A tribute to Tony Allen, by Emma-Jean Thackray
Headie One’s meteoric rise has redefined the possibilities for artists originating from the UK drill scene, carving out previously-unexplored avenues for like-minded artists to follow in the rearview mirror of his success.
His ‘Music x Road’ record looked at the crossroads of life in the fast lane and a lucrative future of fame and fortune. Featured in our 50 Best Albums of 2019 list, the LP fused Headie’s background with his experiences of being one of the UK’s fastest growing talents. Given the bold manner in which the Tottenham rapper displayed his rough-edged vocals and clean-cut flows, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Headie hasn’t taken his foot off the creative pedal.
Out today, mixtape ‘Gang’ sees an unlikely pairing of two artists with seemingly incompatible styles and sounds: British singer-producer Fred again.. and Headie, who team up to create an ambitious project diverging from what currently defines the British rap sound.
Cutting his teeth among some the UK’s biggest names, Fred again.. navigated his way through the fierce chart-based music industry, producing for the likes of George Ezra, Rita Ora, Mist and Ed Sheeran. Earlier this year, he won a Brit Award for Best Producer after spending an impressive fourteen weeks of 2019 with a track at the number one spot.
‘Gang’ sees Headie One utilise the futuristic electronic style of Fred’s to produce his most abstract sound to date. ‘Told’ filters lyrics from the self-titled opener on ‘Music x Road’ through a high-pitched distortion filter, setting an experimental tone for the project and immediately achieving a sound unlike anything Headie has put out before.
Besides the addition of some scaled-up autotune, tracks ‘Gang’ and the previously-released ‘Charades‘ encompass more of a “typical” Headie One style. Here, the North Londoner delivers his casual, off-the-cuff style with an un-explainable potency.
One of the mixtape’s most interesting factors is its star-studded roster of features, bringing together some of the UK’s most influential names onto a single project. FKA twigs lends her angelic vocals to ‘Judge Me’, while Jamie xx lends his genre-transcendent style of beatwork to ‘Smoke’, marrying UK rap lyricism with the expansive sound of one of the country’s most cherished producers.
Closing track ‘Soldiers’ utilises Sampha’s fragile vocal for a mellow bow-out cut that dives deep into Headie’s songwriting capabilities. Focusing around the lyrics “we march on”, the song is a forward-facing look to the future and sums up the rapper’s desire to continuously adapt.
With the project already drawing criticism from Headie One fans on Twitter, it goes without saying that ‘Gang’ won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Breaking away from what’s expected of him, Headie has shown the world that being boxed into one sound is not for him and even though ‘Gang’ may serve as a polarising record, it shows the Tottenham rapper shares a vision with all the great trailblazers of British music before him.
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