Album: Wretch 32, Black and White (Levels/Ministry of Sound)
Friday 19 August 2011
In the wake of last week's riots, the North London rapper Jermaine Scott, aka Wretch 32, is bound to be tagged as the Voice of Young Tottenham, though there's much more going on in his rhymes – both musically and lyrically – than that kind of simplistic link might suggest.
A few years ago, he might well have been caught up in such troubles, if the potted account of his youth as a series of failed criminal ventures in "Never Be Me" is anything to go by; but the track ultimately celebrates the confounding of expectations of failure, as does the hit "Unorthodox", where over a skanked-up Stone Roses sample, Wretch and Example promote a sort of positive individualism: "Don't sit in hell, look down that wishing well".
Black and White certainly offers the most detailed depiction of inner-city deprivation and temptation yet attempted by an English rapper. In the title-track, Wretch contrasts "the dark side of my life, where my heart weren't alive" with "the light side of my life, where my dreams came to life", a dichotomy explored further elsewhere. In "Let Yourself Go", he recalls the admiration he felt as a child for a local street player, a king since dethroned and doomed to re-live his former glories with cellmates, while his one-time queen struggles to survive. "Life's cold," he notes, "Man, how you let yourself go." Elsewhere, "Breathe" is a gripping portrait of sink-estate dystopia, the young protagonist nagged and chided by parents and police alike, nursing his determination to escape the 'hood, while "Long Way Home" offers a telling scenario of taking a cab home, past hookers, alcoholics and homeless. "These things used to burn me, now they're just part of my journey," he resolves.
Not that temptation is that easy to avoid: "Sane's the New Mad" is about lapsing into loose behaviour, with booze and loose women, "drinking away my fears". And in the album's standout centrepiece "Forgiveness", he acknowledges the failings that have left him "in a race with my own race". "I used to be a man of my word; now, time seems to have got the best of my sentence," Wretch reflects, seeking forgiveness for missing some parental duty, and for failing to look after his gran as well as he promised his dying grandad he would. But the lure of lucre is so over-ridingly powerful for the poor. "I only came for the music, but the more I touch notes, it's like the more I get stupid," he observes ruefully.
The grooves around which Wretch strings his stories don't baulk at bearing out the stark messages, often employing brutal beats, monotone staccato keyboard motifs, bristling clamours of synth noise and what sound like prog-rock fusion samples here and there, smoothed over by the occasional conciliatory Dido-esque vocal refrain. But it's Wretch's determination to find success by finding his own voice that's most impressive here: as he muses in "Don't Be Afraid", "If you got to stay grounded, how the hell you touch the sky?"
DOWNLOAD THIS: Forgiveness; Unorthodox; Traktor; Black and White; Long Way Home
Books And it is whizzpopping!
MusicThey're running their own restaurants
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cecil the lion: Dentist Walter Palmer blames local guides in Zimbabwe for the scandal
- 2 Kate Winslet thanked 'particularly horrible' girl who bullied her at school after Titanic success
- 3 Norwich paedophile ring: Woman at centre of gang who made children 'sexual play things' guilty of 23 offences
- 4 Black and ethnic minority people twice as likely to be hit by Tory cuts than white people, report finds
- 5 Walter Palmer: Cecil the lion killer revealed to be American dentist
New on Netflix August 2015: From Narcos and Spellbound to Kick Ass 2 and Dinotrux
Listen! Beowulf opening line misinterpreted for 200 years
Heath Ledger's father reveals dead actor's 'Joker diary' written during The Dark Knight
Game of Thrones season 6: New toy line suggests Jon Snow is not among the dead
Spectre: Ellie Goulding is almost definitely singing the theme song to the next Bond film
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
The last thing Labour needs is a leader like Jeremy Corbyn who people want to vote for
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband