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
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls


The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence