If you mention drill, Headie is one of the first names to come up, especially if we’re talking about it on an elite level. At only 26 years of age, Headie’s racked up top 5 albums, top 10 singles, and some undeniable drill classic songs and tapes – Know Better, the Drillers and Trappers series – the list goes one.
There’s no doubt about it, the man deserves some accolades.
So last week, when Headie announced that he was going to be wrapping up his 6 month sentence (for knife possession) early – and then that he was dropping a tape with pop producer Fred Again called GANG the same week – any fan Would only be excited.
However, we’re sitting here a week later and one of drill's most favoured artists is looking at what might be a flop. So what went wrong?
If we cut a long story short, Headie dropped a catfish album. Parts of the album border on techno. If you were expecting ‘The One Three’, then on first listen, it could only be an emotional rollercoaster – by the time you get halfway through, your only reaction is ‘what possessed Headie to do something like this?’
To answer this question, I’ve done everyone a favour and had the album on repeat over the weekend.
And the answer to that question is easy; he’s been doing this the whole time.
BEFORE THIS: How did we get here?
Headie’s never been a straight drill album. His breakout tape with RV was called Drillers x Trappers – it wasn’t always supposed to be about drill. He’s just really good at it.
Time and time again in his career, for every drill banger he drops, he’s tried something new and different, and pushed the boundaries of the genre. He was one of the first playing around with melodies on drill. He’d show off his versatility by jumping on a Loski tape one day and an afroswing tune with Belly Squad the next.
Last year, his debut album showed that he could go from underground to mainstream like it was nothing; the only drill feature on the project was RV, and for the rest? It was heavy hitters like Dave, Skepta, Krept and Konan, and even Nav from Toronto.
The album was one of the best of last year, but not the best drill project of the year. He’d painted it as a concept album, with a meaning behind the transparent mask on the cover. He’d touched on afro swing, trap, and even R&B drill.
Who the hell flips a classic Faith Evans song into a drill song? And even to shed morelight, after revisiting the 100 bottles Interlude, it actually sounds like something off this project, but less intense.
But if we look at the lead single for this album, Both is where we see the lead up to what we see on GANG.
BOTH – The First Gamble
Both is a great song. Lyrically, Headie takes the idea that he’s trying to do ‘both’, and flips it into a catchy lyric, applying it to a million different situations. He’s trying to do up both of his opps. He’s been caught for two charges and they’re trying him on both. He wants money and success, and he’s going for both. It’s cool, clever, and interesting, but you get the idea.
The beat choice is the interesting part. Produced by PJ Beats and Nastylgia, the beat flips ‘Free’ by Ultra Nate, a house song you all know but would never listen to. Faith Evans is one thing, but I would seriously judge anyone who put this on the aux. And yet when Headie flips it, it takes on a completely different meaning. The guitars, the vocal sample – it all makes sense, and actually works.
but at the end of the day, it worked. Headie took something you would never usually like, and made it into something to enjoy for the masses. It was a risk, but it paid off.
GANG: The Catfish album
So that’s enough background waffling. That sets the scene of why Headie did this in the first place. He’s a naturally experimental artist, he’s A1 on drill but he’s always ready to switch it up in the name of progress. And after a top 5 album like Music x Road, the only way up was to make the same gamble, but bigger.
And me personally? I’m not actually that mad at it.
The album is short, not even touching 25 minutes in the 8 track span. It almost feels like he’s trying to get in and get out before you clock what you’re actually listening to. But you should be prepared for something different – there are no drill producers, and there are no drill features on this album whatsoever.
But despite that, it doesn’t feel rushed. The whole album is put together well, and almost feels cinematic. Fred Again is a talented producer, you can’t take it away from him. The synths and pianos, and atmospheric vibe album doesn’t sound like anyone in the UK rap space is doing right now.
Told is a solid intro; it’s understated, featuring an intro to Headie’s new style of high pitched, borderline overdone autotune that he debuted on the single, Charades.
GANG is even better. It’s more of a spaced out rap song, he paints a picture of a rapper caught for past deeds and locked up where he had ‘more than enough time to think of a plan’. The chorus is catchy as hell, and it’s probably my favourite song on the album.
From there we get the FKA Twigs featured ‘Judge Me’ interlude, an emotional ballad featuring more minimal spaced out production, some sparse bars from Headie and some 808 slides, reminding you that Headie is primarily a drill artist.
It leads you directly into the most conventional song on here, Charades, the lead single. It had mixed reception but the minimal drill production and passionate autotune makes it one of my favourite Headie songs, period. It’s a zoner for sure.
But that’s only half the album. If it carried on like this, GANG would be my favourite Headie project. However, it goes further left from there, and that’s where it goes downhill.
Smoke, for me personally is unlistenable. It takes me back to everytime someone has convinced me to go to a house or techno night and I’ve left early, slightly pissed off feeling like I’ve ruined my night.
Tyron interlude features a pointless, annoying interlude from Slowthai, and a techno flip of some Headie vocals.
Know Me is more techno pandering; at this point, we’re not getting any real verses from Headie apart from something that would work effortlessly in a DJ mix, but would get skipped in a spotify playlist.
The final song, Soldiers features one of my favourite R&B singers, Sampha, who you may remember from the classic song ‘Too Much’. The song probably redeems the second half of the album for me, but that doesn’t mean the song is perfect.
Sampha completely overtakes the song from Headie, to the point where he feels like a feature. And the clips of Skepta saying ‘We march on’ doesn’t really impress me.
But overall, that’s 5 songs out of 8 that I enjoy. Only problem is those 3 songs should be deleted off the whole internet.
So you see why I called it a catfish album? Headie gave us something we might like with Charades, but overall gave us something pretty ugly. It was a risk for his first project after his first album to go so far left.
The album kind of reminds me of Yeezus; an experimental album that completely flipped expectations on their head. The only problem is Yeezus is sick, and the times where it goes too far are kept in check.
This album is literally like a rollercoaster, but it’s like the build up was the best bit, and once you get halfway through, the drop is a nightmare.
And I feel like the reason Headie did this is pretty obvious. The game is the game, and we live in the UK, a country with a long history of club music. Getting a mainstream audience means you have to sell music to the masses, and the masses include guys named Brad in Bath who actually listen to Jamie XX.
but to some it all up, i'm glad headie's experimenting. this album could've been amazing. I’m not mad at the attempt, only the execution.