Headie One - Music x Road review: ‘A proud, matter-of-fact dispatch from our streets’

Headie One's new mix-tape is out now. Picture: James Barber.

Headie One's new mix-tape is out now. Picture: James Barber. - Credit: Archant

Whether the drill rap scene likes it or not, for those outside of its primary audience the view persists that it is a genre dogged by ignominious repute.

Artwork for Music x Road, which is out now.

Artwork for Music x Road, which is out now. - Credit: Archant

YouTube video purges and Met Police pleas decrying a violent culture surrounding the movement has abetted this impression, ensuring that drill has been classified as both soundtrack and enabler to a worrying cultural malaise.

Whether or not that is true is open to ongoing debate but at the forefront of drill's urgent insurgency is Tottenham's Headie One: someone who has faced trials and tribulations of his own, including prison stints and worse, as openly documented from the get-go on the infectious title track of his new mixtape: Music x Road.

Atop skittering beats, the north Londoner provides a thoughtful survey on times misspent, dark nights of the soul and the central importance of music as a way out. If anything, it manifests as an inadvertent sermon evangelising that there need not be musical compromise in exchange for self-proclaimed growth; creative sparks depend neither on arrested development nor arrest in any other sense.

Following a breakthrough year that has seen Headie One emerge triumphant as the first drill musician to break the top ten (the track in question, 18Hunna, takes a central role here), the rapper has wasted no time in furthering his ascendant star. Social media posts that declared that this release contains 'nothing but bangers' is no empty claim either.

Headie One. Picture: Frank Fieber.

Headie One. Picture: Frank Fieber. - Credit: Archant

It is a proclamation substantiated in Interlude: 100 Bottles. A track whose purpose-built insistency is suited to cruising late into the night. And so too in Home, a song that initially ricochets around a beat that wouldn't be out-of-place on a Streets record, but slips into something altogether more Headie-in-style and Headie-in-tone as it unfolds.

The tasteful sample of Ultra Nate's 1997 hit Free ensures that Both rings like a fire bell screaming 'crossover hit', whilst the semi-calypso shuffle of Rubbery Bands bears the trademark effortlessness, glacial delivery and wieldy wordplay synonymous with the rapper. Elsewhere, the confident bounce of Back to Basics is emboldened by guest star Skepta's louche swagger.

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In fact, Headie One has called upon a stellar cast of reinforcements. An impressive plethora of players from varying rungs of the UK drill/grime ladder are present in Dave, Stefflon Don and Lotto Ash and others. Together they inject an infectious listlessness across fifteen heavy-duty tunes.

This sense of collaboration enhances a record locked and loaded with melodic cohesion and thematic consistency, one that combines delectably to deliver an intoxicating ebb and flow.

Music x Road even finds room for an old friend in the form of former mixtape sparring partner RV, who has a guest spot on Let's Go - a track which houses Krept and Konan too, well-known as the duo with whom Headie is currently riding high with the chart-bothering I Spy.

Although infamy clings leechlike to the drill scene, evidence can be found that it is marching purposely forward irrespective of the load upon its back. Artists such as Headie One are brazen troopers willing to meticulously break down the dam of the mainstream to present visceral and kinetic tales of, and takes on, inner-city life.

Shorn of tabloid headlines, and considered in its own right, this offing stands as an essential document of London in 2019, speaking as it does through the voice of a performer raised within the boundaries of the M25 and familiar with our woes.

Rather than a call-to-violent-arms, Music x Road is life-affirming, yes, but also a proud, matter-of-fact and occasionally sarcastic dispatch from our streets.

18Hunna may have been the warning shot across the bows. So too Stormzy through his Glastonbury headline set. But when faced with the case of Music x Road, we have irrefutable proof that the underground has risen to the surface to claim territory.

Headie One is on course for drill domination.

Rating: 4/5 stars.