With just a small body of work to his name, Drumcondra’s Rejjie Snow has already laid his palm prints on the highest peaks of international rap stardom. Now, after spending the last few years traversing the planet, he’s ready to take it over.
For Rejjie Snow, a set at Dublin’s Longitude Festival is a long-awaited homecoming. Sitting outside the large marquee assembled on the Marlay Park grounds to serve as a depot for performers, his pre-gig meal is interrupted by various supporters important enough to gain access by flashing the right colour wristband. They want a piece of the young rapper while they can. Who knows when they’ll get another chance?
Snow is flighty, you see. He moves between countries like the older Longitude goers once shuffled through their 16-disc CD changers. The Drumcondra native is already the most internationally recognisable hip-hop artist to emerge from this island, parlaying his early demos and low budget YouTube clips into a huge fan base, some high profile collaborations with rap nobility, and a contract with influential label 300 Entertainment, the home of stars like Fetty Wap and Young Thug. It’s not bad going for a 23-year old without an album to his name.
“I don’t see anything I’ve done as an accomplishment. Yet, at least,” Rejjie tells me over his half-eaten chicken and rice. “I’m very grateful that I’m at a stage where people back here get what I’m doing a bit more. And then I can go around the world and take that sound and approach and it’s still relatable. Because I know a lot of people from here couldn’t go to somewhere like France and people wouldn’t immediately get it. I’m super grateful, it’s sick.”
Rejjie’s demeanor is laid back, like he might just fall off the wooden picnic bench he’s perched on. In a couple of hours, though, he’ll be on the tent-enclosed Heineken Stage, kicking his dexterous rhymes in a high-energy set that gets the hometown crowd bouncing.
“It’s so good to see so many people come out and support us,” he yells to fans, a red basketball jersey with the word “Brooklyn” draped across his back, and a British DJ in Skinny Macho on the decks. They’re features that underline Snow’s geographical journey. Touring is part of the life, but Rejjie isn’t interested in collecting stamps in his passports. He wants to absorb everything this planet has to offer.
“When I travel, I try to take as much bits of that city as I can,” says Snow, whose most reliable address these days is in London. “When you tour, you don’t really get a chance to be in the places. It’s just into the venue and then out. That kind of sucks. Especially in America. New York, that was really cool to see where hip-hop came from. I had a headline show out there, and just to see how much more diverse it is there in terms of fan base, it was really insightful.”
“As a creative person you’re always picking up things,” he adds, looking back on a recording session he shared with Joey Bada$$, a young Brooklyn rapper who, like Rejjie, has drawn from classic ’90s East Coast hip-hop. “Seeing his creative process in the studio was cool. I think Americans are just totally more on it. They take it more seriously. It’s a real passion.”
Back to the start
Born on the north side of Dublin, Alex Anyaegbunam – whose parentage is a mix of Nigerian, Jamaican and English – grew up like most kids from the area, kicking footballs on street corners and getting into trouble. “[It’s] not a tough place to grow up, but real,” says Snow, his Dublin accent undiluted. “Everybody is honest and real. It’s just good memories. Just always getting up into mischief. I had a good set of friends and we did everything together.”
Teenage Alex first emerged in 2011 under the name Lecs Luther – his real name and love of superhero mythology burned into the moniker. Debut track Dia Dhuit might have been adorned with a title that shouted out his homeland, but the self-proclaimed “charming little rapper” boasted a nimble flow and oblique use of wordplay that earned him comparisons to the Los Angeles’s own adolescent laureate, Earl Sweatshirt.
Alex’s hero was also identified as a touching point. Like alt-rap’s masked evil overlord MF DOOM (whose name is tattooed across Rejjie’s leg), his style was infused with comic book flavours that snapped, thwacked and popped. He’d refer to himself as a “villain”, and had a propensity for rapping about himself in the third person. “Who let the handsome villain boogie on his bare knees/His rhymes end with X created sex and adultery,” he spits on Dia Dhuit.
But mostly, the comparisons to DOOM came from his dazzling technical proficiency. He could expertly pop syllables off each other in the most skewered but rhythmic ways. Consonants were crammed into each line without ever interrupting the swift movement of his flow.
Alex’s debut EP Fish and Chips was touted but never came to be. Instead, fans assembled their own version of the release from his earliest songs. The soulful Trumpets and tweaked-out Meddling Loops certified that the young Irishman had arrived mature, even if he doesn’t think so himself.
“It was so early man. I look back and it’s a little cringey,” says Rejjie. “I think some of them are great because the ideas are cool and it showed potential. [Fish and Chips] never really got released properly. It was just a bunch of random songs I guess people made up.”
Rejjie’s profile was on the rise, but dreams of rap stardom would have to be put on pause. His mum and dad had grown tired of their son’s troublemaking streak. When a chance to send him to Georgia, USA on a football scholarship came along, they grabbed it. For almost two years, education became the focus.
Classes eventually got sidetracked though for music. Fashionable outlets like Noisey, I-D (both in the Vice network) and Dazed went in hard on Rejjie Snow. Under his new guise, he dropped the closest thing to a fully functional release in 2013.
Rejovich features five deep thinking, jazz-infused songs that showcased his personalised writing style. Loveleen references the tragic slaying of Trayvon Martin. Olga –1984 recalls a doomed romance. It’s mournful music. The kind of release you throw on in a darkened room over a bottomless glass of bourbon.
Recent singles have kept Snow moving. All Around The World boasts the expensive sheen of an artist comfortably sliding into a more mainstream mindset. Blakkst Skn, meanwhile, is a sharp commentary on race relations through the lens of a Snow’s relationship with a white girl (“Blackest skin I bet you wish you had the soap/ To cleanse me down and beat me up and take my hope”).
But in an era when ultra-prolific studio loiterers cut more tracks in a year than some legends recorded in a lifetime, Rejjie’s discography, five years into his recording career, remains sparse. Guys like Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane can spit abstract, stream of consciousness musings over whatever beat is lobbed at them and make it all sound great. But Snow likes conceiving of and executing songs that are fully operational, and won’t sign off on anything he’s not totally happy with.
“I think I’m just a perfectionist,” he says when asked about his slow output. “I’ll finish a song and I won’t release it because it’s missing one thing, and then by that stage I’ll be on to something else. I think this year I’ve found a really good method to how I do stuff. I’ve got more of a team now who can be like, ‘That tracks finished’.”
He continues, “I guess I’ve matured more over the last two or three years. I can finally make songs now, not just ideas and raps. With touring, I’ve translated my music to a live setting. I’ll make a song and then in my head I’m imagining it live. That’s where you make most of the money, I guess.”
Money is the sauce. When you’re operating at the level Rejjie is, there are suits at every turn. His much-anticipated debut album Dear Annie has long been held up, first for its lack of potential singles (“It was just a bunch of raps,” he says of the first draft). The completed record is now in the chamber as Snow’s label plots the best time to pull the trigger. The artist himself is relaxed about the scheduled.
“You have to meet the labels half way,” he says. “When you release an album and you want to be successful you have to obviously be a bit strategic. So I’m going to release it when the time is right. I’ll be bringing out a mixtape before then, which is just going to be raw rap shit.”
Product, Rejjie’s recent collaboration with Future and Rick The Kid, hints at a bold new direction. It’s the kind of sound that Future himself has trailblazed – sledgehammer drums, gritty synths, a bassline that thumps hard and drug-fueled lyrics. It’s about as far removed from the old jazzy stuff as you can get, but Snow insists he wants to incorporate this new direction with the core tenets of his sound.
“I’ve got some new stuff coming out which I play along with that trap feel, but keeping everything myself,” he says. “Trying to bring both worlds together. It’s an interesting time in hip-hop now.”
Into The Future
Global domination may include working with comedy rap duo turned political voice of a generation The Rubberbandits. The Limerick pair actually produced an early Lecs Luther track, the whacky Sally Skag, and a Twitter exchange a few months back hinted that both sides are open to getting together again. “I’d love to do a collab with The Rubberbandits,” says Rejjie. “It’s just an idea, I think it’d be sick. Because they’re really funny and I’m really funny as well!”
Blindboy Boatclub and Mr. Chrome may have to wait though. Rejjie instead spent the night before our interview hanging out in Dublin with Los Angeles superstar Kendrick Lamar, claiming on Twitter that the pair spent the night flicking through YouTube videos of other Irish hip-hop acts.
Lamar played Longitude’s main stage on the Friday, a day before Rejjie’s lively set. A headline slot is something that might be in the future for an artist who once told me the ultimate aim is to be bigger than Jay Z. Right now, Snow is carving out his own corner of the music world. Glory may beckon. There’s no ceiling his star can’t crash through.
“I’m excited for more because I’ve so many more more things that I haven’t even touched on yet,” he beams.
Words: Dean Van Nguyen
Photos: Steve O’Connor