Headie One // Live Review & Photoset

28th October | SWX

Photos: Craig Simmonds

The polarising social dialogue hanging over drill music is far from over. Just last week, drill artist, Rico Racks was jailed and given a five-year criminal behaviour order that prevents him from rapping slang associated with dealing drugs such as ‘trapping’, ‘connect’ and ‘bandoe’.

Back in January, rappers AM and Skengdo were handed a suspended sentence for nine months in prison for performing their track ‘Attempted 1.0’ at London club, Koko. Throughout the ongoing conversation, where some have questioned the genre’s association with knife crime and others criticising the lack of freedom of speech, Irving Adjej, a.k.a. Headie One is the one who got away.

Music X Road is the furthest away he has ever been from drill in his whole career. That is not to say it doesn’t pack the same brutal punch as his earlier work. The title track alone tells his story better amongst his tales of money and clothing brands that the other songs talk so much about.

His runaway success lies in the diversity of sounds across the mixtape, contrasted with his feisty flow that makes no compromise. Due to his recent surge into the mainstream, many assume the North London twentysomething is an overnight celebrity.

It couldn’t be further from the truth, and ‘Kettle Water’ is proof of that. Shoes were thrown, joints were lit and teens were thrown out. Some may think the drill kingpin encourages drugs. He is merely retelling his life experience before he was a star.

Listen hard and you can stitch together the timeline of Adjej pretty easily. On ‘Rubbery Bandz’ he begins listing the ages: “Seventeen was the first time they took the guys, nineteen, I took a half a brick and shook a hand.” He continues his trip down memory lane in ‘Ball in Peace’ where he reminds us, “Came out of jail and I didn’t get to celebrate my twenty-first and twentieth.”

‘Rubbery Bandz’ describes his love affair with stacks of money from his dealing days. It gets everyone riled up but it isn’t enough for him. “You’re only at 65% right now,” he tells the crowd. He isn’t wrong. In a blistering set lasting just under an hour, he establishes himself as a perfectionist. He restarts his Ultra Nate-sampling ‘Both’ three times because he doesn’t approve of the mosh pit.

For all the times he picks at the energy from the crowd, sometimes it just comes naturally. The pitched soulful samples lead him through ‘Home’ where he starkly remembers the comforts of home amidst the strife he experienced on the streets. He raps, “How many times did they put me in court, and I had to face that judgement?” This is a subject he doesn’t shy away from; his roots drive him forward.

He warns his fans in ‘Ball in Peace’, cautioning, “I couldn’t tell you a time cash fell at my feet. ” These aren’t the words of a young boy glamorising drug culture, but the lyrics of a new man reflecting on the consequences.

But it seems the story of Irving Adjej is lost on a young crowd living their best lives. Which is actually fine, because Headie One isn’t here to get sympathy for his dark past. He’s a survivor, mapping out his bright future.

See the lyric video for ‘Both’ here: