Had you told anyone during the fledgling years of drill rap’s emergence onto the UK music scene, that an artist belonging to the controversial genre would one day go on to, say, score a UK number one album, you would likely have been looked at sideways. The 140 beats per minute were too hasty for the untrained ear, much like grime before it. The murky melodies and militant drums unsettling, and lyrical content often too abrasive for mainstream approval. Court orders, injunctions and bad press followed, all appearing to resign the genre to its underground status indefinitely.
But whilst all of this went on, a distinctive voice was emerging out of Tottenham’s infamous Broadwater Farm Estate, belonging to a rapper by the name of ‘Headz.’ During the period of 2012-2015, others had managed to pen popular hits in drill’s early incubated space (see Grizzy's 'Look Like You' and 67's 'Skeng Man'). But whilst London’s drill pioneers were busy establishing the imported Chicago sound on UK shores, Headz was still riding the dying wave of UK ‘Road Rap,’ with tracks such as 'Heads Or Tails' reminiscent of the more languid delivery that was slowly being phased out of the scene.
However, following a drastic rebrand, 2017 marked what would transpire to be a life-changing lane switch for the OFB rapper. After serving time in prison, Headz, armoured with the sleek new moniker - Headie One - was primed to leave his imprint on the rapidly growing drill scene. From his reincarnation on 'Losses & Winnings' onwards, his poster-boy status was solidified.
Fast forward to October 2020, the artist’s momentum culminated in his debut studio album, 'Edna', entering the charts at Number 1, a feat achieved merely six weeks after featuring on another chart-topping album, Nines’ 'Crabs In A Bucket'. As the world finally sits up to take Headie in, these five quintessential Headie One tracks will bring you up to speed with the man of the moment.
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Supported by a hazy, minimalistic beat courtesy of drill superproducers MK the Plug and M1 on the Beat, Headie One’s characteristically skippy flow was introduced to a new set of listeners. Making his debut on the legendary GRM Daily YouTube channel, his melodic phrasings and quirky football-related bars quickly garnered a cult following.
The infectious track is filled with more quotables than can be covered here, but the memorable catchphrase ‘Bad B come to the Niz, skin all gold she cute’ perhaps sums up the impact of this song. Forcing its way into street lexicon, everybody wanted to know more about the Tottenham rapper and why gorgeous women were seemingly descending upon his N17 postcode.
A perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy in action, Golden Boot confirmed Headie as one of the most prolific voices in drill, propelling him to the forefront of the scene.
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After a viral video of the rapper taking an ‘L in L’ threatened to derail his momentum, Headie responded swiftly with the crafty Know Better. A situation that had initially presented itself as a potential setback, Headie One’s next-day reaction was a turning point in the rapper’s career and cemented his place in drill folklore.
Produced by Pop Smoke collaborator, 808Melo, the eerie vocal sample provided the perfect template for the rapper to detail his vengeance, rather unusually, in as few words as possible. As the events spilled onto social media, it soon became evident that rapid retaliation had been exacted. A lesson in methodical self-censorship, the now widely-used ‘shh’ adlib granted Headie the freedom of allusion in referring to the saga.
Again, flexing his knack for topical, catchy lyrics, “Anything, shh shh, excellent finish, Mo Salah,” was a contender for bar of the year, and the Suave-directed visuals saw Headie channel his inner Charlie Chaplin, silently performing to the camera in an almost comical fashion.
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With three solo projects, a GRM Rated Award, recording deal, headline tour and a Glastonbury performance under his belt by 2019, it was evident that Headie One’s star was rising fast. 'Both', a hard-hitting number taken from the ‘Music x Road’ mixtape released in August of that year, was an example of how far drill, largely under the stewardship of Headie, had developed.
The masterfully treated Ultra Naté sample felt nostalgic and gave the single, which peaked at 13 in the charts, a distinct commercial appeal. There seemed to be a new dimension to Headie’s writing, a newfound ability to mix introspective lines such as "see this life of sin, I’m just tryna make sure my heart stays pure", with frank assessments of his leading position in the game; "now they’re saying I’m the king of drill, trap, rap, I’m doing it all."
The moment this single dropped felt like a watershed moment for Headie One. Successfully breaking down another door, it became clear that the king-elect of drill was ready to crossover.
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Only You Freestyle
In a humorous response to backlash received over his experimental, Fred Again-produced tape, 'GANG', Headie addressed his fans, vowing to not make any drill for a whole year. Of course he was lying. Enlisting the help of long-term admirer, Drake, the OFB co-founder staked a claim for one of the most groundbreaking UK rap releases of all time with the gritty 'Only You Freestyle'.
In a recent interview with DJ Semtex, Headie quoted the Toronto heavyweight as one of his favourite rappers, but upon hearing the monumental collab, it’s safe to say that Drake drew stylistic inspiration from Headie’s book of flows and lingo.
After accommodating the vocoder-ridden 'GANG', dedicated fans of the rapper were heartened to welcome back a vintage Headie in all his pomp. With an assist from one of the world’s biggest pop stars, another breakthrough milestone was reached by the 26 year old star, with the characteristically nonchalant swagger he has become associated with.
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In a genre noted for its relative rigidity both structurally and content-wise, Headie has been celebrated for pushing the boundaries through his witty wordplay and unique flows.
This fluid approach allows him to shine on more commercially-inclined tracks, the viral smash hit collab with Young T & Bugsey, 'Don’t Rush' being a superb case in point. ‘Princess Cuts’ is one of Edna’s many highlights, boasting the same irresistible charm as the trio’s previous outing.
Fast-rising producers I.O and TSB combine powers in this early noughties-reminiscent cut, giving Headie licence to flaunt with jubilant lines like ‘shoe cocaine white, teeth Colgate white.’ It’s a celebratory anthem complemented by the ever-playful Nottingham duo that illustrates Headie One’s progression in the game in the most glamorous of ways.
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'EDNA' is out now.
Words: Sona Ososami
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