It’s the afternoon of Rejjie Snow’s headline show at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town, and I’m interrupting soundcheck. “We’re just making sure everything is super tight for tonight,” says Snow, before giving a much-needed food order to his smiley tour manager. I grab a Corona from the bar, and we head to the green room to catch up whilst we wait for his chips to arrive.
The last time I interviewed the Irish rapper was back in 2013: he had just topped the iTunes Hip-Hop Chart with his debut EP, Rejovich, and had been “exposed” as the mysterious rapper Captain Murphy. Everyone thought it was him, regardless, so he just ran with it and trolled (hard). Smart move: this rumour mill caused countless publications to pay attention to Rejjie’s true voice—one that would later see him selling out tours across the globe and catching the ears of Sir Elton John (Rej was signed to his management house, Rocket Music).
Now, at age 23, Rejjie Snow—born Alex Anyaegbunam—has a steady rap career that’s becoming firmer with every track he releases. 300 Entertainment—home to the likes of Migos, Young Thug, and Fetty Wap—saw something in young Rej when they signed him to a “great deal” last year. He tells me, “I feel at home there. I still have creative freedom, and that’s important to me.” 2017 has already been a great one for rap offerings, and Rejjie Snow plans to add to that with the release of his debut album, Dear Annie. “I’m nervous about releasing it,” he says, “but I think I’m about ready now.”
“People think certain accolades or achievements are success, but I see it in a different way.”
COMPLEX: What was it like for you growing up black in Ireland?
Rejjie Snow: Growing up black in Ireland is an experience that’s unique to that place. I always noticed my colour growing up because I was always reminded of it by people, especially my friends. But I didn’t notice certain things until I came to London, and it was the same when I went to America. Growing up in Dublin, I feel like I was in a bubble. That’s just how the city feels: one big bubble. Yeah, every now and again you’ll be reminded that you’re black, but no one ever used it against me.
The black community there isn’t the largest so, with that, did you ever face any racism?
Nah, not even. You go to America and it’s all got a segregated feel; the system, basically. Where I’m from, it doesn’t really feel like that. It was more just ignorance, and not knowing certain cultural things. I look back now and I’m like, “Damn! Certain things that I experienced were a bit different, a bit wild.”
I’ve come across music from the Irish rap scene, here and there, over the years. But no one has taken it as far as you have: internationally. Did you come up in that scene or were you always looking outwardly?
I guess I’m a product of the internet, really. Everything I was influenced by was on the internet. Growing up, I wasn’t really part of any hip-hop scene at all. None of my friends were into hip-hop.
What did they listen to?
House music. Hip-hop came later on when we were getting into graffiti. We’d just be doing that, and I discovered hip-hop through PlayStation games. The hip-hop scene, I always knew there was one, but...
Are there any Irish rappers out right now that you rate, or that you’re friends with?
I could say people, but it wouldn’t be honest. There’s no one I look at like, “He’s sick!” I feel like a lot of people just follow this weird tradition and people, not just me, are showing the scene that there’s different ways to maneuver—different ways to express yourself than just one kind of formula. I’m trying to do it for everybody. Even though it’s important to be proud of where you’re from and rep that fully, music is more universal. You should be trying to reach everyone.
Which lyricists did you look up to as an aspiring emcee?
All sorts! Honestly, I was mad about 50 Cent and The Game—that era. That’s more accurate for my generation. When I discovered Nas, that was later on, but I grew up listening to everything: Michael Jackson, George Michael—all the greats.
Before you aspired to become a rapper, you were big on football—and you also studied film and design at university, before dropping out. What made you decide to choose music over what could have still been a bright future in those fields?
I’d say it happened by mistake. Just being at home, bored, and seeing people that you could tell came from the internet make it made me want to try it out. I always rapped, and my mum put me in a couple of stage schools; I guess that was my first introduction to rhythm and music and stuff. I was always funny, like the class clown. I was always like, “I can do anything.” Then I made a song and I was sending it to people and it was getting mad views. I started to gain fans and I just took it from there.
At what moment did you realise things were on the cusp of blowing up and you could actually take music seriously?
Probably never. It still doesn’t seem like that, but I think getting emails from companies who look after artists I really looked up to was a sign. That was some kind of confirmation that I’m doing something right. That confirmation of success, I’m still looking for it. People think certain accolades or achievements are success, but I see it in a different way.
What does success mean to you?
I love when I get to talk to people for real and not just some gassed up shit. When you get to sit down and see how much your songs that you made in your bedroom means to people, it’s the sickest thing. Also, just seeing people have my back, you know? And they don’t necessarily really know me. It’s always good to feel loved.
I remember when you first came out in 2012 and there was talk surrounding the American lilt to your flow. Is there a reason you chose to rhyme in that style, or does it just feel natural to you?
I feel that, as an artist, you’ll eventually find yourself at some point and you’ll know what you have to do. Early on, I was looking in every direction. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I was just making shit for fun or trolling. All that shit. As I said, until I found myself in music as something I wanted to do professionally, and take it seriously and actually express what’s going on in my head... You can always make music for yourself, but then, sometimes, you get a bit lost in the sauce. Early on, I was influenced by mad people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but now that stuff will always be there on the internet. You can’t hide what happens or what you experience or what people have seen.
“I guess I’m a product of the internet, really.”
Where would you say your biggest fanbase is?
Right now, Europe: France, London...
—what about the States? Do you feel like they’ve embraced you out there?
I just feel a bit scarce. They don’t really get it. People in the UK and Ireland just think it’s funny; they don’t take it seriously. It comes a point when they kinda have to, and I hope my debut album will set things straight.
Tell me about that album, Dear Annie. Fans have been waiting a hot minute for that to drop—when is it actually coming?
The delay’s been because of the politics with labels and shit. It sucks, because you make songs and you lose the feeling because there’s such a process with it. I made two albums. This one is the one that’s coming out properly. The other one, I guess people just didn’t like it. But yeah, it’s coming out summertime hopefully. I don’t think it’s going to be like College Dropout. It’s not my best piece of work, because I was kind of going through the motions, but I’m happy. For me, it’s all about the fans.
Any surprise collaborations?
Nah, no features. None of that [laughs].
I had offers. I could’ve done them, because the label I’m on have connections, but I just felt it would saturate the product. It’s cool, though. I just talk about love and death and all that. That’s it.
So, 300 Entertainment. How are they treating you, firstly? And is there anyone on the roster you want to work with down the line, or that you have worked with?
Yeah, good peoples over there. Obviously, being outside of Europe for this amount of time, I only get to see them every now and again. They give me full creative control, and that’s important to me. They still have to get involved every now and again—when there’s money involved, that happens—but it’s cool, man. The label’s sick and they’ve got lethal people. I really want to work with Young Thug.
You two on a track would be nuts.
I’m gonna work to get to that. He’s the sickest musician.
How did you and 300 even cross paths?
It was through management. I had offers from all types of places, but I just thought being signed to an American label says something to people. It’s inspiring. That’s all that was. Obviously, being independent is still always the way.
So you don’t have a UK label?
Nah, just publishing.
You’ve done well since 2012, though. When you release singles, they do well, but your debut album will be out within the next few months, so where do you see the next level being for you?
Of what? Being a flop? A superstar?
Yeah, all that shit. I’m not into all that.
Are you starting to feel the effects of fame now?
Yeah, but it’s something I’ve got to deal with.
Groupie life can’t be bad at your age though [laughs].
Nah, I’ve got a wifey [laughs]. That’s what I’m afraid of... I see so many people lose themselves and it’s not cool. Once you lose yourself, there’s no coming back. So I’m trying to figure out how to make music and not let anything else get in the way. It’s important.
It is important. Very. I’ve seen so many artists get lost in that sauce you talk about—people I’ve known for years.
Yeah, it’s mad! I’m trying to get into acting as well; I’m just trying to be more creative, that’s all. It’s deeper than just 16 bars.
Rejjie Snow's pre-album mixtape, 'The Moon & You', is out now.