The Student speaks to the rapper about his career so far.
Wretch 32 has made quite a name for himself in recent years. Back in 2011, his album Black and White gave him a string of top five singles in the UK chart, as well as over a million record sales. Having made his way from underground Grime MC to mainstream successful artist, The Student discusses speaks to him about his experiences of breaking into the music scene, the pressures of expectation as well as his take on the future of the industry.
Born Jermaine Sinclair in Tottenham, Wretch 32 was exposed to music from a young age and it was the people closest to him that shaped his entry into the music world. He explains his musical background: “Growing up, my dad was a DJ, so I was always so close to music.
A cousin of mine was a freestyler, and he would come over to my house and I just started messing around with him. We started recording mix-tapes on my old stereo in my mum’s front room. I really took a liking to it, and joined a crew called Combination Camp with some guys I grew up with.”
As for the intriguing name, it originates from his mum’s nickname for him, ‘wretch’ being a Jamaican slang term for skinny, and 32 has always been his lucky number.
Initially, it was the release of his debut album Wretchrospective in 2008 that made record labels take notice of him, the Ministry of Sound being the lucky label of choice to sign the rapper. He explains that this was a changing point for him, “I decided to take it a lot more seriously. I started making CDs, giving them out for free, selling some, putting out good records and connecting with people. Then voilà!”
When making music, Wretch 32 consciously makes sure that he is always innovating and trying to improve. “For rapping, I listen to the best rappers, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and for songwriting, I might listen to Coldplay. I like to listen to the best of each style and try and compete with that, because that’s what I’m up against.
Regardless of how much I’m selling, at least when Chris Martin hears my record, he should say, ‘you know what this is top level song writing’.”
Throughout his career, Wretch 32 has won many awards, including being named BBC 1Xtra’s Best Hip Hop artist in 2006. Despite past acclaim, he is not nervous about critical reception ahead of the release of his fourth album Growing Over Life later this year, and responded rhetorically to the suggestion, “Pressure from expectation? I think my expectation is probably higher than everybody else’s.”
He continues, discussing his development as an artist since the beginning of his career, “I understand music a lot more. If you look at the best rappers they understand how to stay in tune, they understand good rhythms, they understand how to rap.”
On his latest single ‘Six Words’, the man challenges himself as a musician. “It’s just me in the studio wanting to push myself. I’ve always thought, wouldn’t it incredible to actually sing [rather than rap] a whole record by myself? For years I thought it was impossible, telling myself ‘you can’t sing, you’re not a good singer’.”
“I was thinking about the vulnerability of doing something out of your comfort zone, to show someone how much you love them. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing? It was written about and for my children, because I found my treasure in them.”
On the subject of the music industry, Wretch 32 is aware of the change. Asked about Thom Yorke’s decision to release his latest album on BitTorrent, he says, “The game is shifting in such a way that I don’t know what state it’s going to be in, in ten years.
“People don’t really want to buy music, but at the same time I want to make music and I want to perform. So what do I have to do in-between to get the music to the people, so people will come to my show? It isn’t as simple as it used to be, we have to flip it up.”
The single ‘Six Words’ is out now.