review: Headie One – GANG

This is no ordinary record. Specifically, this is no ordinary drill record. Starting with a pulsing synth and light piano decorating the start of GANG, Headie One & Fred again… are telling us what Headie’s been told, and what he wants to say back.

From the first track, Headie spits “I walk a thin line between music and road”. This is not a new situation for drill musicians. From drill artists having lyrics screened by the MET Police to the arrest of Skengo and AM for performing a specific song or the myriad references to drugs, guns, knives, brotherhood and rivalries forming the bedrock of drill, Headie One acknowledges that the line between the life outside of his music on road, and the route to escaping that life are intertwined. For the experiences associated with drill conjure the lyrics, the production and the musicians that create the music.

In GANG, Headie covers all the topics that you’d expect from a drill record – time in prison, life on the road, . But the sentiment and experience Headie speaks about is elevated by the playful production brought in by Fred again… Make no mistake; Headie One is a master in his field, and his work with Fred Again… takes him to the next level. GANG rings differently, somehow. It feels considered, mature, but still exploratory and experimental.

What’s sparkling about this album is the way in which it’s moving forward with each song. Headie One is prolific, having released two albums in as many years. But with this mixtape, he moves towards a more experimental sound. Some of his drill sensibilities remain; the lyrics & the way he spits bring a drill spin to this record. But his collaborators on this album – Sampha, Jamie XX and FKA Twigs – as well as his producer, Fred again… nod towards a future where the heart of drill finds itself under different guises. You can have drill which is cold, raw, chilling and full of production. You can also have drill which adopts facets of other genres to elevate itself to a level which takes you by surprise. Musicians that keep you on your toes are always good in my book.

What you get with GANG is an mixtape which is vulnerable, introspective. The bravado that you find in drill has taken a back seat for a moment. In its place, you hear a voice that is cognizant, that is impassioned and looking to be heard. The world is listening now, Headie.

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