Wretch 32 has refused to allow the changes across the musical landscape to obstruct his timings and artistic process. Having clearly established a following, prestige and critical acclaim, Jermaine Scott Sinclair stands tall as a UK pioneer. Last seen in a full capacity in 2017 — with his album FR32 — Wretch 32 returns with his “surprise” album ‘Upon Reflection’ which hones in on the act on a retrospective and intramural level.
‘Upon Reflection’ faces into lineage and familial ties with Wretch 32 focusing on the relationship between parents and children on 'Mummy’s Boy'. Instantly de-spelling myths that he’s ashamed of being a 'Mummy’s Boy', the rapper dares audiences to call him that exact term as she’s the figure that protected him and played both parental figures for him growing up.
This conceptual approach is highly popular in hip-hop globally and instantly draws parallels to the likes of 'Crooked Smile' by J. Cole. Wretch 32 odes women on this song throughout, even stating that five raised and informed his approach to fathering his daughter whom he instills love and appreciation into.
Instrumentally, 'Mummy’s Boy' is heavily influenced by jazz, however the saxophone is quite latent, allowing Wretch’s lyrics to resonate to listeners. Indeed, melodic additions exist across ‘Upon Reflection’ through numbers such as 'Burn'.
Although melancholic in places, 'Burn' tackles arcs such as religion. Wretch 32 is content with his survival to date and faces into the fact that he’s not afraid of death at this point. Talay Riley aides the rapper stating across his verse “no weapon against I shall cross” before rhetorically asking if God would approve.
'Burn' is constantly introspective and allows listeners to hear the journey that both Wretch 32 and Talay Riley have been through and how faith has been a contributor to this. Again, as the song closes, the theme of parenting returns, with Wretch highlighting that religion has filled a void that not having a father during childhood opened.
Wretch 32’s true talent lies in his ability to story-tell. The act is consistently able to narrate in clear and succinct formats, under timely restrictions, marking him as one of the best anecdotal rappers of our time.
'Closer To Me' is one of the standouts across this album in articulating this skill. Taking romantic relationships as the central-crux throughout, 'Closer To Me' transports the listener to the Caribbean — through Wretch’s singing, reminiscent of reggae artists — as he paints his story inbetween.
Employing similes and metaphors, the rapper casts away emotions of jealousy and anger and builds the perfect circumstances in which a relationship can survive. It’s placing, towards the latter quarter of the project, is perfect as its highly reflective and focuses on the rebuilding of connections.
As well as featuring firmly established acts in music — such as Giggs and Burna Boy — 'The Baton' gives a platform to both Knucks and Avelino, who Wretch 32 has co-signed throughout his career. The song delves into his co-sign further as he physically states that he’s passing the baton onto both. Before this point however, both have to prove why.
Lyrically, the rappers deliver, with Avelino relentless in his goals and aspirations in rap. Comparing success to being celebrated after his burial, it’s evident that the UK artist has global plans for his career. Knucks slots in nicely too, animated in his approach and committed to his thoughts driving his career as opposed to fallacies. Backed by laid back drum bass pallets, it becomes clear that the pair may just be the future faces of lyrical rap.
‘Upon Reflection’, as articulated above, truly delves into who Wretch 32 is as a man today, so much so that his cultural surroundings naturally interweaves throughout. Whether its his aforementioned singing which hints at his Jamaican heritage or more comprehensive homage, Wretch’s roots are closely aligned on ‘Upon Reflection’.
'Visiting Hours' is the most packaged example in this terrain. Steel pans provide the perfect foundation for the song as patois interweaves the surrounding sonics. Again focused on love, the track also delves into growing pains as Wretch talks about financial freedom and not being afraid of the law. Above all, the song is a laid back, yet mature offering, which smartly employs the fabrics of Wretch’s being through cultural acknowledgements.
Overall, ‘Upon Reflection’ is brave, emotionally vulnerable and triumphant in proving Wretch 32’s consistency. After five albums, it’s apparent that the act has moulded his approach to hip-hop. So much so that those who are poised to take his place have employed elements of his blueprint at this time.
Wretch 32 adds to a year of incredible UK albums by the likes of Little Simz, Dave, Kano, Headie One and others.
Words: Nicolas Tyrell
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