Wretch 32, aka 31-year-old Tottenham rapper Jermaine Sinclair, emerged from the first wave of grime, putting out killer mixtapes such as ‘Learn From My Mixtape and Teacher Training Day’.
He hit pay dirt with his second studio album ‘Black and White’, which contained the buoyant single ‘Traktor’ and reached No.1 in the UK R&B chart. On the cusp of releasing his third album, he recently teamed up with Nashville rock musicians – drummer Dominic Billett, singer-songwriter Joe Pisapia and bassist Owen Biddle, formerly of The Roots – for a special, one-off ‘Jack Rocks’ performance in north London, for which he and his new bandmates reinterpreted his songs in a Southern rock vein.
The result was pretty special, so we chatted to Wretch about the project, while conversation also turned to his new album and the recent mainstream resurgence of the grime scene that made him.
How did you find it, working with musicians from such a different genre?
That was me trying to meet them in their world, and them trying to meet me in mine. That was the little challenge in the beginning, but the way it’s all come together is a lot better than I thought it would be. We’ve been in rehearsals for three days. They had never heard my music before, so the first day was them listening to the songs. The next day was the first day.
That doesn’t seem like a very long time!
With music, you don’t have to know each other; you can just feel each other. That’s something you can’t train. You can’t train to work a feeling. You either have it or you don’t. Automatically when you walk into a room with another musician and they start playing, it’s like: “Okay, I feel it when you do that.” Real talented musicians are able to always link up and make stuff spontaneously.
How familiar were you with the Nashville sound before this project?
I wasn’t familiar with any of their stuff before this. I’ve heard people hold Nashville in high regard musically; I’ve always heard people go out there and just vibe. I definitely wanna head out there for good music. It’d be a good place to go out there and see what’s happening.
Would you go to Nashville and record a rock album?
I don’t know about a rock album… I would try a rock song, but I’d put a different spin on it. I’d put some soul on it as well, like a rock/soul kind of thing. I like to fuse genres, I like to bring stuff together and surprise people. So edit this out so it surprises them!
Sorry Wretch, your secret’s out. Anyway, what’s going on with your upcoming album, ‘Growing Over Life’?
The album’s finished. we’re just touching it up, just putting the toppings on now. Which are like string sections, and choirs. That sounds a lot bigger than it is, but when the song’s finished and you’ve got the body, you’ve just gotta add the little sprinkles. But the album should be coming summer.
Is it a real summer record?
Nah, it’s a life record though. There’s summer moments, there’s spring moments, there’s winter moments. It just reflects life, man. It’s like classic films – you can watch that any time of the year. I don’t really think everything sounds the same, but it fits together as a good body of work. That’s what I like.
What are your thoughts on the resurgence of grime in the last few years?
It’s sick, man. It’s like your little brother always asking to play in your team but you never let him. You never let him on the pitch. And then one day you say to him, cool: “That guy got injured, come on the pitch and show us what you can do.” And he scores a hat trick. The world hadn’t been able to hear this sound before. You might have heard of Dizzee Rascal, or you might have heard of Wiley, but you didn’t get to hear it new blood being injected to it like Stormzy or Skepta’s new spin on everything.
It’s taken some artists, like Skepta, a long time to get recognition
It’s a very hard-working genre. People have to understand that’s like a decade-plus of hard work. I was on pirate radio with Skepta I over 10 years ago whatever it was. It’s good to see him get his run now. I’m really happy for everyone. The world is catching on finally.
Do you feel a sense of vindication about it? Like, ‘Look! We were right all along?’
Nah – how can you know what’s behind a door you’ve never opened? Not everyone knows about everything on day one. I don’t think we should be up our noses or anything like that. We should be happy that people have now caught on and just hopefully they stay onboard.
What are the main differences between the first wave of grime and what’s happening now?
What’s sick now is people are really excited about what Novelist is doing. Stormzy has added a new level of excitement. If I was a 12-year-old kid that makes grime music now, I would think the sky’s the limit. When I was that age, I thought pirate radio was the limit. So now the kids should be so much more inspired. The generation that comes after Stormzy and Novelist should be in arenas worldwide.