Among the deftest emcees to emerge from the grime scene since its inception, the man known as Wretch 32 from Tottenham has always worn his heart firmly on his sleeve and has come into his own in recent years. From the early days of The Movement to commercial success and acclaim on his own, Wretch has led by example as he has charted his journey from the underground to the ascendancy of mainstream recognition. Returning with his third studio album, and his first in half a decade, Growing Over Life uncovers an artist with an intense sense of community, one who understands the journey he has undertaken and the sacrifices that he's made.
WRETCH IS AT HIS SHARPEST LYRICALLY ON THIS ALBUM, TACKLING HIS SUBJECT MATTER ALMOST WITH A SENSE OF DUTY, AS IF HE WAS BORN TO.
Leaning towards traditionally hip-hop soundscapes, the album's production is riddled with lowkey boom bap but levelled by piano, brass and violin sequences that demonstrate the high level of musicality and thought put into Wretch's overall sound. Flipping The Notorious B.I.G. on "All A Dream" serves as the clearest indicator of Growing Over Life's musical direction. It's almost minimal with its subtlety, without sounding it. Only album opener and highlight "Antwi" sticks to the trademark grime formula to amazing effect, and sets the precedent for the next 11 tracks to follow. His musical parameters are expanded to a level that is far from the realm of the scene he came up in.
Wretch is at his sharpest lyrically on this album, tackling his subject matter almost with a sense of duty, as if he was born to. "Pressure" projects expectations placed on Wretch from all cylinders, and his way of overcoming and making his family, and the ends, proud. It's almost as if the MC relishes the responsibilities thrust upon him, adamant they make him a better person. Delving into the album more and the first half certainly acts as a lamenting of the struggles and consequences of trying to make it, as demonstrated in the phone conversation between Wretch and his partner at the end of "Take Me As I Am". He decides to choose pursuing his dream over his relationship; a way of bettering his life in the long-run, despite the pain of losing his love.
Calls for social justice are rife throughout the album, with "Open Conversation & Mark Duggan" the shining musical star. Born out of a mutual frustration towards the treatment of black people in this country, Wretch lets himself go lyrically as he reflects on a history of the police failing the black community, with a standout assist from Avelino compounding the anger further. Wretch 32 continues to coax his guests out of their comfort zone, and they sing their hearts out in support. From Emeli Sandé and Laura Mvula to Kranium and Knox Brown, the features serve to perfectly advance the pain and sorrow, and later joy and happiness that encapsulate the project.
This is particularly effective in the second half of the album, which shifts to a sense of gratefulness and recognition of those important to him, in tracks "I.O.U.", featuring Sande, and "Cooked Food", as Wretch levels up with heartfelt vocals. Ending with "Church", the MC appears to have found solace in himself, able to hang his head high in church rather than being another statistic in the prison system. His life has seen a number of ups and downs, but he wouldn't have it any other way, with the bellowing cries of a gospel choir reflecting the album's triumph.
Wretch has reached a pinnacle on his third album, expressing himself in maximum comfort and with a maturity that has seldom been seen in his generation—all while delivering insightful, romantic, and ultimately triumphant bars that reinforce what we already knew about him. As an artist and a leader of the UK scene, he has never been afraid to project himself to the fullest, and this is fully realised in his latest body of work. Growing over life, he most certainly has done.