We caught-up with Wretch 32 on Friday, less than 48 hours before he found-out that his single Don't Go featuring Josh Kumra was to be the UK's number one best selling single so we asked about his new album Black and White, his chart success, covering RWD, the riots in his hometown and more...
Wretch 32 is the picture of serenity when when I meet him on a very hot August afternoon at his label home; Ministry of Sound. How he manages to keep that air of calm as his single Don't Go, a brave soulful jaunt featuring previously unknown Josh Kumra, battles it out at the top of the UK charts, could be an interview in itself, but anybody who knows Wretch's music knows that whether he tops the chart come Sunday morning or finds himself in second place behind friend and collaborator Emeli Sandé he's going to Be Cool. How's the single looking? I start, It's good. We're 9,000 ahead...
When was the last count?
Today. We've still got…actually, just tomorrow innit?
We might have it, but you never know.
Imagine what that would mean, of all the singles you've released; that one…
That one! Yeah, I'll be really happy because it worked that way to be honest!
All of your singles have surprised me with how successful they've been…
Not because they don't sound like hits, but because none of them conform to the formulas that have been successful at the time. This single feels so organic though…
Your album's out now, what's your favourite song on it?
It's mad because it changes on different days but today I'm really feeling…Forgiveness, a track produced by Labrinth, it features Etta Bond. It kinda sums up how I'm feeling today! It's a real cool tune and it's really heartfelt, that's the one, I can't wait to perform that on the tour. People are going to listen to it and feel emotional and I really enjoy that I can tug at people's emotions.
That's a strand that extends through the album, that personal, emotional vibe, do you feel like you're the first of this generation of British rappers to pull that off?
I don't know if I'm the first but I know I'm definitely very honest and it's definitely a strong part of what I make and who I am. I think it makes me relatable that I'm talking about honest stuff and showing emotion that people can relate to. To me it's just normal because it's honestly being honest.
You've always written like that?
Yeah, yeah! I've always written like that, that's the thing. When I first started, I was mad…I'd have like mad concepts. I was very conceptual like I'd come up with the craziest concepts but on the same CD I'd have the most heartfelt song and some bangers. On different days I feel different emotions and I feel different every day, so it's always good to be able to vent on it and write about it.
Who are you going up against on the week of your album release?
I think Will Young! Should be interesting.
You haven't spoken to Will Young?
Nah, I aint spoken to Will, nah. If I can get his number I'd give him a buzz [laughs].
It's been a big year for albums, what have your favourites been this year?
So far I'm liking Jigga [Jay-Z] and Kanye [West] Watch The Throne…you know when time's going so fast I'm confused as to what's come out this year? Oh Transition [Chipmunk], that's a beast! Transition was one of my favourite albums of the year man, I think he really went in, executed well, bangers on there, hits on there. Who else came out this year? Definitely I had Chip's album in the car, for a long time, it's still in there now.
What would you call the lead direction of your album?
I think…I think it's a good cross between a Hip Hop, Rap, English, Soulful album. If I was just to say some genres and some random thoughts that come into my head. It probably sounds like it shouldn't work. But it will. It does work. It's interesting to try and create new sounds, I think with Traktor, we really made something odd there because I was really sure I wanted a bridge that was so soulful in the maddest, darkest grimiest record and that was MY IDEA because I wanted people to go Huuhhhh? you shouldn't do that there! It's always good to push boundaries man.
How long did it take to produce the album front-to-back?
It took a while man. It took a while. We were working on this album before the deal so there are some songs that are just me in my raw element, not knowing what tomorrow will bring and I love that, because you can hear it in your voice when you're just trying to make something sick for yourself like you don't even know. You can just hear that energy and I think it's always key to have that energy because I'm a very laid-back guy and especially on track, I don't like shouting, I just like being really cool with it and just rapping in speaking tone, with a bit more swagger of course [laughs].
For an artist who's been working, improving and building for so long, when do you feel like your career hit that crucial turning point?
[exhales] It's weird because up until Traktor comes out and charts, I'm like shit, because I don't believe anything until I see it, like we'll be in the planning meeting or whatever and they'll be like It's doing really well in the pre-orders man! But for me that just means Cool, it's doing well today. But tomorrow it might stop. You just never know. Until I see it I just take everything…only when it's seen you know? It's cool but I think, we did an incredible amount of work [before Traktor], there were a lot of features, a lot of collaborations, a lot of freestyles, mixtapes, songs, just stuff, I always just threw stuff out there and I think that's important, that's how you last. You're here for a reason, to make music and continue to put music out there.
So you don't feel like it's turned yet? When will it? When the album's out and it's done what you hope it does?
Yeah! And that will be my answer to that question, I wouldn't say now. You'd have to ask me in a month when I'm like You know what? It's done well, people liked it, people love it, I'm performing album tracks and that's when I'm like Yeah man.
I spoke to Example just before Unorthodox and he said that was one of the most natural collaborations he's ever done, did everything come together like that on Black and White?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's really cool man. Everyone I get along with naturally. From Darren B, singing on the album to Delilah, to Ed Sheeran, it's always good to be in the studio with an artist and just have a good vibe and I think it always naturally starts with the common interest that you share, like You both want to make great music, cool, so we've got one thing in common. But then sometimes as a person you just click with people and when it's like that everything happens really organically and you can't ask for a better feeling than that in the studio when two artists who respect and like each other, it's out the window, you knock the ball out the park.
Tell us why we should buy your album?
I'm like the shittest salesman ever!
You're doing alright so far.
[laughs] The funny thing is, if you notice yeah, I probably Tweet about my single once a day. I don't really…I feel like I'm very shit at selling my music. I feel like I'm good at making music and I don't want to cram it or force-feed, if you like it you like it. Why you should buy my album…because I'm honestly just trying to represent the country globally, I want them to feel like we have…I don't want it to be like Oh they've got rappers in the UK or They've got UK rappers, I want it be like They've got phenomenal artists in the UK that I need. Like, how they feel Mr Hudson is phenomenal, Mr Hudson is on Watch The Throne with two of the biggest rappers of all time, you know? Mr Hudson on Kanye's album and shit, that means they believe in him, they think he's a phenomenal artist, not just when they come here, they think Oh, who's hot here? Let me get them on the remix. On the UK remix I've been turning down UK remixes all year.
Yeah of course, don't wind me up with that shit because I wouldn't put you on the American Remix, I'll put you on the remix period that's gonna get played wherever. Put me on the UK remix, that's nonsense, it should be on the remix or on the song and I think we need to get it to that point and I want to be one of the people that really fight for us to be respected worldwide.
How does it feel to be the RWD cover-star?
It feels really strange man! I'm trying to get used to seeing my big head as I call it. It's really odd. But I still hide in my pictures.
It's still obviously you...
Yeah, yeah, it's me. I'm still a bit of a cover my face or show the side of my face. I just feel like I just want my shit to be about my music, not my face or not my…nothing. Just literally like, if you were to go on Youtube now and search a video called Anniversary I'm not even in the video. It's just a video for the fans and I'm not in it, but I think it's good to do shit like that man, it's good to make people actually love your music.
In the same week you graced our cover, your hometown of Tottenham kicked off the week of riots in the UK, I know a lot of people want rappers to talk about it but do you have any thoughts on the situation?
It's been quite frustrating man. I think…I think it's a tragic, tragic series of events and I don't think we should hinder on it. I think we should find a solution, find out what the problem is, find a solution and solve it, or do our best to solve it. I do what I do for my bit and I always will, whether it's a Tweet, whether it's an hour, whether it's a day, I do what I can do and I think as long as everyone continues to have that attitude we'll be alright, it's only when people think I don't give a shit, that's not my ends, they're not my people, when it's like that it's like 'Okay, if we all don't give a shit it'll just continue to happen.
What about the punishments that are being doled out?
They've been giving out some crazy punishments I've been hearing on the news man [pauses] it's just crazy, like, when I thought about it I thought Wow, this is actually real, is this really what's going on? It just makes me realise that we need to find a solution even quicker now, when they're gonna be getting some crazy sentences and what's gonna happen is they're gonna go to jail and come back out more lost. What happens man when the lost are leading the lost?