It’s been three years since Dublin hip-hop artist Alex Anyaegbunam aka Rejjie Snow dropped his much- acclaimed debut ‘Dear Annie’ and to those not paying attention it would be fair to think that he’s just disappeared into the backdrop ever since.
Apart from a few mirror selfies and personal drawings, there was very little to distinguish the rapper's social media from that of a 22-year-old art student. The mystique around his work continued to fester, however, and in July 2020 things slowly began to make sense; when he unexpectedly released 'Cookie Chips', his first release since 2018 and a collaboration with Cam O’bi and hip-hop legend MF Doom (a track that marked one of Doom’s final releases before his untimely death in October last year).
The track, and its accompanying video of Snow carrying a bunch of brightly coloured balloons, promised Snow at his most vibrant, taking on a new palette of sights, sounds and influences. Now, as we view the track through the lens of Snow’s sophomore album ‘Baw Baw Black Sheep’; it feels like something of a red herring. While fans were focused on the star-studded collaborations, they didn’t notice the sleight of hand. Snow was highlighting that despite the bright lights and colours it remained him alone, ploughing his own field, unafraid to create new worlds.
‘Baw Baw Black Sheep’, according to Snow, is inspired by children's films such as Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, where wide-eyed wonder meets fantastical imagination. The album opens with 'Grateful', with its choir of pitched up vocals and soft below piano underlay proving the ideal backdrop for a conversation between a child-like voice and Snow, where the former asks Rejjie to tell them a story before they go to bed. Inspired, in part, by Snow’s own introduction to fatherhood earlier this year, the album’s 14-tracks takes the listener on a mystical journey of hope, realism, racism and, eventually, the bright stars above. Unfortunately, with every shot of adrenaline and excitement that comes through tracks such as 'Obrigado', 'Mirrors' (featuring SnoH Aalegra and Cam O’bi) and 'Skip To My Lou', there are other that slam on the brakes just as forcefully, just as momentum and energy were building.
With the wave-like braggadocio of early Tyler, The Creator albums a clear influence; it’s peculiar for tracks such as 'Relax' and 'Oreos' to bring it back to some of the genre’s most unflattering tendencies, such as sharing verses over a sub-par beat and relying too much on jazz-inspired instrumentation. For an artist so clearly considerate of what he releases into the world, it’s hard to argue against cutting off the worst offending tracks and making it a more joyful effort. Like a Christopher Nolan movie, you feel the artist may have been best suited to shave some time off the final third.
With a list of collaborators that include the aforementioned Doom, Aalegra and Cam O’Bi (who also executive produced the album), and artists such as Tinashe, grouptherapy. And J Ivy jumping in to add some texture to proceedings, the album does flow together quite well. Of all the features, Tinashe adds the most when called upon, as does the consistently brilliant vocals of O’bi, who never fails to brighten up a record when required. As the pitched up vocals return time and again, however, you wonder if the album was an idea done in halves; and that commitment to a theme in either direction would have given it a firmer footing for those listening.
At the album's halfway point, Rejjie tells the album’s protagonist that “This world has no patience for a man like me”. “The darkness has a way of showing you exactly what you need to see,” the childish vocal replies, and maybe he’s right. Maybe this was exactly what Rejjie needed; a chance to kick-back with his new family, have a laugh and make some music with his closest friends. “You really do remind yourself of me that’s for sure,” Rejjie adds, determined as ever to pave his own lane in hip-hop’s glorious future. Only time will tell whether it was the right lane to have taken at all.
Words: Cailean Coffey
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