We apologize if we're wrong, but we're guessing you've never heard of Wretch 32. That doesn't surprise us. The British rapper is 35 years old now and probably has fewer years ahead of him at the top of his game than he has behind him.
His chance of cracking the mainstream in the United States of America is probably gone for good. That's a real shame because we're about to make a case for him being the most underrated rapper of all time.
Calling Wretch - real name Jermaine Scott Sinclair - a rapper at all might be doing the man a disservice. He grew up on the UK's 'grime' scene around ten years ago but stayed on its underground.
While Stormzy and Dizzee Rascal have broken through to the mainstream, Wretch stayed underground and chose to partner with people like Avelino rather than some of his more globally-recognized peers. Stormzy became a global megastar. Wretch has stayed in the shadows. He might be fine with that, though. In fact, we suspect he prefers it that way.
Wretch 32 appears to have the same philosophy when it comes to music and commercialism as Akala - another prodigiously gifted British rapper. He believes more in content than he does in making money. Snoop Dogg - one of the most iconic rappers of the past 30 years - is so commercial that his likeness has been used to promote an online slots game called ‘Pimped.’
Usually, musical online slots are reserved for people like Dolly Parton or Elvis Presley. Snoop and many of the other big-name American rappers exist in a world of commercialism that Wretch openly raps against.
He isn’t popular enough for a mobile slots to be built around him, but it’s inconceivable that he’d ever approve of one being made anyway.
Right now, we’re living through the era of mumble rap. Thousands of column inches have been devoted to whether mumble rap is a fair term to use in the past, and we’re not seeking to re-open that debate here.
Whether or not you think it’s fair, though, even the most ardent supporter of the current scene would have to concede that lyricism as an art form has taken a dive in mainstream rap over the course of the past five years. Very few people rap about real issues anymore.
Rap has returned to a place where the most popular tracks are all about money, clothes, houses, chains, and women. It’s like the bad old days of the late 1990s have come round again, and nobody has anything original to say.
The reason that the American rap audience thinks that nobody has anything original to say, though, is because the American rap audience doesn’t open itself up to British rappers. Wretch 32 and Akala are just two of a whole host of British rappers who put a lot of great content into their tracks, including Bugzy Malone, Aitch, Giggs, and Kano. Wretch 32 in particular, though, is a master of wordplay. His setups are unbelievable, and his punchlines are constant.
Watching Wretch in full flow isn’t so much like experiencing a track as it is experiencing a lesson on how a track should be put together. He even offers his thoughts on the process in his now-iconic ‘Fire In The Booth’ session with Avelino, hosted by Charlie Sloth.
We mention 'Fire In The Booth' because, years after the last show aired, the show is starting to make headway in the USA via YouTube. Drake even went to the BBC's studios to take part in a 'Fire in the Booth' session. He didn't do very well. 'Fire In The Booth' is a freestyle show where the good rappers are separated from the great ones, and Drake fell short of putting in a classic performance.
Wretch 32, however, offered us a standout bar in his shared performance with Avelino:- "We've all got bars, but nobody here's a brewer - I'm bringing a sandwich to the beach in the hope of finding tuna." It's a clever piece of wordplay and an astute observation of the current scene.
Everyone can rap, but almost nobody has an original bar to serve because they can't 'brew' them. Wretch 32, meanwhile, is happy to experiment. He's happy to take his sandwich to the beach to find out if there's any tuna there to fill it with rather than staying at home and using what he's got. The fact that 'tuna' is a play on words with 'tune' is the icing on the cake as far as the line goes.
By the time he tells you that people are trying to minus his plusses to divide his people later on in the same track, you're hooked. You've become a Wretch 32 fan.
Once that moment happens, you’ll go down a rabbit hole of incredible Wretch 32 performances. He’s done no less than five ‘Fire In The Booth’ sessions with Charlie Sloth, and all of them are worth finding and enjoying. He’s also done three ‘Daily Duppy’ shows, which are also freestyles, and his ability to dissect a sentence and put an original twist on a word or a phrase will blow your mind on all of them.
Once you’re done with the Daily Duppy performances, seek out his track ‘Antwi’ and prepare to be even more astonished by the level of performance he’s able to offer when standing alone and giving out emotions rather than observations. He’s a talented, nuanced performer. There are hundreds of YouTube videos of American rap fans finding Wretch 32 for the first time and reacting to his performances. All of them are blown away. All of them become fans.
There are subtle differences between rap and grime, and we know that not every rap fan can become a grime fan. On some level, though, all of us fell in love with rap because we appreciate great lyricists. Words are all rap is, and content is what makes rap great.
Wretch 32 has been delivering better content than almost anybody else in the game for years now. Again, borrowing one of his own lines, it would be called suicide if he fired at the top. Wretch 32 is a UK star who should have become a world star. If you’re not on the hype train already, it’s time to book a ticket.