Wretch 32 may have just perfected his album-making process on his Upon Reflection “surprise” release
Upon Reflection is Wretch 32’s fifth studio album, but nowhere near his fifth project. As a veteran MC, who has perfected his craft across the eras and paved the way for lyricism, Wretch has always been one to watch evolve. Whether it was as the cool and slick elements provided to The Movement or the consistent wordplay that continues to impress listeners, Wretch has proved his talent long ago to the mainstream.
Yet despite this and the success of previous projects, it’s always felt as though there hasn’t quite been that classic project. Wretchrospective was a mixtape that was re-released as an album, featuring Wretch 32 at his peak. Black & White saw a departure from Wretch’s staple style in an appeal to the commercial sound. Growing Over Life sounded more like it was a therapeutic process rather than an album, the raw emotion is all over the project — this isn’t a bad thing, however, we lose some of the smoothness that makes him the rapper who he is. FR32 again inherited a similar pain, due to a family member passing, but the project did also show signs of Wretch getting on to what seemed like what could be a winning formula.
“Did you listen to Wretchrospective with a new perspective/ are you now Growing Over Life or is it still subjective/ Are you seeing in Black & White or have the colours blended/ Is your favourite FR3 in 2 verse now my chapters ended”‘The Baton’
Upon Reflection feels like the connection of all of those aforementioned dots that would make the perfect Wretch 32 project.
On the album, he doesn’t sound like he feels like he has anything to prove, or like he’s seeking for approval, he sounds like exactly what he is – a veteran. The project serves as a legend looking back on a career that is by no means over. In doing so, Wretch brought in both frequent collaborators from his early career such as Ghetts and Giggs as well as two North London talents he has given his seal of approval to (Knucks and Avelino). This is not to mention Talay Riley, as well as the self-proclaimed “African Giant” Burna Boy making a surprise appearance on the project too.
It was nice to see the rapper meld these different parts of his career into Upon Reflection, but also that he didn’t rely on these features. Each feature is big and strategically placed across the album.
Prior to Upon Reflection‘s arrival, Wretch 32 released three singles: ‘Mummy’s Boy’, ‘Spin Around’, and ’10/10′.
‘Mummy’s Boy’ came first, and quickly set the tone of what to expect. It is poignant in its message and one that flips the norms. Embracing the usual insult or underhanded comment of calling a man a “Mummy’s Boy”, Wretch gives an account for exactly why that’s not a problem. The love for his mother is clear, the fact he could get it across in such a hard-hitting way and with such clever wordplay is what makes the rapper such a special talent.
“I been feeling like myself lately/ Hearing children that are really tryna imitate me, When I’m/ One of one, not one of many/ If they’re claiming they’re a hundred to one it’s gotta be pennies/ Tell the country they can count on the sun to be magnetic/ Pull you closer then be picking you up, it’s just calisthenics/ Being helpful that’s a trait from my mum/ Getting pole position that’s the formula one”‘Mummy’s Boy’
‘Mummy’s Boy’ is self-reflective without coming across as self-pitying, yet neither is it an effort to exaggerate experiences. The balance of the song, as well as it leaning more into his lyrical bag, made it the perfect first single release for him.
Wretch 32 followed this up with ‘Spin Around’. The MC might not be the world’s greatest vocalist, it’s definitely something he has been working on for a while, but his more melodic songs are the break you need on a project that is so compact with content.
’10/10′ arrives next with a sublime production that works to the strengths of both Wretch and his special guest Giggs. As such the two battle it out with one verse each, and honestly I couldn’t tell you who takes the win on the track. Giggs has the same energy seen on singles such as ‘Man Don’t Care’, and that’s a Giggs that most artists get blown out of the waters by. But in typical Wretch form, in a way that seems effortlessly cool, he delivers a standout performance. This is without even taking into consideration the acrobatics to articulate the machine gun paced hook. If ‘Mummy’s Boy’ was the perfect song format for Wretch to wax lyrical, ’10/10′ is as close to a perfect studio produced freestyle as we can get.
Title-track ‘Upon Reflection’ also adds a strong component to its housing album. It hits the nail on the head in terms of content, Wretch literally spends the track reflecting on almost every aspect of his personal life as well as his career. The track is important not only because it embodies the album’s key theme, but it is an exercise that should be done by everyone.
“Too much reflecting, make the mirror crack, 7 years bad luck now/ Hate your reflection, still looking back, wishing for what you had/ Didn’t know what you had, don’t break the mirror”‘Upon Reflection’
Elsewhere, ‘The Baton’ which features both Avelino and Knucks, stands tall as a pinnacle moment across the album. The track truly delivers on everything you’d imagine it to be looking at the names on the bill. ‘The Baton’ name place, alongside these artists, suggests the passing over of ‘The Baton’ to them and whilst that’s great to see it also hints at something not so great. For Wretch to pass the baton on would essentially mean he was stepping back. It feels as though at least one more album following ‘Upon Reflection’ might be needed to solidify the artistry as one of one before Wretch steps out of the spotlight. Knucks adds a smooth hook leaving audiences craving a full-verse and Avelino demonstrates exactly why Wretch picked him as the artist to do a joint project with as he has lyrics in abundance and high-quality ones too.
Sleeper tracks also exist throughout that are destined to grow on you over time. The tow for me are ‘Closer To Me’ and ‘Last Night’. Both songs are about relationships with women, different dynamics exist in both, but they equally stand as laid back numbers. The slower pace and subject matter are elements of what should make them universally appealing. Of course Wretch bars on both, but it’s much less in your face lyricism and more penmanship that sounds good on the ear on first listen, made to be dissected on a longer-term basis.
Upon Reflection stands as Wretch 32’s best project, as it gives audiences quintessential elements of the rapper. He’s managed to perfect the good elements from projects before and has packaged them all together in a cohesive way. There’s emotion, vibes, and of course lyricism in abundance. The combination of those things in a balanced way is something Wretch has failed to give all the way through a project in the past, but finally, the rapper delivers in a strong and impressive way.