“If I just stuck to drill, I’d be holding back my talent,” Headie One explained in an interview with the Evening Standard last year – a statement that is ever-resonating with the release of his new collaborative EP Gang.
Tottenham rapper Headie One has once again sent waves of dissension through the UK drill scene with his multifaceted EP Gang - co-produced with Fred Again. Pushing the genre that many have comfortably sat in for years, the avant-garde nature of this collaboration proves Headie One is unafraid of pushing the regularity of drill to new heights. His consistent bravado and confidence trailed through the tracks on this EP, alongside its unexpected amalgamation of featuring artists, has only further redefined the possibilities of where the UK Drill scene can develop from here.
Headie One is best known for his chart-topping singles 18-HUNNA and Both from his 2019 mixtape Music x Road. Cementing his place in UK Rap as one to watch, Headie One’s ability to consistently evolve his sound whilst retaining uncompromising lyrics can be accredited to this success. His debut mainstream album Music x Road achieved a top 5 spot on the UK Albums Chart, making him the highest charting UK Drill artist ever. And yet, the ease of warming to Headie One and his music is made very possible by his honesty, both musically and lyrically. Music x Road was his first step in a direction of substantial artistic growth; unravelling stories of crime and drugs on the same stage as experiments in hip-hop, minimalist electronic and gritty drill beats. Even the features on this album – the likes of Stormzy, Dave and Stefflon Don - are incapable of distracting from his unique and intriguing style.
Headie One’s direction following the success of Music x Road was very much unknown. His tendency to produce unexpected and controversial tracks landed him a place at the forefront of the drill scene, coming with an abundance of positive and negative reviews. Headie One is not unknown to backlash on social media regarding his willingness to explore further than mainstream drill – a criticism that has been prevalent from both Music X Road and the new EP.
Yet, Gang appears to further push Headie One towards a mature, reflective style of writing. Opposing the connotative images inherent in his previous work – with an affluence of lyrics detailing his previous life of drugs and prison – Gang is very much a move away from this. It was an interesting choice to co-create with such a mainstream artist as Fred Again, a British producer best known for working with Ed Sheeran and George Ezra. However, the experimental and futuristic sounds provided through Fred Again’s mature artistic repertoire is one of the reasons the EP is so interesting. Gang exhibits a generosity of genres, entwining melodic and melancholic vocals with gutsy industrial beats.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this EP is Headie One’s choice of additional collaborations, enlisting a string of prestigious and talented artists. Notably, his work with FKA Twigs on track ‘Judge Me’ provides a delicate interlude to the rest of the EP, unravelling her angelic and synthy sound amongst a more emotional side to Headie One’s lyrics. And yet, the centerpiece to this album really rests in the collaboration with national treasure Jamie xx on ‘Smoke’. It is this song that most noticeably transcends his sound outside that of a drill rapper, combining melancholic lyrics with resonating drums and dissolving sounds - stylistic to Jamie xx's previous work. Another notable mention sits in Gang’s closing track 'Soldiers', featuring Sampha, in which he concludes the EP with the line “we march on” - a positive end to a confessionary detailing of his life of paranoia and crime.
GangHeadie One’s summates to be his most innovative and exciting piece to date, accelerating his ability in drill into new and unforeseen sounds.
Gang was released on 3rd April 2020.