Wretch 32 – review

XOYO, London

He has just had a top 5 hit with Traktor, and his new single, the Stone Roses-sampling Unorthodox, is No 2 in the iTunes chart. So it is not surprising that when Wretch 32 – aka Jermaine Scott – bounds on stage to a surging, anthemic soundtrack, in his bling shades and ornately embossed jacket, it is with the air of a victorious boxer.

Although he grew up on the same Tottenham estate as Chipmunk and has toured with Tinie Tempah, Wretch is more of an old-school rapper, rhyming over samples or performed music. Compared with the cybernetic sheen of grime, his music is warm and organic. There is no DJ; he is flanked by two drummers, a guitarist and a keyboardist. The songs feature dextrous playing, and the audience is accordingly a mix of urban kids who bounce to the beats and sing the choruses, and older types who nod appreciatively at the guitar solos and keyboard filigrees.

This is adult-oriented rap. On the track Air, from Wretch's forthcoming debut album (he has released several mixtapes, earning him favourable tweets from Nicki Minaj and Adele), he is joined by singer-songwriter Owen Cutts, whose soulful vocals add to the sense of traditional musicianly values being upheld. All That I Need, a poignant number about the birth of his son and breakdown of his relationship with the mother, is like hearing someone rapping over a Steely Dan track. There is even a version of For the First Time by Irish power balladeers the Script.

The too-brief half-hour set ends more fiercely, with Wretch freestyling over the crunching guitars of Jay-Z's 99 Problems, and then a rousing Traktor. As the crowd chant the "lifestyle's wild/Jeremy Kyle" rhyme, and the musos delight in the guitar-drum interplay, it becomes clear Wretch is an engaging character who offers something for everyone.

Contributor

Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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