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Following the release of his ‘Music X Road’ record in 2019, Headie One seemed an unstoppable force. His daring and innovative sound since starting out in music nearly six years ago helped set the mould for much of the drill scene today, widening the possibilities for artists originating in genre.
Then, just as he looked poised to cement his drill domination, the Tottenham rapper started off 2020 behind bars for carrying a knife. Upon release back in April, he dropped his experimental Fred Again..-produced mixtape ‘Gang’, which saw an unlikely pairing of two artists with seemingly incompatible styles. Polarising in the sense it strayed far and wide from his traditional sound, the record’s abstract nature saw the rapper break free from his artistic expectations; proving his versatility in a way that few drill artists had done before him. If the dance-inspired, glossy hip-hop cuts sprinkled throughout his previous two projects were an early glimpse of what’s to come, Headie’s desire to cross into new areas is more polished and mature than ever on his debut album ‘Edna’, where he moves the goalposts for UK drill music once again.
The new LP offers some of Headie’s most reflective work to date, vividly depicting the tension between his music career and a life on the roads. However, this narrative is not particularly new for the North Londoner – what’s different is the self-effacing honesty in which he speaks, momentarily letting down his guard to let the listener gain a deeper understanding of the man behind the mic.
Opening track ‘Teach Me’ sees Headie look back on his family life growing up: “Pa was strugglin’ to cope with me, he started to wish he aborted me, Oh how we tried everything, even tried therapy, couldn’t even tell what was wrong with me,” he raps. The intensity to Madara Beatz’s production is cut with an unavoidable feeling of sorrow, as the Tottenham star outlines how he asked his late mother Edna – whom the album is titled about – to teach him forgiveness. The guiding presence of his mother is revisited throughout the album, watching down on Headie as he navigates the different stages of his journey so far. ‘Psalm 35′ continues the record’s introspective direction, reflecting on the bad treatment he received from his step mum and how his family life set him down a wayward path: “Comin’ from a broken home so today, I’m still pickin’ up the bits and pieces,” he spits.
‘Triple Science’ and ‘The Light’ align more with Headie’s conventional drill sound, as he spits over a series of brooding, dark-edged synths. Lyrically, the ‘Drillers X Trappers’ MC winds back the years, transporting himself to his years on the roads and all that comes with it: “All the times that I wanted to call it quits, I stayed,” he confesses in ‘Triple Science’. ‘The Light’ comparatively signifies a change in momentum for the rapper, where he managed to break the cycle.
The star-studded 20-track project boasts some head-turning collaborations, such as AJ Tracey and Stormzy on ‘Ain’t It Different’, Young T & Bugsey on ‘Princess Cuts’, and Mahalia on ‘You/Me’. However, it’s Headie’s growing affinity with the Stateside link-ups which speak volumes for where he wants to take his work on the global stage. The UK rap boom has not gone unnoticed in America, with US artists queuing up to work with British drill producers such as 808Melo, M1onthebeat and Ghosty, after Pop Smoke championed the sound. With megastars like Drake also dipping their toes into UK drill, it seems as if the baton is there for Headie to grab and run with it.
On ‘Edna’, the North Londoner grabs a verse from Drake on ‘Only You Freestyle’ as well as linking up with Future on ‘Hear No Evil’. Similar to how Skepta popularised grime on the other side of the Atlantic, Headie seems poised to be the trailblazing poster-boy for UK drill in the US, while the pair of Tottenham exporters join forces for the second time on ‘Try Me’. The record also features appearances from the likes of M Huncho, Ivorian Doll, Aitch, and Haile, who each bring their own individual styles for Headie to work with.
On the final track ‘Cold’, Headie delivers some of the most resonant lyrics on the project, sketching out the aspects which led him towards a life on the roads. Kaash Paige weaves her vocals in-between vivid and honest descriptions of a lack of youth services, poverty, court trials and a failing education system; his knack for pointing out the pitfalls in society becoming much stronger with age.
His debut album ‘Edna’ amalgamates all that we’ve seen from the rapper on his journey so far. While his icy drill flows still beat the majority of what’s out there, Headie’s exponentially improving lyrical depth has put him clear. Continuing his tendency to not be pinned down by the shackles of any one genre, his versatility and ability to shutdown any track he appears on has put him on the right path to attaining legendary status.