Wretch 32: Grime king who knows his place - Features - Music - The Independent

Wretch 32: Grime king who knows his place

The rapper is on the rise and targeting America but his Tottenham upbringing means that he’ll never forget those less fortunate than himself

Wretch 32, this year's break-out star of the urban music scene, is in a dingy backstage room at the Camden venue Koko, delicately tickling the ivories. His song of choice? Coldplay's slushy 2002 hit "In My Place". It is, perhaps, unexpected. But spend a bit of time with the affable 26-year-old from Tottenham and you soon discover he is anything but your typical hip-hop big shot.

Sure, he has bravado and a penchant for expensive looking timepieces, and his albums come with a mandatory "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" warning. But Wretch (as he introduces himself) also purveys a thoughtful persona of a conflicted man, balancing the demands of fatherhood and impending stardom. While his dark childhood lurks in the shadows of his songs, his message is purely positive.

"Yeah, I got a good heart," he explains on "Unorthodox", a No 2 hit featuring his buddy Example. "I'm a good guy."

After toiling away in the underground scene for years, Wretch 32 (real name Jermaine Scott) marked his arrival to the mainstream in January with an appearance on the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll and the release of "Traktor", a rollicking club hit that flew straight into the top five. His star has been on the rise ever since. He spent the summer playing shows and festivals around the world and scored his first No 1, "Don't Go", in August, the week before his second official album, Black and White, entered the charts at No 4.

I meet him before a sold-out show at the 1,500-capacity venue. A large crowd of fans is camped outside, though the doors won't open for hours. Inside, Scott greets me with a shy kiss before we negotiate the decidedly unglamorous backstage passageways to the upstairs bar for his photoshoot (stopping off at the aforementioned piano). After sending a member of his entourage to fetch a different coat, he starts to play it up for the camera, doing "tough" and "serious" before breaking into a big smile when it's over. We make our way to his dressing room, which is filled with Pot Noodles and bottles of Disarrono, to talk about his incredible year.

Part of the tight-knit crew of young British acts who have dominated the Top 40 in 2011, Wretch counts N-Dubz, Professor Green and Tinie Tempah as mates and frequently collaborates with chart favourites such as Ed Sheeran and Chipmunk.

"Everyone knows each other and everyone really shows the love and helps each other out," he says, before recounting how bumping into Professor Green in Selfridges led to an offer of a support slot on tour. "The beauty of this year is that it's been the first big festival and tour run and I've really spent it with some great people so it's been extra fun."

He assures me, however, that success has not come easy and that he could have followed a different path. Brought up on a Tottenham estate, he shared a three-bedroom flat with his mother and four sisters and was a "naughty boy". He doesn't give too many details but songs such as "I'm Not The Man" speak for themselves with lines such as "I've come too far to get shanked".

After leaving home at 16, Scott took a job at a supermarket and started writing. "I had so many things I wanted to talk about and writing was the best way to get it out," he recalls. "I'd write about something and the anger or whatever would leave me."

What did he write about? "Just the frustrations of life. Being a teenager, not knowing what you wanted to be, where you wanted to be. Not having as much money as you'd like to have."

He made a name for himself in the underground grime scene, had a son in 2006 (a daughter followed this year) and turned his life around. While he grapples with the expectations that come with being a role model, he prides himself on setting a good example. When Tottenham burned in August, Scott, who went to the same school as Mark Duggan, whose death triggered the riots, found himself as an unwitting spokesperson for the area.

He says: "It's weird because when something like that happens everybody wants your opinion, which is cool, but I didn't even know what my opinion was. I couldn't understand what was happening. I was in Ireland, watching it on the news, going, 'I live there, my nan lives there.' It was crazy. It's just mad important that I get behind a lot of positive things. I want to think how we can get past it and how we can ensure something like that doesn't happen again."

He backs campaigns such as Stand Against Violence and, firm in the belief that his presence could make a difference, says he has no plans to leave Tottenham.

"People are like, 'It's dangerous and you don't want to be here,' but growing up in Tottenham I used to look up to all the bad characters and want to be just like them. When I walked out the house, I'd see a guy and he's got diamonds and girls and BMWs and when you're 12, 13, these are what you want in life. What does he do? He's a bad boy. So I say I wanna be a bad boy. Me staying there means that the kids have two ways to look. I think it's something that can benefit the community so I'm gonna stick around."

What might take him away, however, is his determination to crack the States. While acts like Tinie Tempah might be taking baby steps in the US, British rappers are largely ignored.

"I'm not about moaning, I'm about knocking down doors," he says. "So I'm like, 'Let's go over there and rap with their best rappers, let's see how it goes.' That's what I want to do." Not one to shy away from a challenge, he glances out of the window. "There's no particular reason why it's that way, so why should it be?"

Wretch 32's new single, 'Forgiveness', is out on 11 December on Levels Recordings/ Ministry Of Sound. He tours the UK next May. www.wretch32.com

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week