The Conversation: Grime artist Wretch 32 on where he got his name - and why he likes to stay close to his roots


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The Independent Culture

For the uninitiated, why Wretch 32?

Growing up I was quite a mischievous kid and everybody called me a wretch. I liked it and it stuck and three and two are my lucky numbers. I chose them to go after something that wasn't deemed so lucky.

What do your kids listen to?

My daughter's two and my son's seven. Hopefully, they're not listening to me, I think I'm a bit too depressing for them. They choose their own stuff: my son's got his little iPad and will just go "Can I buy this?". He doesn't really listen to a whole album. They just buy whatever songs they like and make their own super-album.

Your dad was a reggae DJ. Did he play any tracks that stuck with you?

He used to play a lot of Dennis Brown, a lot of Garnett Silk, a lot of Bob Marley. There was this artist who had a record out who lived around the corner from me. One time he was on Top of the Pops when I was a kid and it was such a massive thing for the community just to go to the shop to buy a pint of milk and see somebody who was on TV. It was such a fascinating thing, to see how people were uplifted by him. I suppose subconsciously it played a big part in what I've done.

Are you still living in Tottenham?

I'm not living there but I'm there a lot. The only place I'll eat is there, the place I get my hair cut is there, I play football over there. I'm very much community-driven. I think that growing up, 90 per cent of my idols were villains, so to speak, and 10 per cent were someone like my dad. I kind of think the more I disappear, the less hope there is for people to see that side of Tottenham.

And it's had a rough time recently, hasn't it, Tottenham? With the riots.

Yeah, I think it's kind of important that I'm quite visual and quite outspoken [about it].

Do you work with any young artists from there?

Just going to buy food, I'll have a 14-year-old come up to me and say, "You can't rap as good as me". I encourage them, I just tell them you've got to work on the material, spend more time in the studio.

What did you say to that kid?

I just said, paint the picture for somebody who doesn't understand this language or this dialect. Most of us have that same story, but it's just about who can tell that story to anybody.

Do you think UK rappers are as ambitious as their US counterparts?

Yeah, I definitely think there's the same drive. When you think of competition, you immediately look to America. But we have rappers like Tinie Tempah, who also has his clothing range. He broadens his horizons: he does have a label, he does have a publishing company, he does have other things, just like myself.

There's quite a bit of grumbling on blogs and more broadly about grime artists selling out. Do you think it's fair of people to criticise others when they start making a bit of money?

I don't think you'll ever have everybody's thumbs up. And I think once you're comfortable with that and you understand that, that's the next chapter of your journey. There are billions of people in the world; why don't you want everyone to hear your songs? Why don't you want to perform at Wembley Stadium? You're not going to get there making records to please 60 people on your estate. It doesn't work like that.