With the increase of transatlantic collaborations, and the ease at which artists can hop to any part of the world to hook up with another talent, the British rap album is sounding less and less like it’s a product of the UK alone. Often we’re subject to a grime/rap hybrid which then blurs these lines and causes the uninformed media to label all black music as one genre. And while sometimes these hybrids are part of an organic process, and a part of the artist’s DNA — think Kano’s ‘Made in the Manor’, for instance — for the most part it’s to capitalise on what’s hot right now.
Enter Wretch 32’s ‘FR 32’. It’s a title that’s more than just a play on his stage name — it represents freedom, and there’s a feeling of contentment upon hearing Wretch’s latest body of work. Battling his demons and winning and then embracing the pain and suffering he’s endured over time, it’s allowed him to evolve and accept comfortably his role as an elder statesman, passing on his accrued wisdom to the next generation.
But don’t get it twisted — just because he’s seasoned doesn’t mean he can’t still get down. Take ‘Power’, for example. As gritty as 50 Cent’s drama series it shares its name with, it’s a lesson in lyricism (“Mum said I’ll miss my calling / I’m always on the phone,” he begins). Over SOS Music and Focus Williams’s impenetrable production, Wretch’s clever wordplay continues for the entire three minutes and 56 seconds. While the J. Warner-assisted track is for fans old and new, it’s really for those who repeatedly visit YouTube to watch his infamous ‘Fire in the Booth’ freestyle.
Able to walk the line effortlessly between animalistic lyricism and tracks that are more melody-focused, Wretch has managed to paint a picture where the brushstrokes are appreciated by all. Even the album’s singles come from a place of balance. ‘Whistle’ might ring off in the club with some help from Donae’o’s catchy chorus and the bounce of the bass-driven backdrop but underground fans can still enjoy it thanks to Wretch’s ferocious delivery and raw tone.
Delving deep into the pit of his stomach, ‘DPMO’ is a moment on the album drenched in passionate aggression. Warning naysayers and negative energy carriers to not piss him off, it’s the perfect way to not only kickstart the album but inform his listeners that he doesn’t have time for any bullshit. Offering a look at two sides to a story is ‘His & Hers (Perspectives)’, where the power struggle in a relationship is put on blast. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? It’s rarely that simple, and Wretch knows it. It's one moment on ‘FR 32' that will not only have you relating but also questioning your own actions when it comes to love and lust.
Whether it’s the touching confessions on ‘Time’, which hears Wretch get a lot off of his chest with a desire to do better, or the soon-to-be club smash ‘Tell Me’, that flips the Whitney Houston classic ‘It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay’, Wretch is speaking his truths and exposing himself to the world in a way he’s not done previously. There’s an extreme level of fortitude woven into the fabric of ‘FR 32’ and it’s refreshing to see from someone this far into their career. It’s like the re-introduction of Wretch 32, and it’s made that much better with some superior production and a handful of guests that complement the project instead of pulling it away from its overall cohesive form.
Smashing through the glass ceiling with ‘FR 32’, Wretch 32 proves there is no limit when it comes to growth. While some might have written him off after his last album, because it sort of just came and went, those same people will be forced to eat their words.
Words: Will Lavin
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