In the past, Headie One has often been miss-classified by mainstream news outlets, exclusively being put into the ‘Drill’ musical category. His latest project, “GANG”, has finally distorted this preconception, bringing Headie’s more complex skills as a musician to the forefront. UK producer Fred Again cosigned the whole project, infusing his electronic, bass heavy rhythms with Headies signature and distinctive rap style. The techno-esque undercurrent combined with the signature gritty flow of Headie One, gives this album an unconventional yet dynamic vibe. The album features artists such as FKA Twigs, Jamie XX, Octavian, Slowthai and Sampha – each adding a sprinkle of melodic spice to create a perect blend of the UK’s most exciting and talented artists.
GANG opens with ‘Told’, a raw song that instantly exposes a vulnerable side to the rapper and sets the tone for the album. The thumping bass incorporated with delicate piano chords paves the way for Headies lyrics that reflect the culture of gang mentality instilled into him as a yute in Tottenham:
“Family first, that’s the code you know
I still walk the thin line between music and road
Loyalty first, that’s the code you know”
The decision to place an uncharacteristically emotional tune at the album’s opening is indicative of the project’s position in comparison to the rest of Headies already extensive discography. “Drillers and Trappers’ ‘, “The One Two” & “Music X Road’ ‘ have all been characterized by Headie’s ability to craft pure bangers, infused with external confidence and the coldest of hooks. “Told” prefaces this project as being distinctively different. Gang stands in justopsition as a project rooted in Headie’s own personality and private history. He invites us to understand the man behind the bars, while demonstrating his more than capable skills as a self reflectant composer with immense musiciality.
The song transitions swifty into a light synth, announcing the arrival of the project’s title track, ‘GANG’. The rhythm lifts but the context stays consistent as Headie elevates into fragmented vocals, transcending his usual narrative. Once again, Headie looks inward as a source of inspiration, breaking down each one of the three verses to run chronologically through his own time in jail, his release and his music career. Within each verse, the same bar is repeated, yet a deeper understanding of its meaning is exposed as he places it within the context of his life at pre and post jail:
Verse 1: “They didn’t lie when they say you’re out of sight, out of mind. Told myself I’ll make sure they can’t forget me next time”
Verse 2: “Didn’t lie when they say you’re out of sight, out of mind
Now they’re wishin’ they can get a second out of my time.”
Judge Me, Charades & Smoke
The outro offers a synthetic interwoven harmony that perfectly leads into the haunting interlude ‘Judge Me’ ft FKA Twigs, a track that delicately fades between each artists vocals:
‘She thought that I was done with this (don’t judge me, say that I thought we could make it through). She thought that I was done with this (don’t judge me, save me, breakin’ for you every day)’.
The next track ‘Charades’ rewinds into a classic drill bop, as this tune is the midtrack, it poses as a banging reminder of traditional Headie energy and alleviates the electro vibe of the following. ‘Smoke’, presents an echoing, bass-heavy beat that progressively emerges into a techno rhythm as Jamie xx’s shining electro incorporation gradually intensifies throughout the track – this is arguably the most experimental track of the album.
The tracklist is a savvy combination of drill and electro with lyrics that expose vulnerability but still project durability and the signature Headie coldness. This Headie One and Fred Again… production is a fresh and honest rendition of storytelling from the streets that ends with the uplifting ‘SOLDIERS’ featuring Sampha:
‘The soldiers, the bravest
My friends was courageous
We march on’
These final lyrics eloquently tie together the mixtape by embodying a sense of courage, persistence and endurance – projecting a message of hope and faith. I would say this album is certainly groundbreaking as it is a rarity for lyricists to be able to make the seamless transition from Driller too self reflective storyteller, particularly when repetadly doing so on the same project. It is harder still for both perspectives to remain authentic, belivable and grounded in ones own experience. Something Headie has been able to do with ease. Fred Again’s signature electro production style does a lot to raise Headies game, adding depth and a unique sound, too some extent they have shaped a new genre of drill.