Re­jjie Snow’s Place in Hip-hop

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the Age of Toxic Mas­culin­ity

The McGill Daily - - Culture - Brianna Miller The Mcgill Daily

Lis­ten­ing to twenty-five-year old Re­jjie Snow’s de­but al­bum Dear Annie, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to dis­cern that the genre-span­ning, syn­the­sized, and at times 80s- es­que tracks were writ­ten by one of the few hip-hop artists to come from Ire­land. Alexan­der Anyaeg­bunam, more com­monly known by his stage name Re­jjie Snow, al­ways knew he wanted to be a rap­per, de­spite grow­ing up in Dublin, Ire­land, an ocean away from where most main­stream rap artists thrive; how­ever, Snow’s Ir­ish ori­gins are not the only thing dis­tanc­ing him from the “typ­i­cal” im­age of an artist in hip-hop.

Snow be­gan up­load­ing tracks as early as 2011 on Sound­cloud un­der the alias Lecs Luther. In 2013, af­ter re­lo­cat­ing to Lon­don, Snow re­leased his EP Re­jovich, which quickly climbed the itunes hip-hop charts, de­thron­ing well- es­tab­lished Kanye West’s sixth al­bum, Yeezus. De­spite only hav­ing seven songs at the time, af­ter the video for his track “Around the World” gar­nered over half a mil­lion views on Youtube in a week, Re­jjie was con­tacted by Madonna, earn­ing him­self a spot as the open­ing act on her tour.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that one of Snow’s videos is what pro­pelled him into ris­ing star­dom. In an in­ter­view with L’of­fi­ciel­paris, Snow said, “film is one of my pas­sions… I’m a very vis­ual per­son; when I write mu­sic, I al­ways have a vis­ual in my head first.” Af­ter fin­ish­ing high school in Flor­ida on an ath­letic schol­ar­ship, Snow briefly at­tended Sa­van­nah Col­lege of Art and De­sign in Ge­or­gia to study film and de­sign. Af­ter one se­mes­ter, he made the de­ci­sion to drop out in or­der to move back to Ire­land.

Dear­an­nie is an im­pres­sive first at­tempt at a full length al­bum. Boast­ing an am­bi­tious line-up of 20 tracks, it seems that ex­per­i­ment­ing over the last seven years has fi­nally paid off for Snow. The al­bum’s open­ing tracks “Hello” and “Rain­bows” set the tone for the first half of the work. Both songs sound smooth and lively, yet re­laxed. “Hello” fea­tures barely au­di­ble words over a com­pli­cated back­track of var­i­ous syn­the­sized dreamy sounds. Sim­i­larly, in “Rain­bows” Snow raps in a laid­back, al­most care­less tone over a sim­ple bass line and a loop of tweet­ing birds. The line “gotta girl that I love had a girl that I miss” en­cap­su­lates the bit­ter­sweet qual­ity of the lyrics.

How­ever, Dear­an­nie does not carry this sweet and light lovesick tone for long. By the twelfth track “Room 27,” Snow be­gins to nar­row his fo­cus to more in­tense top­ics. The ti­tle is a ref­er­ence to the 27 Club, a group of pop­u­lar celebrities who died at the age of 27. The track cov­ers Snow’s ap­par­ent care­less at­ti­tude to­wards fear, which is later re­vealed to be per­for­ma­tive in later verses: “Feel like fuck­ing fly­ing, wish you un­der­stand my fuck­ing thoughts/ Con­fi­dence is ter­mi­nated, ha­tred in my fuck­ing bones.” The ref­er­ence be­comes even more bla­tant as Snow ram­bles, “me and mi­cro­phone, this room was 27 like the club/dead kids, too short, life gone, mad drugs/ Sui­cide, geno­cide, re­spon­si­bil­ity for us.” The end­ing lines of the song drive home the track’s mis­sion to ad­dress celebrity drug abuse, sug­gest­ing that per­haps Snow has ex­pe­ri­enced this in his own life.

Snow has said that he orig­i­nally sought to main­tain a clear di­vide between his pri­vate per­son and his per­sona Re­jjie Snow; yet, as his ca­reer has pro­gressed, the two have be­come more and more in­dis­cernible. His re­cent lyrics al­lude more heav­ily to his per­sonal life. Dear­an­nie cer­tainly marks a tran­si­tion for Snow from im­pas­sive rhyming to vul­ner­a­ble lyri­cism. He ad­mit­ted to Thein­de­pen­dent, “I’ve ma­tured a lot. I wasn’t ready to do that at first. I’m not re­ally an open per­son, it was hard to share and be open about my feel­ings. Un­til I met my part­ner I never felt com­fort­able talk­ing about that in the mu­sic. It’s what made the al­bum be­come what it is.” Dear­an­nie is raw with emo­tion — a tes­ta­ment to Snow’s new­found com­fort in his own skin.

Snow touches on his strug­gles with vul­ner­a­bil­ity in “Bye Po­lar,” ad­dress­ing men­tal ill­ness through the thinly veiled ho­mo­phonic ti­tle. Through­out the track, Snow re­peats “all right, all right,” sug­gest­ing that many of us re­press our men­tal health prob­lems by con­vinc­ing our­selves ev­ery­thing is “all right, all right.” The lines “screams and para­noia I hide/ I hide all my in­sides/guts di­luted pur­ple and dry/dry your eyes and be kind” re­veal the in­ten­sity of the feel­ings Snow be­lieves he is con­stantly hid­ing. This track is also a con­fes­sion to suf­fer­ing un­der celebritism as Snow quickly raps “don’t do it all for that feed ( don’t do it)/ sell soul and get on two knees ( suck suck)/ help your­self, I’m only hu­man.” The fi­nal line an­nounces “I’m black, I’m weird and I’m proud ( I’m proud);” a sen­ti­ment that sums up the na­ture of Re­jjie Snow.

Dear­an­nie shows that Re­jjie Snow is be­gin­ning to find his voice in the land­scape of con­tem­po­rary hip- hop. In an in­ter­view with The In­de­pen­dent, Snow said, “I’m not what peo­ple ex­pect, and that’s funny be­cause I’m just be­ing my­self. Of course, I un­der­stand the stereo­types that hip- hop is as­so­ci­ated with, but that’s not me. If it’s not you, you shouldn’t try and play the game.” He claims to be mak­ing mu­sic that’s more in- line with who he is in­stead of try­ing to play the part of a rap­per. De­spite this, Dear­an­nie still fits into the broad genre of hip- hop and R& B, with a few nu­ances, Snow’s smooth and clear flow ty­ing ev­ery­thing to­gether.

Snow has es­tab­lished him­self in the same cat­e­gory as the likes of Ken­drick La­mar, Drake, Chance the Rap­per, Brock­hamp­ton, and Frank Ocean – artists that have been push­ing the en­ve­lope to break down the stereo­types of emo­tional un­avail­abil­ity and shal­low­ness as­so­ci­ated with hiphop and rap. It may still take an­other al­bum to fur­ther re­fine his voice and make it unique, as Dear­an­nie is clearly in­flu­enced by his peers, es­pe­cially rap­per Tyler, the Cre­ator.

The twenty-five-year old is cur­rently work­ing on a new au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal al­bum, Un­cle Thomas, which is sure to ex­pose even fur­ther the Alex be­hind Re­jjie. It will be in­ter­est­ing to watch this young rap­per de­velop and em­ploy his new­found artis­tic free­dom in the fu­ture.

Snow will be tour­ing Mon­treal in sup­port of Dear­an­nie on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 6 at L’as­tral.

Snow is break­ing down the stereo­types of shal­low­ness and emo­tional un­avail­abil­ity as­so­ci­ated with hip-hop and rap.

Dear­an­nie is raw with emo­tion — a tes­ta­ment to Snow’s new­found com­fort in his own skin.

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