A truly great album from a remarkable UK talent...

In April, Headie One dropped the Fred Again produced experimental EP ‘Gang’. Thrown by the alternative, expansive soundscapes, some listeners called for the ‘old’ Headie to return. Perhaps they’d missed the point. Headie’s journey so far has been defined by growth, both artistic and personal. On debut album ‘Edna’ he transcends the limits of any one scene, growing into a certified star.

The twenty-track project, dedicated to his late mother, features Headie’s strongest, most reflective writing to date. Distance offers clarity, and the further he navigates away from his past life, the more vivid the pictures he paints of it.

There is an impressive list of guests. Headie spins Drake over M1ontheBeat’s eerie Drill production and connects with Skepta on Tottenham link-up ‘Try Me’ while Ivorian Doll’s verse on the Kenny Beats produced bass-heavy ‘F U Pay Me’ is arguably the strongest feature of all.

But the true power of the album lies in Headie’s introspection, when he’s alone with the beat and his thoughts. Madara Beatz’s mournful keys on ‘Teach Me’ set the tone, as Headie builds to a powerful meditation on loss: “before I learned to love properly, they took away the only thing that belonged to me.” Grief shapes us, and such bold honesty deepens our understanding of him as a person.

‘Psalm 35’ takes us deeper still. Over a string-led melody, Headie touches on the treatment he received from his stepmother and how that impacted his relationship with his father, confronting his past from the confines of a prison cell: “how can those nightmares share the same space I’m supposed to dream with?” Yet he finds strength in faith, as Edna watches over him.

Atmospheric Drill cut ‘Triple Science’ is another standout, with dark synths creating a sense of claustrophobia as Headie breaks down the cold realities of OT drug dealing. Kanye-sampling ‘The Light’ is the perfect follow up, with music showing him a way out of the trap: “in jail I cooked chicken in the laundry basin, now I’m just chilling in Copenhagen.”

The tension between music and road still exists, and Headie continues to explore it in his art. ‘Breathing’ touches on his friends' struggles, and racial disparities when it’s time for sentencing: “in this life that we’re living you can make the wrong decision, then have to spend longer than you’ve lived stuck in prison.”

While pensive reflections are a key theme, there’s plenty of celebration and flexing too. He recruits Young T & Bugsey for the playful, sun-kissed ‘Princess Cuts’. While the vibe of ‘Parlez-Vous Anglais’ is so luxurious, you can imagine Headie and Aitch trading their boastful verses, kicked back in plush leather club-chairs beneath the chandelier of a Parisian hotel lobby.

The album’s final cut is its most poignant. Wondagurl’s production on the Kaash Paige assisted ‘Cold’ is beautifully cinematic. Headie’s laconic, nonchalant delivery becomes more forceful here. He wants us to absorb every bar. Headie addresses the factors which led him towards the roads: a disinterested council; lack of youth services and a historically over-policed estate; an education system which fails Black children; poverty. He mourns lost friends, and then he ascends:

“I used to love the trap, like it would love me back, I couldn’t wait for the day to say I’m done with that.”

Edna would be proud.

9/10

Words: Robert Kazandjian

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