you know? It's your fault. All you need to do is work as hard as he did, or do something to catch him up and get ahead of him, but never try and pull him down. Some artists are prepared to drag anyone down to get to a certain position on the ladder. In actual fact...there are so many ladders! You can have your own ladder! You don't need to pull anyone down, you just need to work as hard, or twice as hard.
ILM: While you were coming up in North London, the majority of the Grime scene was forming over in East London. How did you approach that?
Wretch 32: Yeah. If you didn't know Wiley or if you didn't know him or him, you wasn't getting heard on the stations that everyone was listening to. We didn't pull any of them down. We just found a different route. They were doing radio, we done cds. I done mixtapes, they weren't doing mixtapes they were doing radio then going to the rave. There's always a different way. Everyone's got a different path. It's all about trying to find a way that you can get to where you need to get to without stepping on anyone.
ILM: Last time we chatted, we spoke about breaking through the glass ceiling of the underground into the mainstream. What does it take to do that?
Wretch 32: You need a massive song. And you know what's weird? A massive song is a gift and a curse. Say Traktor went to number one and Wretch 32 has smashed through the ceiling...now I'm up here. I'll end up on the same stage as someone like Take That or The Script or Pixie Lott. Pixie Lott has more material than me, Take That have years of material. It throws you into a league that you might not be ready to be in. You have to be so careful. It throws you into a new world, you just have to be ready to adjust. You have to have tricks up your sleeve, you have to be prepared for anything. It's so good dying to be here, really wanting to be here, but when you get here, it isn't a joke man, it's not a joke. You gotta stay.
ILM: Is it possible to mantain underground respect when you get to that level?
Wretch 32: It's weird because sometimes, the sad thing is, the reason they like what's underground is because it's underground. So let's say Traktor didn't chart and it's massive underground. The moment it goes commercial and you're hearing it everywhere, it's like man, I like the other stuff. Now everyone knows about it, it's changed. The music hasn't changed, the track is exactly the same, just the perception, it's so popular that it doesn't seem cool to you anymore.
ILM: Is it possible to keep a balance?
Wretch 32: I think some people keep the balance. I feel Skepta keeps the balance, though having said that he hasn't had top fives, it's like top twenties. But he keeps the balance. I think I keep the balance. It isn't easy to keep. I don't think it's anything artists do specifically, it's how much they're exposed. If someone says to me we're going to put your song on this station and ten million people are listening, well, yeah, go for it! Of course! But then when it's up there people are like, hey, this guy's gone commercial. It's not gone commercial...it's the same song, you know? That's just life I suppose.
ILM: You're signed to Ministry of Sound who are not normally known for associations with urban music. What's it like working with them?
Wretch 32: It's cool. You know, it's mad. When you're coming up your perception of a record label is that they're all posh. We forget that they're people, they're looked like at as machines. But they are people, they're cool! They like music too and they have the channel to get it heard where it hasn't been heard. We get to see what it does, I get played in the bigger stations, it's all cool, it's really cool. I am the only rapper so I am priority in the rap section. For me that was a big part of signing. I'm competing with Skepta, I'm competing with Chipmunk, you know. I'm competing with Tinie, I'm competing with Tinchy. I wouldn't want to be on the same label as them. You know, it's not easy man. The fact that I'm the only rapper there is really cool.
ILM: What's left to achieve?
Wretch 32: If I had a succesful album that would put me in a succesful place. Other doors would open, other opportunities. I've always focused on that first. The album is only going to be succesfull if I can make good music. Let me just make the best music I can make. I always just focus on step one, anything else that comes along, if I grab it, I grab it, it's just a bonus.
ILM: What can we expect when we'll see you in Summer?
Wretch 32: I'm going to try and go as in as possible man. I want to make sure I have that mentality where you're treating every show like it's your last. If I come off stage and I'm not sweating, then something went wrong. If I come off stage and I'm not tired, something went wrong. I really just want to give it my all. I went to a lot of festivals last year, the year before, just observing, so I can understand what the bar is. I know where I need to be and I know what I'm capable of. It's just about doing it.
Guest Edit #35: Wretch 32 Take a look here