Ahead of his gig at the Pyramids in Southsea, Tottenham-born rap star Wretch 32 talks to JODIE JEYNES about working with Ed Sheeran and Example, his love for Chipmunk and the Adidas advert that has brought him to the attention of a primetime TV audience.
I’m really old-fashioned,’ says Wretch 32.
It’s a strange statement from an artist who is right at the heart of modern music. The rapper and former grime MC (whose stage name is pronounced ‘Wretch Three Two’ and whose real name is Jermaine Scott) is a figurehead for the new genre of intelligent, eloquent rap which populates today’s charts.
But what he’s talking about when he calls himself ‘old-fashioned’ is his music videos.
As we speak, he’s on a break from shooting the video for Hush Little Baby, the final single to be taken from his top five debut album, Black And White.
There’s not much to say about the video, says Wretch. ‘It just suits the song. It suits the mood. It’s a good-looking vibe for a feel-good song.’
Hush Little Baby is released on May 27 and features double BRIT Award winner Ed Sheeran.
‘Ed’s a cool guy,’ says the rapper. ‘He’s down to Earth and really musical.
‘He added his bit to the track and definitely made it stronger.
‘It’s important to gel as people when you’re making music and we have a laugh,’ continues the 27-year-old from Tottenham.
Ed’s not the first big name Wretch has teamed-up with. His No. 2 single, Unorthodox, featured his mate Example (they’ve toured together and played a show together at the Pyramids in Southsea on New Year’s Eve 2010). And, before that, Wretch spent his mixtape years, working with the likes of Devlin, Chipmunk, Wiley, Bashy and Scorcher, who all found fame before he did.
‘It’s like six or seven kids playing football and five of them end up in the premiership,’ Wretch explains.
He adds that, though he’s the youngest of the group, it was Chipmunk who inspired him the most.
‘I’ve got a lot of love for Chipmunk. He’s like my little brother. He’s a cool kid, very hard working,’ says Wretch.
‘I watched him grow, through all his writing and battling. When I saw his success, it made me think it was possible. He said “it will happen for you”.’
And Chipmunk was right. It has happened for Wretch. As well as his No. 2 hit with Example, he’s had a No. 5 with Traktor (a single Chris Martin named as one of his top songs of last year) and a No. 1 smash with Don’t Go, featuring Josh Kumra.
Wretch was also received acclaim from awards nominations (four MOBOs and a Q) and celebrity endorsement. Adele, Jessie J and Rio Ferdinand have all talked him up on Twitter, while Liam Gallagher and Nicki Minaj professed their admiration in interviews and 50 Cent blogged about him.
All this prompted Adidas to appoint Wretch as an official ambassador for their Olympics 2012 campaign.
The role involved penning a song for their new ad campaign and filming with stars including Example, Devlin, Daly Thompson, Tom Daly and Keith Lemon.
Even David Beckham makes an appearance in the ads, though he was the only person featured who Wretch didn’t get to meet.
‘Being a part of this new ad has been mad. It’s really inspirational to work with such massive role models, such icons,’ says Wretch.
‘And people have really taken well to it. It’s been massive. The feedback’s been great, which is definitely a good thing. It could’ve gone the other way, you know?’ he laughs.
‘It was a three-day shoot. Then there was recording the track. I wrote the record without seeing the advert. It was a different way of working, but it was really fun.
‘I’d never been on primetime ITV before, so I’m really, really happy about that.
‘It’s definitely something that I never expected to happen, but – at the same time – I’m really glad it did,’ he adds.
Wretch says he’s been into music for as long as he can remember and always wanted a career in the area.
It stems from the fact that his dad is a reggae DJ. As a child, he would attempt to climb the massive speakers at his home and then, later, he would try to figure out how to rig them up.
‘As a little boy, you’re always emulating your dad. You always copy what your dad does,’ says Wretch, who himself has a five-year-old son.
Along with his father, Wretch counts some unexpected artists among his influences, naming people like Gary Barlow and The Script.
His appreciation for other genres of music meant he really enjoyed appearing at Glastonbury Festival and on BBC music show Later with Jools Holland last year.
‘That show is very hard to get on for a rapper,’ explains Wretch, who appeared alongside Kasabian, Neil Finn and James Morrison on the show.
‘We changed the whole format of the song [Don’t Go]. We did a whole new version. It was about showcasing what the scene is capable of.
‘When you’re the one put in the light, you have to represent for everyone,’ he adds.
He’ll be showcasing more of what he’s capable of with a new album expected for release later this year. It’s currently at the recording stage and he says: ‘It’s a continuation from where Black And White left off. I want to make sure everyone continues to come with me on the journey.’
WHERE AND WHEN
Wretch 32 comes to the Pyramids in Southsea on Tuesday with support from Jakwob, L Marshall and Kyra. Doors open at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £12.50 from seetickets.com or (023) 9282 4355.
He’s also performing in the Big Top at the Isle of Wight Festival on Saturday, June 23. See isleofwightfestival.com or call 08444 99 99 55 for tickets.
DID YOU KNOW?
Wretch 32 used to work at the same branch of Sainsbury’s as Lemar.
...his home in North London
Where I’m from, people never leave for weeks at a time. Everything you want is there. Your friends are there. You make money there. You don’t even know there’s a world outside.
...BBC One’s The Voice UK
I think the best part is the banter between Jessie J and Will.i.am. I’d love to be a judge, but I think I’d be rubbish – I’m very indecisive.
...performing at the Olympic torch relay celebrations
Anything to do with the Olympics, I’m over the moon to be able to be a part of in any way. It’s very exciting.
... rap and Shakespeare
Rappers today are doing the same thing as Shakespeare was back then: trying to push the boundaries of writing. We use similes, metaphors and puns to make people open their minds. I hope rap will be around for as long as Shakespeare.
...performing at the BlackBerry party where a man was stabbed and died
That was a tragic situation. I was in the building, but I saw nothing. I send out my condolences to the family. It’s a sad story.