Wretch 32’s ‘Upon Reflection’ Displays A Legend At His Artistic Peak

Words: Yemi Abiade

The first grime generation is undeniably in a renaissance period. Our seasoned veterans have been releasing some of their best work from 2016 to the present day, adding to their legendary allure and strengthening the music scene from which they came. In a country where albums/projects mostly played second fiddle to the bars and personalities of the MCs, the tide has turned and we can now take pride in some of the work being put out.

Wretch 32 has arguably been the most consistent project-maker of his era. Quietly maturing and evolving from the brash spitter of his early days to a mature, balanced MC flexing lyrical wizardry for fun, his fifth studio album Upon Reflection is a sharp turn from the sun-kissed, friendlier sounds of 2017 effort FR32. In 2019, Jermaine Sinclair’s mood is colder, but as he looks inward to what made him who he is, he retains an eye for what’s going on around him.

Opening track “Winning” is defiant Wretch, lyrically nimble, switching flows at a whim as he reels off his career wins at will, while keeping his enemies “close enough to stab, far enough to shoot,” signalling an alertness to keep track of those who plot against him. A heartfelt tribute follows on previously released single “Mummy’s Boy” as he honours his mother and sisters for being constants in his life, while inverting tired notions of masculinity that men can’t be vulnerable or show emotion or pain. Also serving as a moment propping women up for their indelible roles fostering and nurturing our lives, “Mummy’s Boy” stands out as a true highlight throughout the project.

Production from Sons of Sonix (on all but 3 of the album’s 12 tracks), 169 and P2J strike the balance that exists in Wretch’s musical world, with a tendency to switch from the more tender, minimalist sounds that represent the lighter side of his game, to the more drum-heavy, menacing sonics that signal a mood change. He will be repentant to God on “Burn”, a touching affirmation of his faith, then on following track “Insurance” will humble brag about his riches and the dog-eat-dog milieu from which he came that makes him alert to keeping his position intact. It is this poise that keeps the album ticking and unpredictable.

The title track is masterful introspection, as he laments the process of life and the separation it sometimes deals to friends and families who grow apart, whose priorities change (for better or worse) and wanting to right this wrong. Wretch’s second verse is a thought process I imagine many artists go through—the idea of being hot today, and yesterday’s news tomorrow—and the pressure (from all areas) that comes with the expectations of remaining musically relevant. Wretch speaks with the realness on his 2015 tension with Chip and his regrets at not squashing it sooner and, in one song, you’re made to remember why Wretch is one of the greatest. His ability to lyrically examine himself is almost unrivalled. He keeps proceedings light-hearted in places, and tracks like “Visiting Hours” and “Spin Around” retain the vibrancy that summer left behind. Special shout-out to his ever-improving melodic performances on tracks like “Last Night”, too.

Meeting Wretch’s energy, Upon Reflection’s guests don’t ramp for one second. Giggs switches up his flow on the ominous “10/10”; Ghetts turns Ghetto on “Burn”; Nigerian superstar Burna Boy cranks up the heat on “All In”; and Young Flame Avelino resembles the powers of his Old Flame on closing track “The Baton”, in what seems symbolic of a literal baton passing from an older to a young general that will take charge of the game in the future. Wretch 32, the rapper, has always been a great. But Wretch 32, the artist, continues to excel, from his beat selection to the melodies to the subject matter. He combines these aspects together masterfully on Upon Reflection, which will stand out in his discography and amongst the year’s very best.

Posted on October 21, 2019