20/20 with Rejjie Snow
The Rapper Looks Back as He Spins into the Future
- Interview: Nazanin Shahnavaz
- Photography: Angelo Dominic Sesto
Rejjie Snow has been doing some soul-searching. His long-awaited debut Dear Annie has just released and the rapper is wrestling with his conscience at a London studio. “I did the hard work, so I’m trying to enjoy myself,” he says in a low, soft voice. While living in Florida on a football scholarship, the young MC uploaded a few tracks on YouTube and gained fans at a disorienting speed for his laid-back flow and jazzy, minimalist beats. Before Snow had time to process what was happening, he was signed to the 300 label and opening for the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Madonna. But satisfaction is not a familiar feeling for Snow when it comes to his work. “This all comes with big responsibility and I need to find a balance. I need to know when to switch it on and off,” he says. “When it’s constant, things can get crazy.” Snow is sleep deprived and a little distant. He’s preoccupied with navigating fame’s hedonic treadmill. For the chronically shy 24-year-old, success feels like an unexpected trajectory that’s thrust him from a small suburb just north of Dublin onto the world stage.
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in Dublin, I had a pretty regular childhood. I spent a lot of time outside playing football and getting into trouble, I was quite mischievous. I used to sing a lot, too. I grew up listening to George Michael and Queen. I would perform Top of the Pops shit for my mom.
As a kid, we’d visit our relatives in Nigeria. It was good to see where I’m from and I learned a lot. It’s beautiful there, the Nigerian spirit is so inspiring—good food, good vibes, good music. I can’t wait to go back now in my twenties and really soak everything up.
I imagine hip hop occupies quite a small space in Ireland. What’s your experience of the scene?
It’s real small and I never really identified with it, either. Growing up, there weren’t really places to go to make music. I was always on my own. My friends listened to different kinds of house music and we’d go out to raves. The people that made hip hop were a bit corny to us. I started putting tracks online while I was at school in America, so I never really immersed myself in the Irish scene.
So where do you see yourself in the narrative?
Back home, people have put me on this pedestal and there’s a lot of pressure. I guess because I’m Irish and black, it puts me in a different category. I want to be the one to show people that it’s not even about that, it’s about the person as an individual. It’s about not following the same tradition.
You moved to Florida when you were 16, what surprised you most about living in America?
The segregation that exists out there. It’s a real unstable place, you know what I mean? People were shocked that I’m Irish and black. I don’t even think about that, but in the States it’s a talking point. But again, it’s something you have to educate people in. I’m down to play a role, it’s all good.
What role do you think music can have today?
Music sparks ideas. It sparks revolutions. I made a song called “Crooked Cops” as a commentary on police brutality in America. Being out there, I could feel the tension. That’s when the best music happens, through experience. Through life. Music has always been the soundtrack to whatever is happening in the world.
Do you think a lot of socially conscious artists are coming up?
I feel like the ones who are don’t have the spotlight on them. Everything is so mainstream now. It’s all about digging, finding good music, and promoting it. Sharing it and putting it on. The way music is consumed now is just different too. It’s like fast food.
I can’t imagine how it’s possible to churn out an album.
Me neither, it took me a while. I had to really have something to talk about, you know what I mean? A relatable theme. It might sound cliche, but it’s always about the fans. It’s about making some shit, giving it to them, and then it’s their shit and they can show someone else.
What do you do to relax?
I read a lot, I paint. Back in the day I used to do a lot of spray painting, graffiti on trains and walls. When I discovered it, I became totally addicted. I loved the idea of how something anonymous could be so disruptive and political. It took over my life.
What’s the significance of graffiti culture in Dublin?
Graffiti culture in Dublin is a real underworld, it’s how I got into music. It was always this thing I wanted to be a part of, but could never really because I was too young. I was a toy—that’s how you describe a person who doesn’t know anything, says stupid shit, and does graffiti. A bit too bait. I was always the outsider. I was so intrigued by these people that were super good and as I’ve got older, it’s funny to see how stoked I was to meet them and how it wasn’t even real.
Like when you arrive to a point that felt out of reach and it’s not what you imagined?
Yeah, it doesn’t really exist. When you get older you realize these things more.
You seem very reflective today.
I don’t really live in the moment. I did that Madonna tour and it’s only now that I’m realizing it. I think just talking about things has got me thinking. Life’s been back to back with shit, you know. I’m also just feeling my age more, getting wiser. I’ve travelled the world and met a lot of interesting people, and with my album coming out, I’ve got all these different feelings.
What motivates you when life is so full-on?
Just being a better person. Being better at what I’m doing now, one of the greatest. At least for my mom. I’ve got big plans so I need more time. I fantasize about having kids one day and showing them I did something. I never thought I’d ever be anybody. Again, it’s more taking on the platform I have and trying to use it for positive things. It’s about spreading love. It’s all got to be positive at the end of the day, that’s the stuff that influences people. That’s what inspires me to work, seeing how I can do something that’s so simple but might mean a lot to someone else. I can feel my mortality, but I feel like that’s a good thing. Death isn’t something I’m afraid of, I’m just aware of it. That would suck if I was afraid because it’s constant, you know?
How would you describe your journey so far?
Fuck, a lot of patience, the hardest period was getting to where I am now. It’s been hard becoming Rejjie Snow.
Nazanin Shahnavaz is a writer, editor and stylist from London. Her work has appeared in 032c, Dazed & Confused, i-D, TANK and the Globe and Mail.
- Interview: Nazanin Shahnavaz
- Photography: Angelo Dominic Sesto
- Photography Assistant: Jack O’Donnell
- Styling: Nazanin Shahnavaz
- Grooming: Portia Ferrari