“I’m very lyrical so you’ve got to listen carefully to everything that I say,” explains Wretch 32, one of the UK’s most celebrated MCs. “I want people to feel free when they listen to my music. I’m a free spirited individual who just wants people to enjoy what I’m creating and take on board the gems that I’m dropping.”
Growing up among Tottenham’s Tiverton Estate high rises, Wretch 32 (real name Jermaine Scott) was born to an Afro-Caribbean family deep rooted in Jamaican culture and reggae music. His father is a reggae DJ from a well-respected local sound system who used to fill the living room with massive speakers, much to the amazement of Wretch and his young enquiring mind.
“That was my first introduction to music,” he admits. “Being surrounded by all of those records instilled something in me. As a kid I was always trying to play on my dad’s decks. I was fascinated by the needle back when there was nothing but innocence and optimism in my brain. It will forever remain a part of my musical journey.”
Before the dazzling lyricism and poetic resonance he brought to the masses, before the countless accolades, and before his ascension to the Brit rap pantheon, Wretch 32 was a struggling teen trying to find his place in the world. Kicked out by his mother at the age of 17, it was exactly what he needed. Getting a job at Sainsbury’s - the same one that singer Lemar once worked at - and living in a council flat on White Hart Lane, he was forced to fend for himself and face the harsh realities of life. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Wretch remembers. “It forced me to go extra hard with everything I wanted to accomplish.”
It was at this point he became a focal point in the crews Combination Chain Gang and The Movement, the latter of which featured himself, Scorcher, Ghetts, Mercston and Devlin. Trying his hand at grime but quickly realising he didn’t want to be pigeonholed to one genre, Wretch went on to fuse a lot of his favourite genres (rap, reggae and R&B) creating his own individual sound. Releasing the mixtape Teacher’s Training Day and his debut album, Wretchrospective, early on in his career, his music was full of vivid, poignant narratives delivered via an accessible flow and deployed over a blend of sampled beats and original rhythms.
Proud to represent the current reigning Tottenham ends as far as music stars go, Wretch 32 joins a graduating class that includes the likes of Skepta, JME, Chip, Meridian Dan and international superstar Adele. “I always knew there was something special about the artists in Tottenham,” he says. “I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but I just knew there was something special about the artists that come from my neck of the woods. I feel like everybody there approaches their music with care, caution and precision.”
Describing himself as an “artistic rapper,” Wretch’s early musical influences came by way of reggae artists Dennis Brown and Bob Marley, as well as U.S. rap titans JAY-Z and Nas. Aside from these and his father’s obvious influence, one of the rapper’s main inspirations was Arsenal footballing legend Ian Wright. “In terms of mannerisms he was someone I really looked to for inspiration. He’s my idol,” Wretch explains.
More inspiration came in 2006 at 21-years-old when Wretch’s son Kyrayn was born - a sister, Skye-Laurell, later joined him in 2011. Admitting that they have given him extra impetus to succeed, Wretch says not only do they make him a better person but they also make his music better. “They inspire my music so much,” he reveals. “It makes me slightly more conscious of what I’m saying sometimes. Being a parent is such an all-rounded weighted responsibility so it just adds that extra reason for me to go extra hard on a song. They make me be the best person I can be which in turn makes me the best artist I can be.”
Success came thick and fast for Wretch following the release of his earth shattering debut single, “Traktor”, in 2011. After the song debuted on the UK Singles Chart at number 5 it was then followed by the even more successful singles “Unorthodox” (featuring Example) and “Don’t Go” (featuring Josh Kumra), and his sophomore gold-selling album, Black and White, soon followed. Picking up an Official Mixtape Award, various Urban Music Awards, and even a BET Award for Best International Act, it was clear at this point that there was something special about the talented wordsmith and his uniquely British vision.
Releasing his third album, Growing Over Life, in 2016 via Polydor Records, it was at this point fans were witness to Wretch 32’s personal growth. Front and centre for an album that uncovered an artist with an intense sense of community who understood the journey he had taken and the sacrifices that he had made up until that point, fans were not disappointed. Not only that, less than a year before the release of Growing Over Life fans were also gifted a joint mixtape Wretch put out alongside upcoming North London rapper Avelino. Titled Young Fire, Old Flame, it was a huge underground success and inspired one of Charlie Sloth’s most talked about Fire in the Booth freestyles.
With the ups come the downs and Wretch has had his fair share of downs. Seeing some of the people closest to him pass away, during his teenage years he experienced death first-hand when he saw his grandfather die from cancer. “That was a reality check for me,” he says. “Watching someone disintegrate like that was a big moment in my life. It made me realise that it’s not a game.” But one of the most public and sudden deaths he has had to face was that of friend and celebrated music industry lawyer Richard Antwi, whose record label was responsible for releasing his Black and White album.
“There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about him,” Wretch states. “Rich was like the rainbow to the pot of gold. Metaphorically it’s like the sky has never been the same.” Paying tribute to his late friend, the last song he ever played Richard before his passing ended up being titled “Antwi” in his honour.
Fast approaching 10 years since the release of his debut album, Wretch 32 had no idea back then that he’d be where he is today. “I hoped I’d be where I am today but I couldn’t see how I was gonna do it,” he explains. “I knew I had the music that people would always come back to, and by that I mean that it’s hard to make a song that someone still feels the same way about in 2017 that they did in 2011. I knew my songs were timeless. I think the honesty and vulnerability is what’s given me this longevity. I think people identity with what I do because everyone has good days and bad days, just like me. My fans ride with me throughout my life’s journey while I’m kinda helping them with theirs.”
Now on the brink of releasing his fourth album following the release of his latest single, the club smash “Whistle” (featuring Kojo Funds and Donae’o), Wretch looks forward to his future. “I hope I’m on top of my game,” he admits when discussing his career 10 years from now. “I feel like I’ve got more ladders to climb and I feel really excited about climbing them. I still feel like there’s a lot of international ladders to climb and there’s always something to prove here in the UK.”
Living proof that no matter where you come from you can win if you put your heart into what you do, Wretch 32 has amassed commercial success, won numerous awards and accolades, obtained endorsement deals with big brands such as Adidas and Coca-Cola, and is on a label where he feels he is free to create the art he wants to create. Life is pretty good for the boy from Tottenham right now and there appears to be no signs of that changing anytime soon.