Wretch 32 - FR32

by Yuval Shalev

A few weeks ago, I made a critical, self-referential discovery – a sort of anagnorisis, if you will. That discovery being that I am not very easily offended, except by one seemingly trivial aspect of life – banality. Although Wretch and I are not kindred spirits as I once believed we were, especially after the release of his third album Growing Over Life which saw the chasm between our musical interests and attitudes becoming ever so slightly more pronounced, the release of his fourth studio album FR32 has left me relatively unoffended.

The Tottenham MC has shown himself time and time again as being one of the most gifted rappers in the world, and indubitably Grime’s nonpareil since its inception as a genre. Notwithstanding this praise, the album is not without blemishes. The monotonous R&B inspired flow and the overwrought production on the album’s third song Tell Me – or the sixth song on FR32 entitled Good Morning – is almost as infuriatingly dull as its name makes it out to be. The song offers nothing more than platitudinous, eponymous repetitions, a solemn and sluggish rhyme scheme and a comprehensively unnecessary feature by Rukhsana Merrise that is of practically no value. Luckily for us, the shortcomings of the album’s third and sixth songs do not pervade into the rest of the album.

FR32 is explosive in its introspection, consisting of at times hard-hitting instrumentals, which are immediately and starkly dichotomized by mellifluous ones while pursuing a similar vein thematically and lyrically. This is the versatility of Wretch 32. Without compromising lyrical content – in fact, quite the contrary - he gives us an inward looking, thoughtful composition of songs. Some of hardships in relationships depicted in His & Hers (Perspectives), and some that are vivacious in character, lyrically powerful and almost reminiscent of a prothalamium such as track 5 – Happy.

“How can I write a verse when I’m lost for words / how can one get the gift and not get the curse”

Though this album does perhaps not provide as much ‘conscious’ content as his previous works, Wretch still shows his fans that his ascendancy to the mainstream has not compromised his exceptional sense of community, nor his righteous feelings of indignation caused by the social injustices committed against black people in his community. The seventh track – Colour Purple – offers a translucent view on the treatment of the abovementioned black communities of Britain, with an emphatic back and forth between him and London rapper Kojey Radical in which they express their past experiences of racial hatred and prejudice: “I was 14 when I first knew I was black. Not by pigmentation but hatred and fear attacks”. Wretch has not wholly strayed from the conscious path, and alongside Kojey Radical with his spoken-word and soliloquy-esque flow, we are given a dismal, yet incisive view on racial injustice in Britain today.

I am well aware that I have hitherto, mainly discussed facets of the album that are of a relatively sombre feel – it’s downfalls, themes of racial injustice and contretemps with significant others. Although I do not subscribe to the notion that music’s sole purpose is to make us ‘happy’, I realise that many people find solace in this. So now, I will give you people what you want.

With the tempestuous introductory track DPMO and the subsequent (and well-timed) decline of intensity, the album is reinvigorated in its latter stages with Thugs Prayer, which provides sentimental yet understated lyrics throughout, backed by trap inspired beats and further anthemic brass instrumentation.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Wretch 32 album without a fervent barrage of Kanye West references in collision with a playful, funky electronic instrumental, alongside Wretch’s full-throated, malleable flow punctuated by a stirring hook by Donae’o, which I conscience-strickenly dabbed to on my first listen. All of this is encapsulated in the final song Whistle.

By and large FR32 is a cathartic, self-reflexive look into Wretch 32’s essence, yet it is not lazy in its introspection, and does offer club-worthy bangers as well.  I don’t believe that this review, nor the album itself will proselytize the doubters, nonetheless, I would recommend FR32 to anyone who doesn’t have an aversion to rap or grime alike.