Wretch 32, XOYO, London
Thursday 21 April 2011
It's no secret that the success of MCs like Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah et al has inspired record labels to frantically snatch up as many of these underground stars as possible, with Wretch 32 being the latest kid on the block to be tipped for the big time. Back in January, he landed a No 5 single with "Traktor", a pounding tune so wickedly addictive, Diddy insisted on performing it with the 26-year-old at his Last Train to Paris party earlier this year. Then, Ian Brown gave him his blessing by allowing him to use a sample of The Stone Roses' "Fools Gold" for his most recent single, "Unorthodox". Exciting times, then, for Jermaine Sinclair, especially for a guy who grew up on a Tottenham estate but can now stamp "wooer of rap moguls and rock legends" on his CV, and has shown he's got a lot more going for him than being another mix-tape rapper with a ghetto backstory. Musically, he infuses soul and a real sense of poetry into his observational lyrics, and on stage he's fun, energetic and chatty, leading the chant: "forget about violence, I rather be cool!"
It's his first headline show, seemingly intended to demonstrate that he can stick it out in the mainstream; so there's the Kanye-inspired styling, the rock band, and the thoughtful, melodic numbers, including a cover of The Script's "For the First Time". He's undeniably an enthusiastic performer and the show's better points are when he's inciting the crowd to go nuts, digging up some of his mix-tape favourites and even rapping over Jay-Z's "99 Problems". Between songs, he talks sheepishly of his chart success. Yet when he finally lets rip on "Traktor" to close the one-hour show, bouncing and spinning to match the delirium of the song's bass line, it doesn't take a genius to see that fending off A-listers in the charts is truly where he belongs – and if live shows were judged on the same scale, he'd be going straight in at No 1.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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