Wretch 32 – ‘Upon Reflection’ review: one of the best UK rap records of the year

He's been at the top of his game for a decade, and this fifth studio album is confirmation that Jermaine Sinclair is one of the most gifted lyricists in the UK

The UK giant that is Wretch 32 puts everyone to shame with his fifth studio album, ‘Upon Reflection’. This album, filled with poetic observations, make a stunning listen for both young and seasoned rap fans alike. Last year marked his 10th in the industry; ‘Upon Reflection’ is an album full of progression and revelations about Wretch’s life. Hearing this, it would be hard to deny his greatness.

Tottenham rapper Jermaine Sinclair is known for being a wordsmith, and the lyricism on ‘Upon Reflection’ is nothing short of stunning. The singles ’10/10′ (which features Giggs) and ‘Mummy’s Boy’ show different aspects of Wretch’s artistry. ‘Mummy’s Boy’ proves his emotional inclinations, as he talks about being the only boy out of all five of his mother’s children. Hyper-masculinity is often prevalent in Caribbean culture, men not encouraged to show weakness, so ‘mummy’s boy’ is an insult. Here, though, he flips the term.

As well as highlighting that stereotype, Wretch 32 also paints a picture of the strong females who raised him: “There’s something about a woman / We just think about putting our sut’in in a woman/ Tell you that there is power in empowering a woman”. His readiness to highlight important issues, so often glossed over in rap, is integral to Wretch’s authenticity and status in the UK.

Wretch nothing short of iconic in UK rap, creating a timeless sound through his ability to mesh modern melodic sounds and skills as a wordsmith. The island-inspired ‘Visiting Hours’ showcases his thoughtful wordplay over a pop-dancehall instrumental to export you to Barbados’ sandy beaches and crystal seawater. Wretch depicts a beautiful love we all strive to have: “You’re on my side when I’m offside / So you could never call me at a wrong time”.

‘All In’, an effortless collaboration with the huge Nigerian pop star Burna Boy, brings out the fun and sensual side we rarely see from this UK heavyweight. His previous album, ‘FR32’, featured the club banger ‘Tell Me’, one of the first songs on which we saw Wretch 32 present this new side of himself, enticing younger listeners to this ‘old head’. His ability to freshen up his look and sound makes him a classic performer who will remain in the conversation around UK rap and UK music as a whole.

Tottenham’s finest really knows how to bridge the gap between the elder rap legends and the younger rising stars. On his closing track, ‘The Baton’, Knucks and Avelino. Avelino, a seasoned UK star, raps with bass in his voice as he has his way with the opening verse. We get a strong finish from the veteran, who scrutinises the world around him through his imaginative language: “Are you singing in black and white or have the colours blended?“.

With his methodical and insightful lyrics,Wretch 32 proves his pen is mightier than most . Manoeuvring over his diverse beat selection, he’s created what is, quite frankly, one of the best rap records this year.

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