English folk really like their breathy, enigmatic male vocalists. Where Sampha caused an international sensation with his work on SBTRKT’s ‘Best of 2011’ eponymous debut, the impact of the mysterious Brit male, waxing lyrical over minimalist beats, subterranean sounds and various bleeps and blobs is particularly acute in that newest, most popular of genres: post-dubstep. In the vocal chords of Jamie Woon, the Y-chromosonal bit of The xx, Jai Paul and any number of other whimsical acts prone to being intensely introspective, wildly moody and occasionally dour, the impression of the new age Brit is vibrating, resonating into life. He is not the eternal optimist, nor is he necessarily content with his lot. Instead, the songs of post-dubstep, coolly downtempo, serve only as a canvas upon which the severe Englishman splatters his myriad emotions. One of the most telling inner landscapes of late has been Wretch 32’s ‘Don’t Go’.
Here, the astoundingly soulful Kumra lends his pipes to a track that, released back in August, gave Wretch 32 (pronounced ‘three-two’) his first number one single in the UK. To be sure, 32, kicking around with Wiley pals Scorcher and Devlin and recording as The Movement in his local Tottenham before being signed to Ministry of Sound in 2010, is no James Blake. Looking at the guy, he could easily be a football player. Something like a Craig David/Seal crossover but maybe less suaveness than either of the two, 32’s hardened face doesn’t scream sensitive new age guy. But he’s got Kumra on board to do that for him. Grime, by its very definition, borrows on the foundations of a whole slew of genres. To listen to a Wiley or Dizzee Rascal album is to listen to a dancehall album, a hip-hop album, a dubstep and a punk album all rolled into one, linked only by the usually strong British accent rapping over the top of it.
The original ‘Don’t Go’ borrows heavily on 90s RnB traditions, toying with vocal flourishes that wouldn’t be out of place on a Groove Theory track, and is made all the more moody for the pitch-adjusted humming that serves as its centrepiece. M.J. Cole’s treatment sees the house producer adding still more rings to the onion, involving an uptempo strings riff that marches keenly alongside the beat, now infused with a bit more purpose than the ambling original. The result is something of a strange hybrid: it is both danceable, music for the exercise halls of the world and intensely personal, none of the poignance of that desperate refrain is lost in the update. And for a grime artist, probably more predisposed to talking about streets than sentiment, Wretch 32’s verses border on saccharine but are, on the whole, believable. It’s not the spare soundscapes that we’re used to but ‘Don’t Go’ is yet more evidence that the 2012 Englishman just wants a shoulder to lean on, a diary to record his thoughts and a song to give them life.
Wretch 32 Ft. Josh Kumra – Don’t Go (M.J. Cole Remix)