Whatever you want to call it—‘road rap’, ‘UK rap’, ‘UK drill’—British hip-hop’s dark side is currently having its moment in the light and it’s been a long time coming. Since the late nineties and early 2000s, the sound’s South London-dwelling forefathers JaJa Soze (and PDC) and Giggs (with SN1), have had to fight long and hard for their voices to be heard on top-tier platforms, respected and taken seriously, whilst also being a mouthpiece for millions across the country. The work of these legends has not gone unnoticed as the music industry, and fans alike, have seen a fraternity of drill rappers—acts such as 67, Loski, and Headie One—rise up in their respective parts of the city, adding a touch more menace to proceedings with their brazen tales of life on London’s streets.

Headie One, especially, has had a groundbreaking year. The Tottenham-hailing ad-lib king has pierced through the ears of old-time critics and backpack rap heads, offering up a more lyrically dense take on the Chicago-inspired UK drill movement. Getting his first taste of the mic back in secondary school, trading bars with friends in the local studio—at first, it was all a bit of fun, and it wasn’t until after Headie went to prison for the third time that he looked at music seriously in the eye. But it was to be a collaboration with rapper R.V. that would blast his career into rap’s top tier: “Know Better” got its official release in January 2018 and, because of its real-life warning to Headie’s adversaries, flipped the game on its head like a 50p coin with seminal results.

It was sonically a refreshing and forward-thinking shot; the shh! ad-lib; the icy, ghoulish riddim; the punchy flow—it was a step up from what we’d heard previously from the UK drill scene. The rapper quickly followed the viral banger with a re-release of his mixtape, The One, literally a few days later. Across fifteen bangers, we got to witness an artist come into his own right in front of our eyes, with easily the most versatile UK rap outing to touch down since MoStack’s High Street Kid the previous year. With The One Two now out and doing its rounds, Complex linked up with Headie One to discuss his life-changing 2018 and career up to this point. As previously seen in his classic NFTR interview, it was clear from the start that he was a man of few words, which is fine: Headie’s music does all the talking for him.