Culture  Rejjie Snow’s Place in Hip-Hop

Vulnerability in the Age of Toxic Masculinity

Listening to twenty-five-year old Rejjie Snow’s debut album Dear Annie, it’s almost impossible to discern that the genre-spanning, synthesized, and at times 80s-esque tracks were written by one of the few hip-hop artists to come from Ireland. Alexander Anyaegbunam, more commonly known by his stage name Rejjie Snow, always knew he wanted to be a rapper, despite growing up in Dublin, Ireland, an ocean away from where most mainstream rap artists thrive; however, Snow’s Irish origins are not the only thing distancing him from the “typical” image of an artist in hip-hop.

Snow began uploading tracks as early as 2011 on Soundcloud under the alias Lecs Luther. In 2013, after relocating to London, Snow released his EP Rejovich, which quickly climbed the iTunes hip-hop charts, dethroning well-established Kanye West’s sixth album, Yeezus. Despite only having seven songs at the time, after the video for his track “Around the World” garnered over half a million views on Youtube in a week, Rejjie was contacted by Madonna, earning himself a spot as the opening act on her tour.

Snow is breaking down the stereotypes of shallowness and emotional unavailability associated with hip-hop and rap.

It’s not surprising that one of Snow’s videos is what propelled him into rising stardom. In an interview with L’Officiel Paris, Snow said, “film is one of my passions… I’m a very visual person; when I write music, I always have a visual in my head first.” After finishing high school in Florida on an athletic scholarship, Snow briefly attended Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia to study film and design. After one semester, he made the decision to drop out in order to move back to Ireland.

Dear Annie is an impressive first attempt at a full length album. Boasting an ambitious line-up of 20 tracks, it seems that experimenting over the last seven years has finally paid off for Snow. The album’s opening tracks “Hello” and “Rainbows” set the tone for the first half of the work. Both songs sound smooth and lively, yet relaxed. “Hello” features barely audible words over a complicated backtrack of various synthesized dreamy sounds. Similarly, in “Rainbows” Snow raps in a laidback, almost careless tone over a simple bass line and a loop of tweeting birds. The line “gotta girl that I love had a girl that I miss” encapsulates the bittersweet quality of the lyrics.

However, Dear Annie does not carry this sweet and light lovesick tone for long. By the twelfth track “Room 27,” Snow begins to narrow his focus to more intense topics. The title is a reference to the 27 Club, a group of popular celebrities who died at the age of 27. The track covers Snow’s apparent careless attitude towards fear, which is later revealed to be performative in later verses: “Feel like fucking flying, wish you understand my fucking thoughts/Confidence is terminated, hatred in my fucking bones.” The reference becomes even more blatant as Snow rambles, “me and microphone, this room was 27 like the club/Dead kids, too short, life gone, mad drugs/Suicide, genocide, responsibility for us.” The ending lines of the song drive home the track’s mission to address celebrity drug abuse, suggesting that perhaps Snow has experienced this in his own life.

Dear Annie is raw with emotion — a testament to Snow’s newfound comfort in his own skin.

Snow has said that he originally sought to maintain a clear divide between his private person and his persona Rejjie Snow; yet, as his career has progressed, the two have become more and more indiscernible. His recent lyrics allude more heavily to his personal life. Dear Annie certainly marks a transition for Snow from impassive rhyming to vulnerable lyricism. He admitted to The Independent, “I’ve matured a lot. I wasn’t ready to do that at first. I’m not really an open person, it was hard to share and be open about my feelings. Until I met my partner I never felt comfortable talking about that in the music. It’s what made the album become what it is.” Dear Annie is raw with emotion — a testament to Snow’s newfound comfort in his own skin.

Snow touches on his struggles with vulnerability in “Bye Polar,” addressing mental illness through the thinly veiled homophonic title. Throughout the track, Snow repeats “all right, all right,” suggesting that many of us repress our mental health problems by convincing ourselves everything is “all right, all right.” The lines “screams and paranoia I hide/I hide all my insides/guts diluted purple and dry/dry your eyes and be kind” reveal the intensity of the feelings Snow believes he is constantly hiding. This track is also a confession to suffering under celebritism as Snow quickly raps “don’t do it all for that feed (don’t do it)/sell soul and get on two knees (suck suck)/help yourself, I’m only human.” The final line announces “I’m black, I’m weird and I’m proud (I’m proud);” a sentiment that sums up the nature of Rejjie Snow.
Dear Annie shows that Rejjie Snow is beginning to find his voice in the landscape of contemporary hip-hop. In an interview with The Independent, Snow said, “I’m not what people expect, and that’s funny because I’m just being myself. Of course, I understand the stereotypes that hip-hop is associated with, but that’s not me. If it’s not you, you shouldn’t try and play the game.” He claims to be making music that’s more in-line with who he is instead of trying to play the part of a rapper. Despite this, Dear Annie still fits into the broad genre of hip-hop and R&B, with a few nuances, Snow’s smooth and clear flow tying everything together.

Snow has established himself in the same category as the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Chance the Rapper, Brockhampton, and Frank Ocean – artists that have been pushing the envelope to break down the stereotypes of emotional unavailability and shallowness associated with hip-hop and rap. It may still take another album to further refine his voice and make it unique, as Dear Annie is clearly influenced by his peers, especially Tyler, the Creator.

The twenty-five-year old is currently working on a new autobiographical album, Uncle Thomas, which is sure to expose even further the Alex behind Rejjie. It will be interesting to watch this young rapper develop and employ his newfound artistic freedom in the future.

Snow will be touring Montreal in support of Dear Annie on Saturday, October 6 at L’Astral.