The worlds of uncompromising London grime and laid-back Nashville country rock might seem poles apart, but not in north London venue Nambucca last night.
Tottenham rapper Wretch 32 came up as a grime MC (his 2011 debut single ‘Traktor’ has lost none of its punch) but has diversified into more emotional, radio-friendly hip-hop. And now he’s followed another path. For tonight’s special, one-off Jack Rocks show, Wretch has teamed up with Nashville musicians Dominic Billett, singer-songwriter Joe Pisapia and bassist Owen Biddle, a Nashville resident who was formerly in The Roots.
The brief: to reinterpret his own tracks with a Nashville groove. The musicians – who Wretch, a stranger to the Nashville sound, had never met before – rehearsed together for just three days before hitting the stage. If this was a daunting prospect, it doesn’t show during their warm, freewheeling performance.
Newcomer K Zorro, a fellow north London rapper who has also given his tracks a rock overhaul, opens proceedings with a support slot that sets the tone for the evening. “Without further adieu,” he jokily calls to the crowd, “let’s do this.” He and his collective roll from the louche funk of ‘Hasta Luego’ to the rumbling bass of ‘The Wolves’, the sunny vibes maintained even as he good-humouredly chastises the “sound guy” when his microphone fails.
Wretch’s set kicks off with the energetic ‘Traktor’, its high-pitched local sample replaced with glossy synths. But this proves a red herring: the rest of the night is a more pensive affair, a sort of concept show in which each song charts the different stages of a relationship – pit stops include your first anniversary and first barney – to which Wretch hopes everyone can relate. He wears his heart on his sleeve throughout and sweetly says, “It might touch you,” an instinct that’s on the money.
‘All That I Need’ charts the bad times, with soulful backing singers crooning the refrain, “Sometimes the ship goes down”. Wretch asks the crowd, “Are you still with me on my emotional rollercoaster?” and the buoyant mood ascends again with the unashamedly sentimental ‘6 Words’. He dedicates the track to his two children (key lyric: “I found my treasure in you”). Formerly mainstream hip-hop, it’s almost fully reimagined as a southern rock song, drawing the biggest response.
Unlike the recorded version, this live rendition features a rap verse that includes a shout-out to his mum. Well, that’s Wretch 32 – the man’s all heart.