Wretch 32

Black and White

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Throwing down the gauntlet to Tinie Tempah for the title of Britain's most inventive MC, Jermaine Scott, aka Wretch 32's sophomore album, Black and White, is anything but the two tones of its title. While most of his grime contemporaries have succumbed to the ubiquitous electro-pop and dubstep scenes, the follow-up to 2008's little-known Wretchrospective stays true to his tough, South London pirate radio beginnings, while still drawing from a whole host of less obvious influences, whether it's the funky bassline from Stone Roses' "Fools Gold" on the Example collaboration "Unorthodox,"; the gospel piano riffs on "Please Don't Let Me Go," or the sinister dancehall of "Sane's the New Mad." Indeed, given the formulaic state of U.K. rap, it feels like a welcome novelty to have an album where "having fun in the club" party anthems or bling-obsessed boasts are nowhere to be found. Instead, the 26-year-old is far more concerned with addressing the issues he faced while growing up on the notoriously violent Tiverton estate, such as the Chipmunk-featuring "I'm Not the Man," which sees him apologize to his mother for his brushes with the law; the haunting, piano-led ballad "Forgiveness," and the anthemic, tribal hip-hop of lead single "Traktor," a testament to the early self-confidence he had in his lyrical abilities. Moving even further away from the macho bravado that underpins his hometown's underground sound, Wretch isn't averse to revealing a tender side, either. "Anniversary (Fall in Love)" is a gorgeous slice of heartfelt soul whose laid-back verses echo those of the Streets' "Dry Your Eyes"; "Hush Little Baby" combines melancholic guitar hooks with Ed Sheeran's folksy tones on an emotive tale which deals with the doubts he had over being a father, while "Don't Go" is a beautifully understated account of heartbreak which combines ethereal new age samples with the impassioned, bluesy melodies of Josh Kumra. Occasional filler aside ("Let Yourself Go," "Never Be Me"), Black and White is a refreshingly personal, authentic, and fresh take on a British urban scene that was starting to become slightly stale.

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