I caught up with Wretch at the BBC Maida Vale studios recently, and he broke down his latest mixtape ‘Wretchercise’.
SEMTEX You’ve done amazing things so far. How are you feeling in the game right now, re. your position?
WRETCH I’m kind of just happy that I have threw the mixtape out and just reverted back to that, because for me it’s all about the art form. I tried to push it as far as we could take it and it’s mad confusing because some songs trickled out in to some places and a track that me and Chip done got reviewed and it was a mixtape track, which is kind of confusing some people because they’re not used to not hearing straight rap. Which is a good thing, I’m finding it funny, so it’s nice.
SEMTEX We’re at Maida Vale Studios right now. We were talking before, and I was saying it’s very confident of you to drop a mixtape before your second album drops, because to many artists, the second album is the hardest one because the first album’s like twenty years in the making, no matter how old you are. And then to drop a mixtape with bangers on it, it sounds like you’re in a good place right now bro!
WRETCH 32 Yeah we’re really confident with the new material, and I was working on the mixtape whilst I was working on the album and the same time. The album’s nearly finished now as well but as an artist I don’t ever want to sit, look on my laptop and see so much music. You know, that’s good music that people could be enjoying so I was like, ‘this is the mixtape, man. Let’s put it out!’
SEMTEX Let’s talk about the track with Chip, how did that come about?
WRETCH 32 ‘Drinking in the sky’ was a record that, I just put down the chorus and put down half a verse and it kind of just reminded me of taking off and taking a lot of people with you. Me and Chip have had a good journey and we’ve been able to be around the same friends that we were with before where we are now. We always look after everyone so I knew he would relate to that track so I just told him to come on this and put his little spin on it. He always go in, that kid’s had me on my toes for as long as I can remember. I love that because when my verse wasn’t finished and I knew Chip was about to come on, I just knew I had to end it right. So yeah it’s a good thing.
SEMTEX I’ve heard people before like ‘Ah Chip, you’ve gone too pop…’ And then he’ll come back with something vicious and people will be like ‘He’s back, he’s back!’
WRETCH 32 One thing about that kid, what people don’t realise is anything he puts his mind to, he can get it done. And when he wanted to make them number 1ns, he made them number 1ns He was writing most of the choruses and he was going in with the producers and stuff and when he wants to do his mixtape, he goes in and does it. He kind of A&R’s his own thing. He’s a good kid, man!
SEMTEX So what’s the most important track to you on this mixtape?
WRETCH 32 This is the hardest question for me to answer. There’s different songs that I like, for different reasons. There’s a freestyle called ‘Be The Best Or Be The Wretch’ and that’s where I’m literally going in, there’s no chorus, I’m just doing my thing and just letting lose and I really like that one because I’m touching a lot of subjects that you might have seen or heard. I’m just closing all the doors. There’s some other tracks on there, a track called ‘Time’ that I really feel. There’s also another track called ‘Tour Blues’ which is a track that the ladies seem to like.
SEMTEX You’ve always come through the show, you’ve always hooked me up with music when you were on the grind, when you were releasing mixtapes yourself and everything. You also came through with Scorcher and Devlin and the whole movement. You kind of took it back to that moment on this mixtape, right?
WRETCH 32 Yeah, it’s so important to never forget the essence, man. And there’s a load of rap songs on my album, there’s also songs on there with big choruses and when I first came in, that wasn’t really about massive choruses, it was more about verses, and I’ve always tried to maintain that. This time I’ve kind of toned the choruses down and just kept it as raw as possible. It’s all good and working with Mercston and Scortcher again and just getting back in to that element. What used to happen was we’d walk in the room, there’d be four of us and in that room, everyone thinks they are the best spitter. No one’s the biggest, everyone just thinks they’re the best and when you’re in the room with all them people, that type of energy can’t be replaced, man. And when everyone’s going at it, like one man’s in the corner, writing his verse, I’m in the corner writing mine, no one wants to lay their verse down first because then they’ll think ‘Ah, he’s going to change some of his bars!’ So everyone’s waiting till the last possible minute and that’s just the realness of what I came in to emceeing and rapping is about. That’s what I wanted to do and I still do now.
SEMTEX It’s still like that, when you step in the room with another artist, have you still got that competitiveness? Because you’ve had a lot of success: gold album, hit records, number 1′s, touring relentlessly…are you not sometimes like ‘Ah, I’ll let him go first.’
WRETCH 32 Do you know what, I don’t think I’ll ever lose that, I don’t wanna get beaten up on a song. I never want to get beaten up on a song, I’m always on my toes and I’ll always work with people that will keep me on my toes as well, because I don’t ever want it to just be clean. I think there’s something about being able to just walk in to a room with the best emcees in the country and you know some people say ‘Once you’re in the charts you’re like a chart artist, you’re commercial’. I can still walk in the room with the best emcees and be respected. I think that’s a beautiful thing and I don’t ever want that to change. I’ll always look at it like I’ll rap with everyone.
SEMTEX How is it working with Scorcher again, there’s been rumors like you guys aren’t as close compared to when you originally came through, is it bringing back memories, is it all good?
WRETCH 32 It brings back good memories, man. Me and Scorcher are like brothers, and we still are, even if I don’t speak to Scorcher in ten years, that first conversation would be…you know what I mean, when you’ve got a friend like that. So in terms of working on this record, he’s on the record twice. There’s a track called ‘Action Man’ with Chip, Sneakbo and Calibar that we done. And then there’s another track called ‘Beat It Up’ where I was in the studio and he was just around the corner and this is exactly how it used to happen back in the day. He’d be like ‘Oh you’ve got a session, let me come through!’ He used to come through and I’d be playing the record and he’d say he liked the record. So I’d tell him to jump on and that’s exactly how we used to make music so natural, and that’s why whenever you hear a record with me and Scorcher, there’s genuinely just us having fun and we just sound like we’re smiling, because we are. When he’s in the booth, I’m looking through pulling faces and it’s vice versa. It’s just a great friendship.
SEMTEX People used to say that Scorcher was going to blow before you and nobody saw you coming. How does that feel right now, because the balance of power shifted between yourself. I’m not saying this to look at beef or trying trying to cause no trouble, but you really took people by surprise when you came through.
WRETCH 32 I think it’s easier that way, if I’m honest. In Scorcher’s situation he built up a mad buzz and then it was like ‘OK, now go and have a number one!’ That’s a lot of pressure.
SEMTEX Yeah it’s not as easy as what it looks right!
WRETCH 32 Yeah it’s not as easy as it seems, you’ve got to think, Jay-Z’s first number one over here was Run This Townyou know, he’s been one of the best emcees for ages, but it’s not that easy to just do that. Once the light’s on, there’s a new added pressure and you’re in a new situation where everyone’s pressuring you to make a hit. With me it was like, I was just working on the record and it was no expectation so for me it was easier because it was more of a surprise. And I’d actually hate to be in his shoes, although I am now because now people are like ‘Cool, we’re going to do the second album’. I’ve got some good stuff but you just never know. You can only be the best you can be, so we worked on it and I’ve gone in on the verses and the music’s really good, I’m happy with it so that’s the main thing.
SEMTEX Let’s get back to this mixtape – what made you come up with the title?
WRETCH 32 Wretchercise. I’ve either been incredible with the title or very stupid, first one – Learn From My Mixtape. I don’t know, I’ve always had a random title. I had the name Wretchercise because I feel like this is exercise for me, lyrical exercise, just method exercise. I literally just want people to, not take it too serious but to just enjoy the freeness and the fun and just the raw element. So for me it literally is just exercise.
SEMTEX You’ve always taken time out to talk to younger artists, I’ve had younger artists call me saying ‘Yo Wretch said I could call you and hook you up with this…’It feels like you do genuinely care about the next generation coming through. Given everything that’s happened recently with the riots, that’s in your endz, North London, your hometown. Do you feel that pressure of being a role model, I know people were expecting you to say stuff or comment on it when the riots were taking place, is that something that you feel is getting more increasingly pushed on you?
WRETCH 32 It’s mad because you kind of step in to a situation because it’s what you do, it’s your job. But then you’re thrown in to a new situation. When the riots kicked off, the press had my press agent and her phone wouldn’t stop ringing and I was just like ‘Tell them I don’t wanna say anything!’ and was like, ‘You kind of have to, because you’re the spokes person.’ I didn’t want to be the spokes person, and it’s always difficult to talk on because the questions I was being asked were, ‘Why are they rioting?’ And I’m like, ‘Well I’m not there anymore, so why don’t we go and talk to them!’
SEMTEX And it wasn’t just one set of people, you couldn’t say it was man from the hood…
WRETCH 32 Yeah, it was everyone just having an opportunity, but I’m like, ‘OK you’ve come to me, to ask me and I don’t technically know but let’s go to them and ask them. But nobody wants to go and ask them, they’re like ‘No, no, no, no we can talk to you, let’s talk through you!’ And I’m like, ‘We’re never going to get to the bottom of the situation talking to me, beause I’m not standing at the phone box or the block no more’. You know, so I think it definitely threw me in a situation but it’s something I’m prepared for and I understand. And when you understand that this could possibly happen, you take it on board. I’m a lot more sensible.
SEMTEX It’s the tenth anniversary for 1Xtra this week, we’ve been celebrating all week long, shout out to Wretch and Devlin who did a performance for Trevor Nelson. Shout out to everybody that was involved, with the ten plus track. Now a lot has changed in ten years, right?
WRETCH 32 Sem, yeah!
SEMTEX Especially in the world of music. How do you feel about the balance of power between US and UK artists or US vs UK lyricism?
WRETCH 32 I feel like there’s a load of emcees that can go on a track from over here with a load of emcees from over there and it’s not gonna be ‘Oh they just messed us up.’ It’s gonna be ‘Oh he got him…but HE got HIM.’ And I think that’s a good thing because literally as we were coming through we were just like ‘We wanna spit the lyrics, man!’ All our hooks were rubbish, that’s why we never had big massive records. We didn’t have hits, we just had great verses and OK choruses because we always cared about that. What I’m really happy about is when I listen to the new wave of emcees and they’ve got punch lines, swag and charisma and when having swag and charisma seemed, if you were doing it you were trying to be American. And it’s like no, why can’t I just be confident. I bought this jacket, I feel nice in it, I wanna rap about it. So now I think it’s definitely a lot more open, we’ve got better as a scene and I definitely think there’s a long way to go, I think we’re in early days.
SEMTEX We’re more confident than ever before though, right?
WRETCH 32 Yeah, you know the saying when I was talking about Scorcher, when i was saying the light shines on you, it’s like, if you’re not ready it could be mad. But in terms of our music and our genre over here, because it’s been underground for so long and the light wasn’t on it, so it’s like we’ve just had time and a chance to get better, as a scene and artists to find ourselves and stuff. So once the light came on it was like, Dizzee popped up and went, Kano, then Chip and Tinchy. There’s so many artists that we’ve all known about for years, like come on I’ve known you for as long as I can remember Sem, but in a new world someone would ask me, “Do you know Tinie Tempah and do you know Chipmunk?” Then they’d ask how I knew them, I’d tell them we were underground for years, like this is what we were doing before the light came on, so it just goes to show if you work on your skills and harness them, when the light shines on and you’re ready, then you’ll shine.
SEMTEX I think when Dizz, Wiley and Kano came through, they had a different set of challenges, and they overcome them, they released their albums, they’ve done their thing, they’ve had a lot of success individually. When yourself, Tinie, Chip and Tinchy, that second generation of emcees, you guys really had to work for it, you guys really had to fight for it, right?
WRETCH 32 Yeah it’s never, ever been easy, but as an emcee in this country, you have to have the most amount of respect for Dizzee and Wiley. Because opening that door isn’t easy and being in there on your own, I can’t imagine what it must be like now. A couple of years ago having you guys at the festivals, like how the other artists are looking at you like, ‘OK let’s see what you’re gonna do!’ And you really have to show that you deserve to be on them stages and it’s always been a big fight and there’s still some things we have to fight about now, like there’s some things that won’t touch the genre, and we still have to prove that we’re good enough to go on Jools Holland. But I suppose it’s a good fight to have because once we’ve proved them right, it’s kind of like, OK, sweet!
SEMTEX But the fact that you guys had to fight ridiculously, because when you guys were coming through, like I said Tinie – that second generation, you were competing with big Indie bands and radio was dominated by that and all kinds of other stuff. Now there’s like ten major league player emcees, in the UK game alone, it’s kind of making it easier for the third generation, do you think they’re up to the same challenge that you guys had?
WRETCH 32 It would definitely get easier, definitely get easier.
SEMTEX Does that mean their music’s still for sale?
WRETCH 32 I hope it doesn’t.
SEMTEX Right, because you had free mixtapes, you had them on sale in HMV, remember me saying you should do the best stuff…
WRETCH 32 Yeah do you remember the documentary, you had the DVD…
SEMTEX Yeah, I still get tweets and texts about that!
WRETCH 32 And now I think about where we are now, 2012, imagine us standing here having a conversation about filming a DVD, it would be like, ‘Nah you’re late, just film it and smack it up on YouTube’. And that’s what it is now. The new wave, everything’s kind of evolved and everyone’s just got to adapt to it. I feel like they’ll be some more creative artists coming through, I reckon a lot more artists that produce their own stuff as well will come through and I think it will get better and better. I’ve listened to quite a lot of the new wave and there are certain people that really stand out and some people are making some incredible music and some are good lyrically. If they get in the the right producers it will make a good chemistry.