The latest mixtape from Headie One is a broad collaboration with Fred again, and is a ground-breaking move towards the acclaim that the UK drill rapper deserves.
It features alternative artists such as FKA Twigs, Sampha, and Jamie XX, and it is different to say the least, from anything we’ve heard from Headie One before, which is a refreshing experimentation that artists seem too scared to take.
The mixtape seems to be rooted in desolation; his features alone display the steps the 26-year old is taking to transform the characterisations of a drill rapper. Something the UK rap/drill music scene has not seen on this scale, earning respect from many critics, such as NME – whether his fans appreciate the change or not.
The mixtape starts with a fixated heartbeat and sullen piano, for the song titled “Told“, which is all about its atmosphere.
He reflects on the gang mentality that was implemented in him from his youth, “Loyalty first, that’s the code you know / I still walk a thin line between music and road / that’s what I was told you know”, quietly setting the tone for the rest of the mixtape.
The track displays his vocal growth, while the distortion of his vocals in “Gang” and “Smoke“, which features the electronic synths of Jamie XX, displays the techno and electronic influences that Headie One has adapted to, automatically earning respect for his variation and difference as an artist.
However, the artistry and versatility of Headie One has always been present with track like “Both” which featured a sample from the infamous house song, “Free” by Ultra Nate, and “Charades” which is featured on the mixtape and was released towards the end of January this year.
That track hinted to fans, the risks and endless possibilities that Headie One wants to make as an artist, but Gang was still a surprise to many fans, who assumed his new mixtape would be categorised to UK drill.
The bouncy flow of “Charades” is what enables Headie to cross over to the charts, as seen with the track “Both”, and imprint his name in the UK and global music scene. It is extremely comparable to big-name artists like Drake, with his track “One Dance”, which was also released with a sample and flow that majority of rappers tend to steer clear of.
“You know how many lonely nights I felt? / Or the times I got an empty promise? / I can’t trust a soul; I only trust my pocket”, Headie raps on “Charades”, and it is monumental that Fred again has given Headie a different sound and style of genre to address topics that are mostly ever heard on drill or rap beats.
While these songs offer a lively production, the track “Judge Me” is solemn and features the distinct, mournful vocals of FKA Twigs, as he remembers a time where “I was broke, and I loved myself / Nobody even loved me”. A vulnerability almost unknown amongst drill rappers and is a genuine look into his subconsciousness.
The next track on the mixtape, “Know Me” delves even deeper, with him speaking on aspects such as depression, which is an issue that only a handful of artists, such as Stormzy, have addressed.
“I got pain in my chest, but I find comfort in it”, he raps, addressing the issue that young men are too familiar with – their emotional disarray, while they are forced to endure that pain, with the idea of it making them stronger.
The mixtape ends with “Soldier” featuring the unique and beautiful vocals of Sampha, where he addresses his frustrations of being monitored constantly by the police.
However, the track offers more hope and positivity than other tracks featured, with “we march on” as a continuing background sentence to the chorus. Showing that there are brighter days for Headie, especially with his release from prison on April 2.
The mixtape is one of sadness and reflection, but it displays his perseverance as a human and an artist. Headie One’s risk with this mixtape may not be popular amongst typical UK drill fans but there is immense respect and artist evolution with the risk he took, which will no doubt find him amongst top UK artists like Skepta and Stormzy – and it is well deserved.
Headie One’s Gang is out now via Relentless Records, purchase it on iTunes here and stream it on Spotify below.
Words by Hiba Hassan