In April 2020, just freed from his fourth prison stint, Headie One flew back to a locked-down London in a helicopter. Sitting in the passenger seat and reflecting on his sentence, the capital’s biggest drill star set out his intentions for the rest of the year. “The plan was to shock the world,” he tells Apple Music. “I had my mind right, my energy right and I knew that I was coming out to make some serious moves.” Revealing a strong aversion to taking breaks, the prolific Tottenham rapper quickly set about on executing a much-delayed debut LP that he’d already titled whilst incarcerated. EDNA bears the name of his late mother but also carries promise of a new chapter for Headie One—facing up personal demons and sitting with his life’s lessons. “She was a really positive person,” he says of Edna Duah. “I think that’s gotta be my strongest memory of her.” And in this image, “Teach Me” and “Psalm35” open the album in stunning fashion. The running theme of facing up to uncomfortable truths is explored further on “The Light” and “Breathing”. Concurrent to his path of self-evolution, Headie carries a drill crown that comes with increasing weight and contention. Few artists have negotiated a bumpier ride to UK rap’s top table, but fewer artists still arrive at this moment co-signed by such illustrious contemporaries. With an all-star list of features that include Future, Skepta, Aitch and Drake, the album completes a turnaround almost unthinkable this time last year. “Every mistake I made I feel like I’ve learned from it and it’s got me to this point here,” he says. “Tough times don’t last but tough people do.” Here, Headie talks us through some highlights of his debut album.
Psalm 35 “I would read this verse in the Bible quite a lot; in troubled times it would always bring me peace. It’s really simple but it always makes a lot of sense to me. Most people wouldn’t expect my album to start off like this but I don’t really think about expectations from fans or other people when my music gets made, trust me. Do that in life and you’ll be going around in circles.”
Bumpy Ride (feat. M Huncho) “There’s a lot of energy to this one and a lot of melody. That’s almost expected though, with me and Huncho here together. We were in the studio when we cooked this one up and it all happened quite quickly. I feel like the title speaks for itself too, we’re just going in about the realities of what’s going on right now. It’s one of my favorites. The thing about the drill scene and the way our words and terms change around over time is that you just can’t force these things. That’s what makes it so good. The inspiration is all in the air—it’s just an energy—you pick up what you can and go with it.”
Mainstream “I say, ‘Labour or Conservatives I ain’t got a preference/The only thing that they consider is two-thirds of a sentence’, because truthfully politics is something I don’t pay any mind. It’s all a joke in the UK. I’ve always kept my views to myself generally, but even in looking at the way they’ve tried to block and blackball drill music to stop us when we were on the rise? It’s not for me. I’m a guy that works with energy and I can’t get with that. I’d rather not involve my thought process in those games. I’d rather move forward and try and be positive.”
Breathing “That’s one of my little broskis I’ve recorded at the beginning here. He’s in custody right now but he called to tell me that he’d been writing loads inside. So I threw a bit of that on here. He’s one of the [three] young Gs I mention in the first verse here. We all grew up in the same estate and I’m a bit older than them but I would see them constantly. Back then, there wouldn’t always be a lot of positive things going on to tell you the truth but I’d be trying to speak to them. I’d be trying to get them to see things differently, you know, pick alternatives. But…yeah it hasn’t worked out for them. They all received life sentences. And to be honest, when I was their age there wasn’t really anyone around to show me the reality of these things either. No-one told us how certain things could lead to other serious consequences.”
Only You Freestyle [Headie One & Drake] “There was so much stuff going on in the background around this time I remember it so clearly. All the George Floyd protests, it was crazy. I called my manager on FaceTime after Drake hit me up. The first thing he said to me, ‘Well, what type of song is he looking to do?’ So we waited, and when they sent over the beat we were laughing, like, ‘This is too easy!’ It was a bit of genius from him to send that too, because it’s perfect production for me and I hadn’t really got on something like that in a while. It was love from Drake and I’m happy that it came out so natural and unforced. I get that some people out there thought Drake was offbeat, but nah. Straight away I understood what he was doing. It was a very intentional thing. I completely understand those flows. When I’m in the studio, my team tell me the same thing at times: ‘Can you re-do this here and make it tighter?’ or ‘The flow’s a bit off here.’ But this is how it sounds to me, in my ears, when I’ve got a flow. If you wanna come off beat for four bars and then land on beat for the fifth, then that’s what you wanna do! As artists we should be allowed to do what we want.”
Try Me (feat. Skepta) “The beat’s really energetic. I really like this one, it’s a bit different to [2019 single] ‘Back to Basics’, our first track together. The best way to describe this is ‘straight to the point’. It’s hard-hitting and Skepta brought his A-game. To me, it’s just two rappers rapping. Skepta would always be a person to help out or give me advice, people might not know that. From when me met, it was a matter of time before we got in and recorded something. We linked up earlier in the year at Fashion Week, we were just rollin’, having a good time. We didn’t have to rush to get to it because the energy has always been great with him.”
Everything Nice (feat. Haile) “To go back to the start of this song, it could have been really, really different. I think I only had my melody on it. I kept on working on it and the sample on the track was so crazy, and the production—it was almost like a hit a bit of a brick wall with the song. I tried so many different things but truthfully I just wasn’t feeling it. So we sent it to Haille, and he literally sent the song back. Complete. Now it’s a movie!”