Things are certainly brighter for Wretch 32 this year, judging by the artwork of his latest album FR32. Following the announcement of the Tottenham rapper's fourth album, he shared the "FR32" freestyle where there was a sense of overcoming and triumph, given the wider smile he was wearing. On his last outing, Growing Over Life, the mood and energy was fierce but bleaker. Richard Antwi, a friend of Wretch and a much-loved guy within the industry, passed away last year. The long-play's tone was certainly darker as he addressed that in detail, and, with his heart on his sleeve, the death of Mark Duggan which still leaves a bitter taste when mentioned.
Wretch has always been known for his astute critique of life's ills and politics, as well as showing awareness of his current surroundings. While the album suggests a slightly more lighter tone, as the set opens with the charged "DPMO" and combined with the fist on the artwork, it suggests he won't break tradition and shy away from delivering sharp and direct bars. The rapper matures with each LP offering in a way that it almost feels like a series of The Wire, where, on each one, he zeroes in on a specific area of his life and environment.
And that's why it's difficult to ignore the symbolism behind the artwork — there's a reconciliation where anger and frustration was left on Growing Over Life, and this is perhaps why the freestyle received the energy it did. Wretch's voice feels lighter and freer on songs such as "Happy", and even on the more blunt songs like "His And Her Perspective", he approaches conflict from a position of understanding. Reconciliation is freeing and the weight that's lifted when you've found peace with conflict, whether internal or otherwise, brings clarity.
The pace of the album is supervised well and, by the midway point, there's certainly a change in energy which reflects that maturity and healing mentioned previously. On "Power", where Wretch laments he's "old enough to know better but young enough to try again", as a listener you're reminded of the sage advice that applies to yourself in his deft words. Wretch is smiling more, boasting his grill — and as he displays a more commanding presence, his confidence has been renewed and his focus reinvigorated.
Awareness of self isn't amiss on the 12-track set, and that would certainly feel out of character. Wretch 32 has never shied away from drawing the best out of an artist and ensuring their contribution matches his intent. But, on FR32, there's an assurance in his voice that cannot be doubted. Sonically, the album takes a slightly more rhythmic approach on songs like "Whistle" and "Tell Me" — which makes sense, considering the LP features names like Donae'O and Kojo Funds. Conceptually, though, FR32 says a lot more than who's featured on it.
On Growing Over Life, Wretch talked about the growing pains of life, as he lives, while coming out of them he's able to see things with clarity and wisdom on FR32. As "Thug Prayer" signals the album's closing, Wretch says one last Hail Mary for the community around him while bellowing "I'm free!" After mourning, it's heartening to see Wretch win again.