August 23, 2019
A document of growth, tangled with claustrophobia and regret, shows the prolific MC moving forward creatively(Relentless)
Headie One: Music X Road review – UK drill kingpin gets introspective
‘I had to focus on growth, you know,” confides Irving Adjei early into Music X Road, his latest mixtape as drill hopeful Headie One. It’s a message, delivered with quiet reflection over gospel keys on the tape’s tender title track, that grows more resonant with each song that follows. Music X Road, his sixth mixtape since 2014 debut Headz or Tails, is an artist evolution documenting a personal one. Atop beats that frequently transcend the trademark murk, menace and bass tremors of the genre he’s come to lead, Adjei hits new heights of introspection, ripping back the curtain with fearlessness and flair on his experience as a Broadwater Farm estate youngster trying to find his footing.
Claustrophobia and regret sit like a smog across its entire 45-minute runtime. “I’m sure you don’t want me to joke, baby I’m doing a wrong ’un I know / I do some things in the street, the things that you hear I know you can’t condone,” he raps on Home, a song about balancing family life with days on the road, interspersed with Bon Iver-like Auto-Tuned vocal moans. Stefflon Don, Krept & Konan, Skepta and Dave drop in for welcome cameos, but Music X Road is most enthralling when Adjei is alone in his thoughts. Lead single Both, which turns Ultra Naté’s 90s smash Free into a stark, guitar-led moment of melancholy, looks back on his stints in prison for drug-dealing (“Jailhouse, scrambling eggs in a kettle, just wishing I could have it with toast”) and seems to wonder if he’s any more free now than then, in a Tottenham over-policed by “feds [trying to] draw me out”. Chanel is a delicate float of piano and strings, while Nearly Died fires back at the tabloid scaremongering that has plagued drill over the last 12 months: “I don’t glamourise jail / Them lonely nights, they were shit.” Adjei approaches Music X Road with a Dave-like determination to tell uncomfortable truths: about life in a London where services have been ruthlessly cut, and where inner demons lurk, waiting to take over. It’s an impressive, captivating coming of age.
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