British representation has always been an issue in hip hop. It’s a genre that, over the past thirty years, has become synonymous with the streets of urban America, whether it be the neighbourhoods of Brooklyn, Chicago or California. If you were to ask me for the five most important figures in the evolution of hip hop they would all, undoubtedly, be American. Dr Dre was there at the conception of gangster rap, A Tribe Called Quest popularised the fusion of jazz with hip hop and, more recently, Kendrick Lamar led a revival of conscious hip hop with the stunning album, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. While the British hip hop scene has developed greatly in the past 15 years, particularly with the advent of grime, it has remained at the mercy of these American giants. In many ways, our transatlantic cousins are long overdue a British invasion.
However, this particular invasion may not be British at all. Rejjie Snow is an Irish rapper, hailing from Dublin, one of the last places you’d expect to find hip hop’s next rising star. Alongside Loyle Carner, he is leading a wave of small, underground artists with a taste for sonically subtle and socially subverted hip hop. While Skepta, Stormzy and Wiley enjoy widespread recognition and critical acclaim, Snow is helping divert some of the attention away from London. Dublin is just one city that is chronically under-represented in the hip hop landscape. Snow is beginning to show us the artistic importance of these areas, especially for a genre as dynamic and forward thinking as hip hop.
Snow, born Alexander Anyaegbunam, was born and raised in Drumcondra, Dublin. At 23 years old, he still feels a strong connection with his old neighbourhood. Indeed, during his Noisey interview the rapper could be seen gossiping with his local newsagent, as well as sharing a hearty cup of tea with his grandmother. It seems clear that Snow feels no obligation to subscribe to the ‘hood’ mentality of contemporary hip hop. He comes across as kind and genuine, a man who just wants to ‘share some positive vibes’, whilst putting out the best music possible.
This drive for sincerity is clearly reflected in the rapper’s lyrics. Over smooth, sensual beats Snow raps about his personal encounters with women, as well as his experience of growing up in Ireland and his developing love for hip hop. He seems entirely unconcerned with money, success and fame, themes that dominate the uninspiring lyrics of mainstream artists like Drake and Kanye West. However, on his latest track, ‘Crooked Cops’, Snow challenges his listeners with a strong, politically charged message. The bombastic track addresses the issues surrounding police brutality, as well as the mistreatment of young, black men (‘my felony was being black as fuck’). While the majority of Snow’s music can be described as ‘laidback’ and ‘introspective’, he has proved that he is able to subvert his listeners’ expectations and express himself in a confrontational manner. In a world where Donald Trump can be elected President, this desire to speak out against social injustice is even more vital. Hip hop started out as being the voice of the streets. Now, Snow is one of the artists bringing us back to that substance.
Needless to say, the future looks bright for Rejjie Snow. Over the past few years he has toured alongside Kendrick Lamar and MF Doom, as well as Flying Lotus and Action Bronson, some of the most interesting names in hip hop. Now, he is setting his sights even higher with an upcoming collaboration with Joey Badass, Brooklyn’s street savvy MC. Although Snow may not have many songs to his name (something he himself has acknowledged), his debut album, Dear Annie, is set to impress fans and critics alike when it is released later this year. Snow will also embark on a UK tour in April, which conveniently includes a date at Leeds’ Belgrave Music Hall. Snow has already demonstrated an extraordinary amount of talent with a handful of sporadically released tracks. One can only hope that he sustains this level of skill over the duration of an album, and brings some of those thoughtful bars and shrewd social commentaries to the stage.
Dublin has yet to produce a mainstream rapper who can make music on his own terms. It may be a criminally under-represented city, like so many other cities in the UK, but with the advent of Rejjie Snow that could all be set to change. Watch this space.
(Image: Lily Mercer)
Catch Rejjie Snow at Secret Garden Party festival, 21st-23rd July