Irving Adjei is a man of a few words, but when he’s Headie One, we see his shining gift of the gab on display. His music is a musical roulette where he’ll boisterously dish out warnings to opps over M1OnTheBeat’s earth-shattering baselines and 808’s (“Golden Boot”), coo sweet promises to a lover over a Faith Evans sampling drill beat (“Home”) or lament his past over a sordid and desolate Fred again.. production (“SOLDIERS”).
He honed his rapping when he was Headz, slinging out road-rap vignettes under Tottenham’s Star Gang in 2013. Soon after, he rose up with the ubiquitous talents originating from Broadwater Farm Estate collective OFB, switching to Headie One after returning from a prison stint in 2017. He hopped on UK drill afterwards, dropping “Losses and Winnings” – a track that doubled up a Fresh Home-esque comeback while imposing his eager familiarity with the genre. After a recorded encounter with adversaries at Hertfordshire University went viral in January 2018, he swiftly flipped the script. “Know Better” shook the core of social media, bagging up millions of views, endless memes, of course, popularised the Shh ad-lib.
In the following year Headie collaborated with Stormzy and Dave on “Audacity” and “18 Hunna”, helping to foster his juggernaut presence in the UK rap scene. 2019 tape Music x Road helped the OFB lynchpin gain a stronghold on the charts. It peaked at Number 5 on the UK chart and tested the boundaries of UK drill, while follow up tape Drillers x Trappers 2, a collab with RV, showed Headie could still deliver hard-hitting drill anthems. Balancing the precarious tightrope of doing music on road, he’s become the brightest foreleader of UK drill. In some ways, he’s balanced that line so such a degree they've embellished one another.
This year, Headie released his sophomore mainstream mixtape, GANG, which took a bold and daring risk toward ambient and dance music aesthetics with profound lyricism. It was produced by Fred again.. and featured a cast of guests from UK record label Young Turks, including Jamie xx, Sampha and FKA twigs. On Friday 3rd July, he's releasing a freestyle for us here at VICE, in the inaugural Behind the Bally freestyle series which features production from UK producer Finn – look out for it on our IGTV, Facebook and Twitter.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
VICE: GANG created a divide within your fanbase. Some of us loved it while the others disliked it. What are your thoughts on the reception?
Headie One: Positive feedback. It’s good to see what the actual people think. I knew that I was trying a few different things, but I wasn’t really afraid to do that. I was open to it.
I thought it was a bold risk, I noticed you listen to all types of different rappers such as Potter Payper, Biggie Smalls and Drake. What artists and genres inspired _GANG_**?** There was literally no reference. Me and [Fred again..] was just working together.
I got a Brian Eno/Boards of Canada/Arca/The xx sort of vibe to it. The remixes from Pall Mall, M1OnTheBeat and Eno complimented the tape.
Yeah we thought we could add a different sound [to _GANG_], so people could have more variety. I was aware of the sounds Eno had, so it was a blessing to get him.
There’s the running joke now that Fred again.. should stay the hell away from you.
That’s a funny joke.
Would you collaborate with him again in the future?
Of course, I was just with him the other day. I feel like it’s right, I say that Fred’s from a different world. He bought out a different side to me that I didn’t know was there – that’s why we kind of balance each other out.
You tweeted "albummode" recently. What stuff are you cooking up?
I’ve been working under quarantine, quite a lot, everything’s coming together nicely.
You dropped “Rose Gold” shortly after promising not to drop any drill for a year, what was the move behind that?
I was just playing around. I was always planning to carry on like normal, whatever the energy. When I was recording [“Rose Gold”], it was a really good mood at the time, so that’s what I thought was the right thing to do.
What’s your favourite piece of jewellery?
I’m not too sure uno, I like rose gold jewellery.
Yeah, you have that bar in “Rose Gold”: “I laugh when I look at my rose gold rollie, it has a good sense of humour.”
I like my bracelets a lot, actually. Baguette diamonds, VVS’s, Cartier bracelets, I got quite a few bracelets, I feel like they’re more subtle than my watches, they can be a bit loud.
I can’t relate.
You’re not a fan of jewellery then?
Nah, I just don’t have the P for it.
I hear you, hopefully soon you’re speaking it into existence. Powers, powers.
Did you tune into the Finessa Foreva and Mixtape Madness 8v8? They did OFB vs 410.
Nah I didn’t tune in but I was definitely aware though, I saw a few tweets.
No Signal did one as well, with OFB vs Harlem Spartans as well.
Yeah I saw that, I was in the studio and my manager asked me to do a voice note, he told me it was a clash and I [did] it. I researched it more and I like stuff like that.
They both regularly play your hits like “Golden Boot” and “Know Better”, especially the latter which caused a scene. How did you feel knowing your diss track got played on an official Burberry runway?
That was good, if people like the music then they should listen to it.
What happened with the Know Better podcast?
[Me and RV] are gonna rekindle it, we’ve been working on some other stuff.
If you could have any guest on the podcast, living or dead, who would it be and why?
It would be Biggie Smalls, one of my favourite rappers.
What would you guys talk about?
General stuff uno, like life.
Have you ever cheated on your barber before?
Yeah I have uno, I can’t lie – I’m guilty.
How many times or was it just a one-time thing?
Twenty times, I know, I’m not loyal in that department but I’m always on the move.
What’s the worst trim you’ve gotten?
Uno I don’t think it’s possible to give me a bad haircut cah I just get one level, so if that means if you give me a bad haircut, then you’re not really a barber.
Drake shouted you out on Instagram**. Considering Drake is pretty in with British culture considering he’s signed to BBK (Boy Better Know), would you be cool if Drake became an honorary member of OFB?** I wouldn’t mind, I’m a big fan of Drake’s music, all of his albums, so it’ll definitely be a pleasure.
What do you think about the rumour that Drake used your flow in “War”?
I know everyone’s saying that, to be honest, I don’t really know, it was a nice flow, I just don’t have one flow.
It’s like with your VICE freestyle where you rap “Everybody starting to sound like me, I let run with the flow”. Would that statement ring true for the UK scene?
It’s a compliment for me init? That’s how music works – I’m influenced by everyone too and I listen to all kinds of music so I feel like that’s naturally going to happen. If you have a good ear for music it’s gonna be influenced, I’m not saying it happens in those situations but it’s a compliment.
Name a song you wish you made?
Future – “March Madness”.
What’s your signature dish?
I’m not really good at cooking, I can make pasta, [egg fried] rice, ramen, cereal, just all of the basics really.
Speaking of rice: Nigerian jollof or Ghanian jollof?
Ghanian man, it has to be.
You’re a man of your tracksuits, you got any style tips for anyone struggling to get their drip right?
You should wear what you like literally, don’t be too picky because there’s different styles, different dynamics to the collection.
Every drill rapper loves rapping about shotting food, going OT etc. Did you ever have a legal job?
I’ve never had a job in my life. I volunteered one time because an auntie forced me to. I volunteered at some delivery company. I worked there for three days and after the third day, I just didn’t turn up.
What do you think about the “anti anti-racism” protests that happened in London last week?
They’re a bunch of airheads, they have no brain, I feel like they need to be questioned because it can be exposed that they’re not really straight in the mind.
I feel like British people – especially the ones we saw at the protests – romanticise the British empire/Churchill a lot. They don’t know the horrors that other people have to live with. The schools don’t teach us about history until we hit like sixth form/college and they barely go into depth.
And the thing is they don’t even know about it. They don’t teach you nothing in school, they just showed me that film about the piano.
You talking about The Pianist ?
They also made us watch _Roots_**.** They made me watch Roots. I watched it when I was a bit younger, it’s a very vivid memory.
What type of student were you in school?
In school... I used to like school, actually because of my friends, I wasn’t good at doing work and I had a short attention span so I was just spinning jokes all day.
Have you been watching any shows or films?
Nah, I’m not really a television person, I like it but I’ll rather do other stuff like sleep. I’m always complaining about piles, if I’m not busy or out and about… I watched Top Boy though.
I can imagine you’ll fit the quiet, imposing antagonist role like Sugar's hitman (Haze) for example, like he’s quiet but he’s on job too.
That’ll be a decent role. I did drama in secondary school.
Oh mad, what was it like?
I got a B in the coursework and in the practical, I failed it because I came out of character, like I was supposed to be quiet and the other guy messed up [his lines] and I told him off for messing up, which means I also messed up as well.