Hailing from the same Drumcondra mean streets as former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Rejjie Snow has blazed a kind of stop start trail in Ireland’s burgeoning hip hop scene.
Now 30, from a young age spunky Snow – real name Alexa Anyaegbunam – gravitated to what he calls the “weirdness” of N.E.R.D. production and the sharp snarl of Tyler, The Creator. Later, he blew up on social media as a teenager with warped cuts like 2012’s Meddling Loops and a slew of acclaimed mixtapes. Since then, Snow has been simmering on low heat with occasional bursts of fire. 2013’s confident debut EP Rejovich peaked at No.1 on the iTunes hip-hop chart, and the video for his official first 45 racked up half a million views in its first week. In 2016, he was signed to 300-affiliated imprint Honeymoon, and later upstreamed to the main label.
After years of teasing, in 2018 he made his real arrival with the dazzling debut, Dear Annie. The album was the prog-pop hip-hop concept record Ireland hadn’t realised it needed. The sometime graffiti artist used his colour-saturated canvas as it unfolded as a sprawling sonic mural, amid a kaleidoscope of beats and basslines.
Flagrantly un-PC and old school in its influences, the album sees Snow incorporate several styles with grace and wit throughout as he raps about key moments in his twenty-something life. Musically, the tracks bounce from smooth ‘70s funk/r’n’ b, ‘80s soul slow jams, to groove-infused shoegaze and lissom pop.
With a keen eye to the future, it also includes his breezy Kaytranada-assisted standout, Egyptian Luvr, as well as, more unexpectedly, a couple of tracks in French that sound like they’re haunted by the boozy shadow of Serge Gainsbourg (indeed, both Mon Amour and Désolé feature guest vocals from female singers who sound remarkably like Gainsbourg’s muse Jane Birkin).
The Dubliner likes to think of himself as more of a polymath musician, with the LP’s closing track Greatness heavily referencing the early musical influences of Stevie Wonder and featuring his mother.
You could call Dear Annie the first major Irish hip-hop album, but as he decided to flee the nest and try his hand at being a soft-voiced Brooklyn seducer, it seems more accurate to say it’s a solid debut by a rapper whose nationality seems beside the point – which is pretty obviously what it intends to be. Rejjie stepped it up further in 2021 as he hooked up with masked maestro MF DOOM and Cam O’bi, for the psychedelic noir Baw Bow Black Sheep. (Check out its lead single Cookie Chips and you’ll be hooked, line and sinker.)
Madcap and menacing, it’s Snow in a sugar-coated nutshell. In addition, he’s collaborated with Joey Bada$$, toured with Madonna (poor sod) and Kendrick Lamar and sometimes wears eye-shadow in tribute to David Bowie. (For the record, he’s also a massive fan of the resolutely rockist George Michael and Queen too).
It says a lot about the artist that he managed this, but it also speaks volumes about his penchant for unorthodox moves.
Unconventional as he may be in his approach, there’s no second-guessing the significance of Rejjie Snow’s moves right now. Long may he reign.
Further listening: 11 Irish icons that aren‘t U2