Rejjie Snow on getting into rap through video games, eating lunch with an unmasked DOOM, and his upcoming debut album, "Dear Annie".
As grime threatens to break through in North America every few years, only to eventually retreat back to the UK, Rejjie Snow remains an Irish hip-hop act that stands a real chance of being the exceptional overseas rapper to make an impact in the states. Perhaps it's the Dublin native's infatuation with U.S. rap that gives him the edge, or his experiences living in the U.S. and London that ensure him a little more of a universal appeal. Either way, he seems to be making an impact with audiences on both sides of the pond. Rejjie put out his Rejovich EP in 2013, momentarily besting both Kanye West's Yeezus and J. Cole's Born Sinner by topping the Hip-Hop iTunes chart in the UK, proving the support of the loyal fanbase he's built for himself -- and his audience has only grown since.
Rejjie's dark, personal storytelling and tendency to distort his voice has earned him Odd Future comparisons, but where Tyler has molded his sound out of DIY takes on mid-00s Neptunes compositions, the DNA of Snow's music reaches further back, pulling from the late-90s outsider rap he first fell in love with on the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater soundtrack. Running with the basic elements of that boom bap production style, Rejjie puts his personality front-and-center in his music, rather than obscuring it like some of his heroes (namely, DOOM, the masked rapper he has tattooed on his leg). He's more recently added a little more gloss to his production through collaborations with producer Cam O'bi, and has found a good balance of playing with concepts and characters while still maintaining a true charisma, further carving out a singular lane for himself.
Now signed with Lyor Cohen's 300 label, Rejjie has a real opportunity to integrate himself into some of America's most exciting rap scenes, and while he's looking to make use of his access, his focus is making the right introduction with his debut album, Dear Annie. The concept album should explore life in his hometown -- a region that's never really been highlighted in rap before -- and a look into his relationships with women, with the name of his very first girlfriend inspiring the title. While his two most recent singles have hinted at true pop potential, Rejjie assures they aren't an indication of the sound he's concocted on the LP -- which we should be getting our first taste of very soon. After studying film in the U.S. years back, Rejjie's visual tendencies have recently re-emerged, becoming an essential aspect of his art, and should inform his new material more than ever before.
We spoke to Rejjie about feeling like a black sheep in his hometown, meeting DOOM, and the potential of working with Metro Boomin. Read our conversation below.
How did you first get into music?
I kind of got into hip-hop playing Playstation games like Tony Hawk, listening to the soundtrack. Ever since then I’d go to freestyle sessions, all these jams and whenever -- anything that was going on in the community. Where I’m from, there isn’t really a hip-hop scene, so I felt a little bit lost, a bit like a black sheep. So everything I did was on my own terms. I got a laptop, started making beats, and then I used the microphone from the Playstation plugged in the USB and just did some real shitty raps [laughs]. When I was 17, I went to London, and that was cool for me, it kind of opened my eyes to hip-hop because I never knew there was so much shit happening out there.
So it was mainly American rap you were listening to?
Yeah, American hip-hop, Grand Puba, just old-school shit. From there I got into Nas. The first album I ever bought was Nas’ God’s Son. Then my parents played a lot of jazz, so I had that influence too.
When you went to London, did you get into grime at all?
I kind of did, but I never wanted to do it, because I didn’t feel like I belonged there, you know? It’s cool to have that influence, because it’s very from the streets, it’s very raw, very unfiltered, so it’s cool.
It seems like every few years grime threatens to push its way into North America, and we're kind of seeing that again right now. Do you think it will ever fully cross over?
I don’t know, it’s a tough one. It’s quite big, but I don’t think it’ll ever reach a mainstream level in America. It took many years for hip-hop to get there, grime’s not just going to magically do that, but it’s cool that it’s in the underground. I think the underground scene will push it to a different level.
When did you live in the states?
I went to high school there for like a year, then went to college for a year after, and then came back to London because I dropped out of school.
What was the move like?
It was a bit of a culture shock. I was kind of homesick for a long time, but it kind of opened up my mind to different cultures.
Were you taking music seriously at that point?
Nah, I maybe had two tracks on the internet, and they were getting some views or whatever. At that time I was in school, I had like labels hitting me up and shit. People were flying out to meet me. All that shit was going on and then I just left America.
Were you doing more film-oriented stuff?
Yeah, I studied film and all that for a year.
Is that something you’re still interested in?
Yeah, I think even moreso now. Just because I can kind of use the music as a vehicle to make videos for people. I don’t have to spend X many years in school, which is cool, and I kinda do wish I did that. At the same time, with my videos now, I try to direct them as much as I can.
Your videos are pretty cinematic as it is. Are you going to continue to put a lot of focus on visuals with your future output?
Yeah, I think visuals are one of the more important ways in which you present your music. My next record, I want to make it a visual album. Maybe a video for every track, and have a short film accompany it.
What’s the status of "Dear Annie"? I hear it's done.
It’s ready. We want to put out singles for now. I think my next single will be off that album, and it should open up people’s ears to how everything sounds.
The debut album is pretty romanticized in rap. What do you want your first album to say about you?
I want to tell the story about where I’m from, and I feel like no one from Dublin has ever done that. For me, it’s a lot of weight to carry, because I want to really represent people who haven’t been heard before. So, I don’t know if i’ll be able to do that, but I really want people to support me, because I’m fully with that. I want to get some accolades to. I want a Grammy, why not?
Do you find yourself trying to find a balance between your UK and North American audience when you write?
I try to make my shit understandable, relatable, and accessible to everyone. I can obviously just do my thing, but that’s kinda selfish, because music should be a universal thing. I just try to make honest music that people relate to. It’s that simple.
Can we expect your new music to sound anything like your more recent singles, "Blakkst Skn" and "All Around The World"?
No definitely not. They were just tracks. The album sounds a little more jazzy, but also a little more aggressive, more lyrics and shit. But for me, I’ve been trying to find a balance between making as you said that accessible to everybody and not just some hip-hop backpack thing, because it’s been done before.
Who is Annie and why did you decide to name your album after her?
Annie is like my first girlfriend. The reason I say Dear Annie is because I think she represents a lot of things that happened in my life, a lot of things that happened afterwards -- how I kind of look at girls, all that kind of shit. Also her name, I liked her name too.
Do you find fans are more entitled than ever when it comes to demanding new music from artists?
Yeah, people expect too much, man. It’s almost like if you don’t keep in touch on Twitter or like post selfies, they kind of forget about you. So for me, I try my best to really connect with people and stay active, because I know that people are very fickle. You’re only as good as your last releases kind of thing.
You've worked with Chance The Rapper collaborator Cam O'bi recently. Who else can we expect to hear on the album?
I’m working with Cam quite closely, and I’m working with Karriem Riggins, he’s dope, he worked with Dilla and Erykah Badu, so it’s a pleasure to have him. Pretty dope producers.
Are most of your producers American, or are some of them closer to home?
From the UK, I’ve got homies like Archie from King Krule. I just signed a deal with 300, so they’ve kind of opened up doors to working with people from Atlanta. I’m probably gonna have a session with Metro [Boomin] next week. Could be interesting to see what comes from that.
Is there anyone you wanna work with that you haven't had the chance to yet?
So you're into "The Life Of Pablo" I take it?
Yeah... That’s not gonna happen anytime soon though [laughs].
You never know, he's been known to bring newer artists into the studio.
Maybe... he could even see the interview you know? He needs to hit me up.
I caught one of your tweets and I have to ask, were you actually partying with Taylor Swift the other day?
Yeah, yeah, you know Haim? I went to their party and she was just there chilling, posted up, just dancing all awkward. She was just going crazy. I was like “what the fuck” and my boy was like “that’s Taylor Swift,” and I’m like “ok…” She’s crazy.
Why were you out in L.A.?
I’ve been out there for two weeks just doing the album. I love L.A., it’s a cool place.
I hear you have an MF Doom tattoo is that true?
Yeah on my leg. I kind of wish I didn’t have it, because I met MF DOOM and like the guy I was with fucking told him and I didn’t know where to look, I was like ‘fuck’ [laughs].
Wow, DOOM's a pretty reclusive guy. How did you link up with him?
We have mutual friends. So I had fucking lunch with him in London. No mask and shit, it was crazy. He’s a chill guy.
Is he someone you grew up on?
After Nas and shit I kind of found out about DOOM. I used to do a lot of graffiti, so it was typical graffiti shit. When I found his music I just fell in love with it.
Did you have to narrow down the songs you recorded for the album or did you just kind of take it one track at a time?
Kind of like one song at a time because it’s very conceptual.
Will it be a proper retail release?
Vinyl, everything. I’m stoked to see how it looks physically. It's going to look really cool with the cover and everything.
What do you want fans to expect from the album?
I want people to be excited. I think it’s something new. It doesn’t sound like anything out right now.