The UK rap pantheon is a sprawling and varied landscape full of innovation, trendsetting sounds and speaker-busting anthems. Within it, 27-year-old Tottenham wordsmith and OFB frontman Headie One stands tall, backed by a slew of well-received projects: from his 2019 mixtape ‘Music x Road’ to this year’s ‘Too Loyal for My Own Good’. That said, even with a stacked resumé behind him, Headie’s debut LP ‘Edna’ – which came out in 2020, and is rich with a travelled range of bangers – still stands as the rapper’s magnum opus in the eyes of many fans.
Last year, the pandemic temporarily put Headie’s plan to embark on the ‘Edna’ Tour on ice. Make no mistake, though, this closing London show is a spectacle to behold, and well worth the wait.
The sheer size of the venue – and its jam-packed number of attendees – feels illustrative of how much the rapper has developed over the years. It’s also neatly fitting with the glitzy, cinematic nature of the ‘Edna’ record itself. Stepping onto the stage in a snow-white outfit, Headie’s ascension is met with pyrotechnic sorcery as he lights up the arena, puppeteering his cheering fans. Wasting no time before employing theatrics, the MC calls upon his backup dancers for the trap-tinged ‘Bumpy Ride’ before North London’s M Huncho takes to the stage to trade verses with Headie. It’s the first of the show’s many guests.
With song-swapping coloured backdrops behind him, Headie switches gears to the RV-assisted ‘Know Better’. Transporting fans back to 2018 for his first major hit, the song and its imitable “shh” retorts result in gleaming audience feedback as they rap alongside him, word for word. Next up, he slows things down “for the ladies”, bathing the venue in a glowy, pink hue during ‘You/Me’ – tapping Mahalia to deliver a welcome R&B-cloaked breather. It doesn’t last long, however, before things are back up to a fever pitch. The song ‘Both’ – sampling Ultra Naté’s ‘97 house classic, ‘Free’ – is another worthy highlight, as the track’s dance and drill fusion morphs itself into a fitting mid-show crowdpleaser.
Headie keeps the guests rolling through as he brings out afro-swing duo Young T & Bugsey for their collabs ‘Princess Cuts’ and ‘Don’t Rush’ – offering up a head-nod-inducing parade of flames and fine-tuned dance routines in the process. And keeping in line with Headie’s frequent collaborators, grime legend Skepta also pops up for ‘Try Me’ and ‘Back to Basics’, trading verses for a hard-hitting double act of stage-shaking 808 drums and bravado. And concluding with arguably his biggest track to date, ‘Ain’t Ait Different’ sees him summoning AJ Tracey to rap alongside him. As the two MCs spit their respective verses, it musters up the best moment of the night.
Once he bows out, the room’s left in a euphoric daze of excitement, and the ‘Edna’ Tour feels like a fitting bookend for this chapter of Headie’s journey. Pulling from a vast index of records to interpolate, reimagine and solder into his drill motherboard, the MC demonstrates a kind of musicality not – typically – associated with his peers. From the gummy afro-swing melody of ‘Everything Nice’ to the embattled drill ensemble of ‘Pound Signs’, Headie is sure to put his musical variety before his stage presence: a positive for some and a detractor for others, depending on what you value. Still, the show keeps eyes peeled for what he’ll will do next. If he’s filling up Wembley in the fourth year of his established career, who knows where he’ll take his drill armada next.
Headie One played:
‘Back To Basics’
‘Hear No Evil’
‘Only You Freestyle’
‘Ain’t It Different’