Drill music is often caricatured as nothing more than songs about drugs, stabbings and inner city gang violence – a crude picture which has never been true of the genre as a whole. Headie One and Fred Again’s new mixtape ‘Gang’ might have a title that echoes this moral panic, but the project itself is about as far from the swagger of the street as possible.
A moody, melancholy exploration of Headie One’s deepest fears, ‘Gang’ is a masterpiece in vulnerability. The lyrics circle themes of drug dealing and police interference, but there’s no empty boasting here, just a raw portrait that shows the flipside to the machismo of drug dealing anthems - a chronicle of the mental and physical pain that it leaves behind.
Musically, ‘Gang’ is as experimental as it gets, starting with a piano-led intro, ducking through techno-inspired beats on the title track and into an upbeat collaboration with Jamie xx which could almost be a classic club banger. A surprisingly touching interlude featuring slowthai is a vocally distorted celebration of brotherly affection which bleeds perfectly into the punching beats of ‘Know Me’ and the beautiful Sampha-featuring closer ‘SOLDIERS’.
As genres grow past their initial birth, artists inevitably start pushing at their boundaries. Headie One gave us a glimpse of this with last year’s Music x Road, but this collaboration with Fred Again sees him break out of drill in a way that few would have the talent to pull off.
Words: Jake Hawkes
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