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Track by track: Headie One breaks down his debut album Edna

Headie One is a name that now rings bells across the country louder than Big Ben.

The Tottenham-born artist has consistently expanded his musical repertoire through his releases, as he poignantly illustrated earlier this year on GANG – his genre-breaking mixtape with Fred Again. The experimental project marked a watershed moment in his career; it pushed the boundaries of his artistry and showcased his versatile lyricism, which has subsequently positioned him as a vanguard of the UK rap scene.

His debut album, Edna, lands on Friday (9 October). Having dialled in a network of top-tier artists like Skepta, Stormzy, Aitch, Drake and AJ Tracey, along with fast rising hit-makers Young T & Bugsey, Ivorian Doll, Mahalia and Young Adz, the album promises to deliver an eclectic synthesis of drill, trap, R&B and rap.

The core concept of the album is one of introspection. He reflects on the passing of his mother Edna, and reveals how it has framed his journey so far. On his first full-length LP, Headie One can be heard questioning how events could have panned out differently if she had been there to guide him. “The theme of the album is that there’s a lot of deep and negative stuff that I have been through,” Headie says from a London studio, “but it’s a nice balance between positivity and progression.” Forgiveness and faith are highlighted as key lessons, the former being one he seeks to be taught and the latter sustaining him through trials and tribulations. Irrespective of past situations, his stoic-like philosophy to embrace the highs and lows has become the building blocks of his vision.

Speaking for a disenfranchised younger generation also plays a crucial role. Against a backdrop of austerity, a spike in youth crime has emerged and a holistic societal approach is needed. The 26-year-old offers insight into complex circumstances – such as a decline in youth services, lower-income council estate life and failures in the school system – that lead to the realities these young people face. “Listen to it with an open mind,” he tells us. “I don’t want anyone to take anything away from it, I just want people to take it in. Any way it can help them in their personal situations, then they can use it to their advantage.”

Ahead of the album drop, we link up with Headie to break down each track on Edna.

01

Teach Me

I feel like this track sets the tone with a lot of energy, which is different from what most people would expect, as it starts off the album energetically. Teach Me means teach me forgiveness. It is basically asking to be taught how to forgive people that have done me wrong in the past – that’s the main message of the song.

02

Psalm 35

Edna watching over me” is a very important bar. I feel like nowadays there are loads of things going on and you don’t always know what’s coming around the corner. It’s good to feel like you’re being looked after in every situation, being guided and that’s the way I feel. [My mum passing away] was the first negative thing I experienced and that’s where my story comes from.

There were times when things weren’t too great, and I had been in a negative situation. Religion has helped me see the bigger picture, stay in good spirits and have faith.

03

Bumpy Ride ft. M Huncho

This is one of my favourite songs on the project. The energy and the charisma is sick, and the production is crazy as well. I feel like it’s a complete song. Me and M Huncho have worked together a few times; we have a good connection in the studio. I feel like he makes it easy for me because he has a different style, so I can be creative in my own way and vice versa.

I felt like it was only right that M Huncho was involved in the project, so when we got into the studio and heard that beat, I knew straight away that it would fit what we needed to do. Most of the features were picked naturally like that.

04

Triple Science

Triple Science is a subject in school! I was actually studying triple science for like, two months before I went away to jail. It’s a metaphor, I’m speaking about experiences I’ve had in the past, that I have dealt with.

05

The Light

The Light is seeing the light from the position I was in before, up until now. What I had to do in the middle to get here, and even though some of the stuff wasn’t ideal I feel like the negatives and positives all played a part in me being where I am today. That’s what this track is about.

06

Ain’t It Different ft. AJ Tracey and Stormzy

We actually didn’t record that in the same studio. I had that verse written before I went away so when I came out, I spoke to AJ about getting in the studio. I sent him the song and it didn’t take long for him to do his verse.

There was a common theme that followed through the song about Ain’t It Different: where we were before to now. Those two [artists] fitted that song well, they are both doing their thing.

With most beats I look for something that holds your attention, something that gives you a feeling, atmosphere. That’s music – you’re meant to feel the music instead of just listen to it, and that’s what makes me pick the beats I pick. I like to keep an open mind when making music. When I do, I feel like I’m capable of doing whatever I put my mind to.

07

Mainstream Rapper

I wrote that song when I was away in prison talking about what it’s like being a mainstream rapper. It’s not the same as before, when I was just trying to do music. There’s more of a thin line now. This song is me observing those things. As a mainstream rapper you’re recognised everywhere you go in the whole country. You can’t really do the things you were doing before, because you’re a role model now. There’s no more blending, you’re just there.

08

Princess Cuts ft. Young T & Bugsey

We were just having fun in the studio with this one, all of us together. We were running through the beats and this one was sick straight away. It was just vibes, and that came through on the song. I like to make music I would listen to if it wasn’t me. And if it wasn’t me on this song, I would still be banging it.

09

21 Gun Salute ft. Young Adz

21 Gun Salute is hailing up the artists on the song. We were sending songs back and forth over the quarantine time because there were loads of restrictions and this was one that I had sent over to Adz. D Block Europe have a heavy work rate and their home setup means they work hard. It’s similar over here so it wasn’t too complicated.

10

Five Figures

You have to speak about successes because we speak about the negative stuff as well. It’s not like we’re not speaking about what it took to reach these places or the troubles that we deal with in these spaces. So, I like to give people a full picture, a full circle, not just one side of the story.

11

Hear No Evil

I just went straight in when I heard this beat. The beat was leading for me because it was so different and energetic.

12

Breathing

The person on the phone in the intro is someone that’s got a life sentence and they’re speaking about their situation. “You look into their eyes, you can see their soul leaving. They are not living, they are just breathing.” That’s the reality of the situation the person is in and is why I wanted to put that in the song. To remind people and it’s coming straight from the horse’s mouth. I feel like it’s easier to talk about a lot of these things off point or around this topic, but I want the reality of the situation to hit the fans.

Some of the reasons why these people are in these situations is because there’s a lot of complicated things going on init. We are just trying to make it better for ourselves. A lot of people don’t understand that, and want to stop it and put it to an end. We just try to keep moving forward regardless of the negative situations that we go through.

13

Only You Freestyle ft. Drake

Drake hit me up, he sent me the beat – produced by M1onthbeat– and obviously I was happy with it. We were going back and forth, almost having fun with it. He sent his part and said he did a bit in Arabic. I sent my part and that’s how we did it. I don’t know what he was thinking, but it was motivation for me to go better when I heard his part ‘cause it was hard. I don’t really take the online chat too seriously to be honest, but you can’t really miss some of it. Once the song is out and the energy is out in the atmosphere, that’s the job done for me really.

14

Try Me ft. Skepta

Sometimes I have a collection of beats, sometimes I have a producer making it there on the spot. We were in the studio together having a session with loads of other artists listening through beats. Me and Skepta were vibing. This beat was hard and heavy-hitting, so we just wanted to rap and take it back to square one.

15

F U Pay Me ft. Ivorian Doll (Prod. Kenny Beats)

Funnily enough I linked up with Kenny Beats in the UK. I heard this beat and it sounded like some kids playing in the playground making fun of people. It was so random it caught my ear. I told him I wanted to jump on this one and he looked at me like I was crazy. The beat is a big flex and the song followed suit. I’m excited to play it live, the bass is crazy. The part of the song I had written already was sitting there and I had been seeing Ivorian Doll doing big things. Looked like she had been putting in work and I liked the energy she was reciprocating. She’s like a breath of fresh air so I wanted to put her on the song.

The title can be directed at anyone. It’s like, we are here now, and we are doing our thing. That’s the energy in the song. For Ivorian Doll I’m sure she feels the same; she has come up, is working hard and is ready to reap her benefits – even though she is already – and it’s the same here. We’ve got things to do. We’re coming from a place where it wasn’t all rosy so we’re trying to get paid.

16

Parlez-Vous Anglais ft. Aitch

[Aitch and I] were going back-to-back, just having fun. At one point we were even competing and that’s why it comes out so sick. The beat, the melodies – everything came together nicely.

17

Everything Nice ft. Haile

I actually had my melodies ready on that song for a while. I put forward the idea of the sample to the producer and put a verse on it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do to finish it, but it needed to be special because it started off so smoothly. We sent it to Haile and within literally a couple of days he had basically sent us a full song. It was a movie really, and is one of my favourite songs on the project.

I was trying to experiment with my vocals and try different things. I don’t even know what vibe to call it, it’s kinda dancehall, border-line R&B. It’s open to interpretation and I’m sure the ladies are gonna like this one.

18

You Me ft. Mahalia

We all know how it gets, especially when you’re a musician and you’re dealing with loads of female attention. It’s a big thing but can also be a big distraction and for some people it’s motivation. It’s something that I feel needs to be spoken about and that was my view on it.

19

Therapy

This is a wind down track with a lot of meaning. Certain parts of the song are me reminiscing right towards the end.

I wrote it in the studio coming towards the end of the album, and in my head I was reminiscing about all the work I’ve been doing towards it and finally reaching a place where it’s complete. There was no pressure on making the song, it was made with a clear head.

To be honest I don’t write my best music on a clear head. I write my best music when I’m annoyed. Sometimes I try to rebirth my triggers, but when loads of things are going good, you’re in a different space. It’s gonna be tough to maintain it going forward because we don’t deal with a lot of the stuff we dealt with before. I just have to stay true and remember the things that have happened. It’s gonna be more of a reminisce, then more of a now thing.

20

Cold ft. Kaash Paige

I feel like as soon as I started the last track it was made with an open mind and I was speaking from an open perspective. Speaking about situations almost like an overview of what it was before to where it is now. That’s a common theme across the album, so that’s why I had to end it with that song, because everything happens for a reason: the positives and the negative.

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