It’s been five years since Wretch 32 released his major label debut (and his second studio album overall) to the world, the culmination of a transition from underground legend to chart topper.
Black & White brought the Tottenham-born artist the most mainstream success he’s had to date, and that was no small feat. But in the time since, it’s been a pretty mixed bag for Wretch. He had issues with his label, an infamous MOBO Award snub and the shining light he’d produced for himself seemed to flicker a little bit.
That was of course until he swiftly reminded us why he was there in the first place. Since then he’s dropped some sick mixtapes – including the collaborative effort with his fellow Tottenham-born protege Avelino – and delivered what is undeniably one of the greatest freestyles in UK history.
All that being said, it’s evident that he’s got a lot to talk about now. When Wretch talks, you can’t help but listen. We’ve heard a couple of songs from the project already, but for the most part the contents of the album remain to be seen. This stands as another huge moment for him and for the culture.
With such a huge album, it’s initial impact is going to be greatly important. That’s why we’ve decided to give you our first impressions, as our guy Griff writes a review of his thoughts, as he listens to it. Think of it as an endless stream of consciousness, Kanye style. Of course, it’s important to sit with an album for a while and fully digest it, which we’re certain to do, but first impressions matter too. They might not be lasting feelings, but this is our place to capture the magic and the excitement of that very first listen. Sit back, spin the album, and enjoy our live review of Growing Over Life.
(If you’re not sure what the hell we’re on about, go check out the last First Listen Review, of Giggs’ Landlord album, right here.)
I remember this track dropping earlier this year, in memory of Wretch’s late mentor and friend Richard Antwi. Wretch comes cold and brutally honest, as he paints a vivid picture of his reality recently. It’s dark, brooding and aggressive and the music totally matches the backdrop, despite it letting Wretch’s lyrics take the centre stage and remaining minimal and tension-building. Super dope way to intro this whole album. I feel like frustrations at society, race and his family are gonna be the main topics throughout. Let’s go!
The mood has taken an immediate upwards turn. The music is cheerier and Wretch’s lyrics are more optimistic. “Even my mum put pressure on me,” he’s singing on the chorus. This is a real way to do the whole encouraging pep talk-type song. It’s empowering and not corny at all. His melodic flow floats all over this one, but isn’t that just a given by now. “Look what pressure made… it made you make it!” Already an early favourite in my eyes.
“Take Me As I Am” (ft. Jordan Thomas & Kranium)
With Kranium featured on this one, you could probably already assume this one would take a more bashment approach. This beat is FULLY wavy though, the beeps leave the perfect pockets for Wretch to fill up. I’m surprised by this much cheer so far in the album, but now I’m not sure why. This is proper feel-good vibes. Kranium did the first hook and now Jordan Thomas is singing his heart out with some real vintage sounding R&B vocals. Not gonna lie, I don’t know who he is, but he KILLED that. Bare individual voice. Wait, are Wretch and Steff a ting wtf?!
“All A Dream” (ft. Knox Brown)
This one already came out too, right? Yeah that Yeezy’s bar is unforgettable. There’s been too many lyrics on this project already for me to even single out, you already know how it is with Wretch. He’s not wasting a single bar here either. This is the most mainstream-radio friendly song we’ve had so far, with a pretty next house drop in the middle. I dunno if I needed this from him, but my man’s fan base transcends me and I appreciate that. He’s still moving intelligent on the verses though, with some pro-black themes and ain’t watered down the content one iota.
“Dreams/Sunshine” (ft. Pantha! & Shakka)
“It was all a dream” was the refrain on the last one and the next tune is called “Dreams”. Gotta love some finessed sequencing. This one kicks off with a bit of guitar and some distorted but smooth vocals. Once again, I’m not even sure who Pantha is. Bare ignorant init. Man just called himself Wretchi Hendrix. Body bag. There’s punchlines dropped all over the shop on this one. The riddim is pretty mellow and airy again, I’m feeling most of the vibes on LP so far. Probably that L I burned though, idk. The second part of this isn’t really a full stand-alone song, but when that beat drops back in after Shakka’s vocals, damn!
I swear this is like two years old, but hey-ho. I actually rate this song more than just his standard pop single. “I can’t sing, but I wrote you a song yeah/Wrong notes, but the melodies so clear” is actually one of the most goddamn heart felt and touching chorus’ I’ve ever heard in my life. Yeah, it’s bait for Radio 1, but this is a f*cking nice song still. I FOUND MY TREASURE IN YOU!
“Open Conversation” & “Mark Duggan” (ft. Avelino & Bobii Lewis)
This is the ting Wretch premiered on Live Lounge recently. It’s actually a clever little concept, how the vocal’s interpolate some of the other tunes from the rest of the LP and his past stuff. I love it when he spits on these rainy kind of instrumentals. Reminds me a bit of the “GMO” track from Young Fire, Old Flame musically. He’s giving a proper insight into his core again on this one, saying so much stuff I can’t even keep up on one listen. The 808 that kicks every now and then adds some trunk rattling goodness too. The second part is a shorter addition again. It’s taken a darker turn, with that old news clip. Bobii Lewis brings some anarchist soul too, and Young Fire Avelino checks in for a short verse. Wretch wasn’t letting ANYBODY else rap on this one.
Another pre-release from Growing Over Life, and probably my favourite of the singles we heard already. I know this is a dumb and obvious comparison, but it reminded me a little content-wise and stylistically of a Kendrick Lamar tune. That’s in no way a bad thing either. Wretch is still bringing his distinctive delivery across some mad-level lyricism about prejudice, race and blackness again. You could study what’s being said on here for week and still not catch everything. I’m all for this one anyway, certainly a stand-out.
I’m hungry. This is laden with piano keys – which have been a pretty solid staple throughout Growing Over Life. Happier vibes here once more; “I love you like cooked food” is the backbone of the song. Did he just say his son and a chicken are no different? Defo missed something there. THIS IS SO DAMN HARD MAN HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WRITE THIS SH*T AND ALSO DIGEST A GODDAMN WRETCH 32 ALBUM?
“I.O.U.” (ft. Emeli Sande)
Ooh, Emeli Sande has come out of her pop-royalty cave to make an appear hear. Her vocals are as sick as ever, and it acts as a kind of rallying call. The drums have a marching rhythm, and the backing chorus gives a real dreamy feel to it. This one smells like a hit to me. He’s talking in-depth and honestly about his family in the content. Who called it?? (Yes, I know the album cover is a blatant give-away, but whatever).
I wish I could have written “Something” about this one already, but I was too zoned to get to it. There’s just “Something” about this one that brought me in. “Something” about the string sections, or “Something” about Wretch sing-rapping or “Something” about the general all round top of the world, I’m gonna go call my ex ‘cos I can, kind of feeling. Jesus wept, this is a beauty init.
“Church” (ft. Loick Essien & Teni Tink)
And we’re already at the conclusion, just like that. “I should just let the keys play”, Wretch muses. “I coulda been in jail on a Monday, but instead I’m in church on a Sunday”. For some reason I had it in my head that this album would be aggressive and socially driven – and to an extent it is. But there’s a lot of love and a lot of positivity through out, and most of the songs sonically lift you up. This is no different. It’s like a party at the end of the listen. Thanks Wretch, it’s been a ride.
Overall, this was a very solid and very decent effort from Wretch 32. There’s enough content on Growing Over Life to keep te most hardcore fans happy, as well as some more commercial material for his more recent additions to his fanbase. There’s plenty of middle ground too, with an all around pleasant listening experience. Simply put, this is very good music. Enjoy it, take it all in and do it justice. It certainly deserves it.
Make sure you support the project and cop it on iTunes here. I hope you enjoyed my mindless babbling and please feel free to hit me up with your own thoughts. I’m gonna go reload this and bun a zoot. Peace!