Grafting away on the underground grime scene for the past five years, Tottenham MC, Wretch 32 broke into the mainstream earlier this year with his top five single, Traktor, following it up with the number two hit, Unorthodox featuring Example. The respected rhymer’s new song, Don’t Go is out this week with new album, Black And White following next week. Rajveer Kathwadia catches up with Wretch to find out about his rapid rise to success…
Are you sick of people asking you about the ‘32’ or the ‘three-two’?
I get it a lot. It’s like the first question. I’m gonna start just making shit up now.
You should be like, I was getting a Hotmail email address and there were already 31 Wretch’s on there.
Exactly. That’s the one
How’s the last year of success, exposure and increased interest in yourself been for you?
It’s been crazy. I couldn’t possibly expect that this was gonna happen. It’s really hard to describe. Everything changes so fast, and everything happens so fast that you honestly don’t get time to take it in, so it’s been strange and taken some getting used to, to be honest with you.
Cos going back to your very first mixtape, Learn From My Mixtape, you’ve got a lyric that goes, “I ain’t stopping until I see my record sales about a million up…”
I’m not there yet. [Laughs] It’s funny cos I listen back to some of the old material; the first early bits and the good thing about it is that’s like when you’re being pure, proper honest… Not that I’m not anymore, but back then you don’t know if anybody’s gonna listen to your stuff. And a lot of the stuff that was being said was almost like a checklist and now it’s been ticked off. It’s a good feeling when I listen back to the old material, because at that stage I just wanted to get to here. So obviously the material now is me wanting to get to there [points into the metaphorical distance].
In between then and now, did anyone ever tell you that you weren’t gonna make it? To give up?
You have them conversations a lot. No one’s that blunt to say ‘yeah, pack it in.’
Are they more like, ‘Wretch, you’re too technical, too deep’?
[Laughs] Yeah! They’ll say that one like, ‘I think you’re sick, but I don’t think the game’s ready for what you’re trying to say.’ And it’s all good cos I respect people’s opinions that I have around me, but it’s been really surprising cos we have done something that people didn’t expect. If I’m honest, I always thought, being a rapper’s rapper and all that, I didn’t think for me it was ever gonna be about top 10s or top 20s. I never ever thought that. I’ll even say it now, I’m not the hit-man. I dunno what’s happening.
With each single, Traktor then Unorthodox and now Don’t Go, they’ve all showcased a different side of Wretch. Was that intentional?
It’s all done on purpose man. I feel there’s different ways you can go about things. I could have tried to have done another Traktor after Traktor, but for me that was more of a risk than taking more of a risk on another sound! So with us being like that, we thought, ‘cool. Let’s make every single completely different,’ and then you’ll never know what’s next. I think that’s a good thing. It’s pretty brave because some people like you for what you first came out with, but obviously Traktor isn’t what I first came out with, that’s what I came out with first in the public eye. And I think it is working.
What’s impressive is that you have managed to take your underground fan-base with you –no one’s turned on you. And the day Unorthodox charted at number two I know there’s were a lot of people rooting for you to hit the top spot.
I say it all the time, but I think the Twitter love is so strong for me and sometimes I show the love back, and retweet people and see what’s going on. I look at it like, whenever the scene gets behind me, I don’t look at it like it’s my number two or my top five single. I definitely feel like Traktor is the scene’s top five. We drove that; everyone was on it, we all did as much as we could and that for me was the UK underground’s top five single. But the week that Unorthodox charted was a very strange week. When I got the midweeks on the Tuesday Unorthodox was number one. And I thought, ‘shit, I’m not supposed to be number one. They probably don’t even know what I’m saying in my verse.’
Do you think a lot of it goes over people’s heads?
Yeah, I can see it in their eyes when I perform. It good cos one day you’ll be listening and you’ll just think ‘I ain’t trying to be bait with my hook-lines,’ And it will hit you and you’ll be like, ‘ok, there’s more to it,’ and that’s good cos they’ll keep finding new things they like about it and extend the life of the song.
So hopefully with Don’t Go you’ll go one step further and get that number one, there’s a lot of support, and you’re bringing through new talent as well.
I think that’s very important. It would have been easy to try and reach out to someone and say, ‘hey John Legend, come and do the chorus.’
Oh it’s like that these days is it?
[Laughs] Nah I just said that cos he’s the first name that comes into my head cos I was just chatting to him this morning… nah I’m joking! But I think when you go with the talent over the name, then I thing people realise you’re in it to make the best song you can make and I think it’s more honest and really natural. I feel that Josh Kumra’s a great vocalist and I think he’s gonna have a good career. I want people tohear him. I don’t have any connection with him label-wise or anything, he’s just sick, the chorus is fire and the voice is undeniable. Why should he not be on a song cos it’s just the first public thing he’s done? He’s talented enough. I think talent over names every time.
As well as his talent, there’s some incredible verses from yourself as well. And you’re showing a more vulnerable side to yourself. Were you ever worried about things like, ‘I’m a rapper, I need to look hard’?
No. I think what people like about me is the honesty. I’ve always been one of those people. Even when I was young if I got punched in my face, I’m real and I’d just come back and say, ‘Bruv, I got my arse kicked, I’m in pain.’ Whilst there’s different types of people who come back and say, ‘Yeah man I kicked him through the glass!’ I’m just honest and people always love that about me and I think putting that in my music now; I think it shows a different side to rappers. People don’t expect rappers to be like that, so when you hear it, it might be refreshing. But for me it’s just the norm cos it’s just how I am.
Can you spell irrelevant for me please?
Yeah, I know.
Let’s change the dictionary.
Let’s change that shit now. Get it out.
On the song you say, ‘we should get 32 emblems.’ Now in the video for Unorthodox, we see that guy getting the massive 32 tattoo on his back. Is that what any chick that gets with you has in store for her?
Well I think it’ll be a bit harsh to put on her back cos they’ll always have to keep looking over their shoulder, so I think if we put it somewhere a bit more subtle… like I dunno maybe the forehead? So then when she looks in the mirror…
She obviously doesn’t wanna be Jordan so yeah, I’d still go with the front.
Alongside Josh, you’ve got a whole wave of young talent on the album in the shape of Daley and Ed Sheeran amongst others, but you’ve also got a couple of big names. Aside from Example, you’ve got Chipmunk guesting as well and he’s sort of become your sparring partner when it come to writing. Explain your relationship with him please of you will.
The thing with Chip that I always love is that I met the kid when he was 13/14. He lived around the corner from me and was around the time I’d released my first mixtape and everything was shaping up nice. The only thing I ever got from this kid is that he wants to be the best in the world. And I admired that so much cos he phoned me out of the blue and asked if we could do a track. So I asked my little sister, ‘Do you know a kid called Chipmunk?’ and she said, ‘Yeah he goes to my school, they love him in the school.’ So I went to the studio and I could see the hunger in his eyes, but for me it’s good to remain around people that are mad hungry, because it’s easy to get complacent, cos that’s how you fall off and that’s how you fall down. And this guy won’t allow himself to fall off and fall down – he’s hungry. I’m hungry as hell. If I hear someone do something. I wanna be the best too so that means you have to cover every angle. Me and him, it’s just that thing where we wanna go in and represent the country and be the best. Even last night I got in at 6am cos I was just at his house writing.
Why’s the album called Black And White?
I’ve got a story and a journey that you might have heard about. Some people might have visually seen it on YouTube, some people might have followed me from the beginning. But I think me calling it that is me putting everything in black and white, this is what it is right here, have a listen, this is me; Wretch 32. And it kind of takes you on a journey of my life, it explains who I am, how I feel about things. You’d understand me as an artist and as a person.
You are a true music artist and last month, we lost Amy Winehouse. How has that affected you.
It’s tragic man. It’s so tragic and it’s so sad. She’s got a phenomenal voice; she’s had an incredible struggle and you can hear it in her voice. It’s mad, it’s just one of those things where you wish things could be different, you just wish she could continue making music cos as an artist when you have a connection with another artist that you like, you never wanna hear that news. We all feel like we know her as a person, like she’s our next door neighbour, but she isn’t; we just know her voice, we know a bit about her story and a bit about her struggle, She was very young as well, so it’s real sad.
You’re taking the album on the road as well. What can you tell us about the headline, Black And White Tour?
Oh Raj, this tour isn’t profitable at all. I can tell you that. We ain’t making one penny off of this. All I want is for people go home afterwards, to think, ‘you know what? That was some mad show!’ I don’t even know what we can afford to do cos me and my manager have only really spoken about a few bits and bobs, but I really wanna go in. I think it’s so important. I wouldn’t have dreamed about having a tour last year, and coming into the game I always used to think, ‘if I was Dizzee [Rascal] or Kano, then I would do this…’ but now you are there… so do it then. I am one of those guys where I practice what I preach. I would never say it out loud, but in my head I’d be like, ‘Ahhh maybe he should have done that?’ I’m gonna do everything I think anyone should have done and anything I should have done.
The single, Don’t Go ft. Josh Kumra is out Monday 14 August.
The album, Black And White is out next Monday 21 August.