Always you reach, but sometimes you miss. Wretch 32 missed with his first album, 2008’s ‘Wretchrospective’, which didn’t exactly set the charts alight. But it did set the wheels in motion for the record that would prove to be the Tottenham rapper’s breakthrough: 2011’s ‘Black And White’.
Clash might not have rated the man’s second album too highly at the time – it achieved a 5/10 review on these pages – but it connected with the mainstream in a big way. Lead single ‘Traktor’ peaked at five, and its follow-up ‘Unorthodox’ went to number two. And then, to complete the ascent, third single ‘Don’t Go’ hit the top spot in August 2011.
The success of ‘Black And White’ has transformed Wretch 32 – Jermaine Sinclair to family and friends – from an underground rapper with an array of mixtapes beneath his belt, to a bona-fide household name. He’s been working hard on an as-yet-untitled third album, and recently released its lead single, ‘Blackout’, reviewed (by Little Boots) here.
Clash gave the man a ring to catch up on the progress of album three… and to see what his beloved Arsenal can do to improve their Premier League fortunes.
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Hi! So, it sounds like you’re outside…
Yeah, I’m just on my way to rehearsals.
Ah, yes. Important, those. So, diving right in: a lot’s changed for you since the success of ‘Black And White’, I guess…
The most significant change has been the workload! It’s like life has become work, and work has become life. Which is actually always what I wanted, so I am enjoying it. But it’s definitely something you have to get used to.
Does anyone get used to having other people, other forces, running their life for them?
Well, it’s interesting, like. Y’know, you never really get used to having to put one of your children’s birthdays into the diary, just so that nobody else books you to do something for that day. Otherwise someone will have you elsewhere. And I don’t think I want to get to the situation where I’m double-booked for, like, my daughter’s second birthday.
So, as everything’s blown up around you, you’ve focused on keeping those family ties tight?
Definitely, yeah. It’s important, man.
Looking back at the biggest breakthrough moment of your career, the number one for ‘Don’t Go’. What was it like to hit that high after just falling short previously?
It made it sweeter, y’know? ‘Unorthodox’ had been number one in the mid-weeks, so I’d had a brief taste of being at the top spot, on the Tuesday, y’know? But then, of course, we got knocked off. So it was, like, aww shit. But, being at number one wasn’t actually something we ever thought could have happened – we didn’t think that would ever be possible. So when I got to number two, it gave me real belief that going one better was possible. And getting that number one, it felt like a massive improvement, and it really made me appreciate all of the work that’d gone into getting it, having lost it before. It was an incredible feeling.
And once the ‘Black And White’ cycle, if you will, was complete, you put out the ‘Wretchercise’ mixtape, and also reissued the debut album…
I think that people get anxious, when you go away – they want to hear a body of work from you. And across my whole career, I’ve always put out mixtapes for free. So I was like, if I didn’t have anything ‘official’ to put out, I still had to get something out there. Which was a bit strange for the label to understand, y’know, taking these 17 songs and giving them away for free. But doing mixtapes, that’s something that this genre does. They keep you on your toes, and you get to work with people that you might not otherwise, when working on albums ‘proper’, for whatever reason.
The producer on ‘Blackout’ is Knox Brown, who also worked on ‘Wretchercise’. Is that an indication that some of the relationships forged on the mixtape will carry over onto album three?
Yeah, possibly! You know, when you get a chemistry with someone, and you really connect with them, then you’ve got to go back in with them and see what happens. With the mixtape, it was about having fun – there wasn’t a specific message, although it still had to be a great body of work. But when you’re working on an album, you’re thinking with a bigger mindset – you’re thinking about the performances, too, and stuff like that. The mixtape was lovely to do, though. I got to work with Beverley Knight on it, which is massive for me, as I’ve been a fan of hers for as long as I can remember.
She’s maybe not the most obvious ‘featuring’ guest, for your younger fans…
No, maybe not, but she was really respectful of what I do, and her music is a great love of mine. I don’t think that she quite gets the respect that she deserves. She’s incredible, man.
And speaking of album three, the last I heard was that it has neither a title, nor a release date…
We’re looking at August for a release, and the title is still to be decided. It’ll happen when it hits me. I’ve never been one to try to force a title – it always just sort of comes to me.
Maybe ‘Red And White’, y’know, what with those being your team’s colours…
(Laughs) Yeah, we’ve thought of things like that. But there are many different ideas floating around, but nothing has come up yet that feels as ‘classic’ as ‘Black And White’.
You mentioned your rehearsals, and you’re off to festivals like Benicàssim in Spain, and the Isle Of Man Festival… How do you prepare for those shows, knowing that you might not be playing to ‘your’ crowd?
It can be quite random, when you’re playing those sets, so you’ve just got to go for it. You’ve got to put lots of energy into it. You’ve got to make sure that those energy levels are high, so that you can catch the attentions of those people who perhaps weren’t into you before. Sometimes it’s like, I don’t know what’s going on here! But then, you’ve just got to go with it.
And do you like to spend time at festivals yourself?
Of course, yeah. Sometimes, when I get the time to hang out. It’s good to see as many other bands perform as possible, because you never know what you can learn from them. And people pay big money for those tickets, so to be able to watch it for free? Some of the ticket prices are madness, so for me to be there already, it doesn’t make sense to not watch the other bands. To not take it all in is madness.
Finally, I know you love your Arsenal. So what does Arsène Wenger need to do to ensure the team’s not going to the wire to get that Champion’s League place?
(Laughs) We need to buy an out-and-out goal-scorer. We need another Van Persie, that’s what we need. But I have faith in Wenger, I have faith in whatever he goes for.
Well, you’ve been saving your money, right? Maybe you can chuck some coins in to tempt that Bale character away from Spurs?
(Laughs) I don’t think I’ll ever have that much money! They don’t need my level of investment for that, trust me.
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Find the man online here.
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