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Reality can be a prison to us sometimes.
Everyday life gets repetitive, your job starts to suck, and your family gets annoying. The mundane can often be confused for the uninspiring. For some, it can even get downright depressing, or even violent. Any man or woman in their late 20s/early 30s in urban, or rural America can attest to feeling this way once or twice in their lives, if not as they read this.
Some Londoners would argue that Wretch 32 ("wretch" means slim in patois; the 32 is pronounced "Free Too") is one of the top MCs on the UK scene. He's had a heavy presence since 2010, with debut album Black and White going platinum, being nominated for BBC's Sound of 2011, winning Best International Artist at the 2012 BET awards, among many other wins.
Although most people would say 2016's Growing Over Life was his best offering, I'd have to make a strong argument for FR32, which was released in early November.
I'll start with the artwork.
The whimsical sight of a man's arm, holding a single red balloon against a blue sky immediately painted a picture of freedom. Whatever I was about to listen to was going to make me happy, inspire me, or empower me in some way, or at least it better! Once you are familiar with a London accent, the album's title makes more sense to you, read as "Free, Too."
The album has themes very similar to Growing Over Life, as Wretch's specialty is real life music, for real life people. Themes of doing right by his family, a greater urban community, and staying positive in an increasingly negative-seeming world abound. Tracks like "His & Hers (Perspectives)" touch on perspectives regarding abusive relationships. He starts with the guy's perspective:
"First of all I hate the way you talk to me/
But I f*****g can't stand when you're ignoring me/
It's like every day you want to go to war with me/
You're crying over spilt milk and trying to wipe the floor with me/
Every time I ring you your phone was in your bag/
But every time I'm with you your phone is in your hand?/"
And then shifts to the lady's point of view:
"The toilet seat can go back down
And you can back down
You say your upbringing made you never trust women
Well it's funny how we're both from that background
And I trust you with my life
And you've hit me twice
And both times I came back crying"
This song alone can have its own article dedicated to it as it pertains to domestic violence, but wait — there's a brighter side of keeping it real. On the record "Happy" (feat. J Warner), Wretch steps out of the observers' corner to remark warmly on his personal relationship with his own family:
"And despite what you knew, this is what you drew
One big house with mum and dad and your big brother, too
We didn't see that through and I apologize to you
Coz you're my world, my sun, and sky I'll never rain on you"
There are also strong motivational records, like "Power" and "Color Purple" (feat. Kojey Radical), that are like stadium anthems for the youth on the streets of London, and all the other cities like it. On "Color Purple," Wretch spits,
"The colour purple in my sight, I fell in love with it
My blood bleed red like a redneck
But my teeth? Them are whiter than them face
And my skin's all dark like I'm Kinte (Kunte Kinte)
That means I had to sell green for that rent there
This is my palette, this is my talent"
The album ends on a note that, to some, may feel anti-climactic in the club banger "Whistle," but it leans more to the idea of freedom than you may think. After all of those heavy themes and vulnerability poured into every track of this album, where else do we go? What else do we do?
We go to the club. We get loose. We free ourselves.
Wretch wants you to know, he's Free, Too.