In February, Dublin-born Brooklyn-based rapper Rejjie Snow released Dear Annie, finally ending the six-year wait for his debut album that began when his debut EP – Rejovich – became an underground hit back in 2012. Two of his early collaborators, Loyle Carner and King Krule, have become genuine stars since then, and Dear Annie seems destined to raise Snow back to their bracket.
Dear Annie follows a period of personal development and creative rejuvenation, prompted by an increased connection with religion, and new-found inspiration and purpose. Snow has created a vibrant and multifaceted album, that offers up an abundance of colour and ideas as if in propitiation for all the time we’ve been kept waiting. Stylistically, Snow borrows from multiple imperial phases of Black music, from the age of soul, to Run DMC-style rap rock, to ‘90s jazz loops, to styles altogether more futuristic. It’s an engaging listen with a purposive balance of emotion that also has depth, with a conceptual focus on reflection – on loves lost and regretted, times changed and changes ahead, death and afterlife.
And though a periodic drip of releases has traced the arc of his transformation, the differences with Rejovich are remarkable. The pitch of Snow’s voice has noticeably risen from the gravelly depths of his early work, the emotional space he explores has acquired many more dimensions besides despondence-nihilism, and his beats have evolved in complexity significantly beyond a palette of rainy piano-loops and minimalist boom-baps. I spoke to Snow over the phone to figure out how he got here, dissect this intriguing album, and find out where he’s headed next.
DY: It’s been six years since the Rejovich EP, how come releasing your debut album took so long?
RS: Erm, I wasn’t really making music for a while. I was kinda flirting with the idea of going back to college…a lot of personal stuff. But also, just finding the inspiration to do it – that came later on, in the last six months. I made a lot of the album then, about twelve songs.
That’s interesting because listening to the album, it’s easy to imagine hearing the influence of two albums from last year – Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy and Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. I was wondering whether these might have been released too recently to really enter into your creative process, but if you’ve made so much progress recently, would you say they did influence you?
Those albums are so sick, and I listened to them a lot. I take inspiration from everything really, everything I listen to. Just the structure of the Kendrick album is really inspiring. I guess when I was trying to make my own album I wanted to make something that was like cohesive, no songs that anyone would skip, I feel like that’s what an album is. I feel you can hear all my influences on the record, but also my own touch too which I tried to make really apparent. I feel like I enjoy making music more now, it’s more fun.
You can definitely hear that things have changed for you on this album compared to the Rejovich EP, what do you think brought about the transformation?
I think back then it was just a lot of trial an error making Rejovich. I didn’t really have a plan, I just made it. They’re like raw thoughts, you know what I mean? I feel with the anticipation behind this album it kinda made it more of a real thing for me. I feel like I’ve become more alive, I understand my identity more, you here it on the record now. I feel like there’s a person behind it now.
Yeah, there is a palpable sense of transformation and purpose behind this album. That said, there are a few throwbacks, like, ‘The Wonderful World of Annie’, that sounds like an Edgar the Beatmaker [AKA King Krule, Archy Marshall] beat. Is that what it is?
Yeah it’s low-key Edgar the Beat-Maker. [He’s] someone I’m really influenced by. When I first came to London I linked up with him and his crew.
Other tracks seem to go into completely new territory, like ‘LMFAO’ is almost rap-rock. Is that a sound you wanted to play around with?
It’s just a freestyle really. I had the beat in my head, wrote the melody, then put it on keys, made the beat, and then the lyrics were just freestyle, just having fun. I wanted to make a funny song. It was a track on there that you just need, to take a break away from all the emotional shit, the literal shit.
There’s this recurring skit where you’re being interviewed by a radio host, what’s the idea behind that?
The voice is myself. It was supposed to be someone else…I didn’t like it initially but it was funny enough to just run with it. I just needed something that sounded different. I feel like the contrast in emotions between myself and the presenter is funny.
Yeah like when he says “Man oh man, you sound sad” at the end of ‘Oh No!’
Yeah, a complete lack of regard for myself.
Elsewhere with the radio host skit, he plays studio laughter after announcing that you’re from “Dublin City, Ireland”. Is that the kind of reaction you get when people find out you’re Irish?
It’s not like that, but it sometimes feels like that. I threw that in there. Dublin…stereotypes…especially in America. They’re just like dumbfounded by it.
Two important themes for the album are religion, and sex. How do you manage incorporating two almost-antithetical themes like that?
They’re the two things in my life that mean the most for me. It’s natural for them to come out in my music. I’m more into the spiritual side of religion these days. It’s been interesting to grow and have a different mind-set now to what I did a couple of years ago. I’m constantly experiencing different feelings so in my music it’s at the forefront, so it’s a fun time for me creatively. DY: I’m happy for you. RS: Haha, thanks man.
From the title, Dear Annie, it sounds like you’re trying to say something to someone. Do you see rapping as a platform for saying things you might not otherwise say, telling people things they might not otherwise be told?
I definitely use rapping as that kind of expressive thing, you know. A way to talk about how I really feel. It’s really cool to be able to speak and have people listen. I want to have more of a positive message to my music [in the future].
There’s lots of speculation online as to who Annie is, can you confirm anything about who she is?
She represents Lucifer. When I was a kid I used to be afraid of the Annie doll, I got it from that, it stuck with me.
Interesting, there’s also speculation about the cover. I’ve read it’s your friend’s Mum – what’s the relevance there?
The image got sent to me and when I saw it, it was perfect. I love how it looked and it represented everything to me. It’s definitely for a reason. It was really heard to choose a cover so when I saw it, it was just perfect.
You’ve previously said that you don’t see this as your ‘College Dropout’ album [Kanye West’s debut], so what can we expect from your next album?
I should probably keep it top secret, not talk about it yet. I kinda wanted this to be my first and last album too. So it’s like I was trying to figure out what to do. I don’t know what I’ll do [next]. I’ll play it by ear, I don’t have a plan. I’m just happy I got the first record out, that’s the most important thing.
Is the ultimate aim to have massive crossover hits like Kanye? Like ‘Gold Digger’ or ‘Touch The Sky’? Songs like ‘Charlie Brown’ almost go that way with their big choruses.
Not really, I’m still trying to be low-key. I’m not thinking about anything too much. I’m just trying to make music and take my opportunities, keep it natural.
Rejjie Snow is currently on tour in Europe. The second leg of his UK tour begins on April 20th.