In 2013, Irish rapper Rejjie Snow dropped his debut mixtape Rejovich. The 90s-influenced, soul-sampling project, with highlights like “1992” immediately caught the ears of the rap underground and Snow quickly amassed a cultish fanbase on both sides of the pond.
When listening to songs like “1992”, it’s obvious why Rejjie Snow gained such a following. The musical and lyrical qualities of his music recall a bygone era of hip-hop that more retrophilic fans of the genre crave.
Rejjie Snow emerged at the same time as Joey Bada$$ and the whole Pro Era conglomerate, helping bring back that New York-centric hip-hop sound. Snow collaborated with Bada$$ on the Dublin native’s “Purple Tuesday”.
Since the release of that debut mixtape in 2013, Snow, born Alex Anyaegbunam, signed to 300 Entertainment, released a mixtape The Moon & You, and dropped the occasional loosie, but fans had to wait patiently for his debut studio album.
Then, that studio album finally came in the form of Dear Annie. An ambitious and expansive musical collection that signifies an exciting potential in an artist whose path to hip-hop has been pretty unorthodox.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, Snow is hardly from a typical hip-hop hotbed. As the son of a Nigerian father and a Jamaican-Irish mother, Snow is accustomed to being an outsider, but as he told NPR, this perspective has helped his music once he stopped worrying about trying to sound American:
“I had a different outlook growing up where I grew up ’cause, as you say, I grew up listening to techno music. With making hip-hop I’ve got a different perspective and experience. When I first started making music I was just trying to be super American and nothing about that was like myself.”
While he may have consciously moved away from trying to imitate his American contemporaries, Snow’s album is still clearly affected by American influence. The Irishman came to the States on a soccer scholarship for college and has been in the country for a large part of his adult life.
Musically, the influence of N.E.R.D., Tyler, The Creator, and early Pro Era are all over Dear Annie and Snow’s own accent is an interesting mix of American slang and Irish annunciation.
But Snow’s outsider’s approach to music, especially hip-hop, makes Dear Annie a truly unique-sounding project. With jazz samples, melodic sing-rapping (not like Trippie Redd sing-rapping, like actual singing), verses in different languages, and unabashed emotion, Snow has crafted an impressively individual album at a time when a lot of popular hip-hop can sound repetitive.
“23”, a melodic duet between Snow and Caroline Smith, recounts a relationship that has grown slightly antagonistic. Despite Snow and Smith’s affection for their partners, they still wonder “Why you gotta say mean things about me?”
It’s dope to see a rap artist sing about love and loss from a songwriting perspective that’s more typical outside of the genre. On much of Dear Annie, Snow is examining and recounting a relationship that he abandoned to move to Paris.
This is the subject of “Mon Amour”, but don’t let those friendly, floaty chords fool you, Rejjie isn’t so happy about this specific Amour. Snow raps in a whispery, PM Dawn-inflected tone about growing to hate someone that you once cared about:
“I hate feeling like I don’t know how to love you
Now I gotta watch you make love to the same dude”
“Egyptian Luvr”, featuring Amine and Dana Williams, with production from the great Kaytranada, envisions the final moments of life or a relationship.
The bouncy production once again sort of masks the emotionality of the song, in which Rejjie goes back and forth about leaving his partner, “She be like cancer, she be like dancing.”
“Egyptian Luvr” is much closer to experimental electronic music than the popular trapified hip-hop of today. Snow told NPR about how those different sounds crept onto the album and his different set of influences.
“I’ve just always been more into the geeky kind of stuff, people like MF Doom and the samples he uses that were jazz samples and stuff. For me, I’ve always been more into jazz and stuff like that ’cause that’s kind of the first music that I heard growing up and it’s the one that inspired me the most.”
“The Ends”, with its Toro Y Moi synths and metronomic drums, sounds more like Odd Future-esque American hip-hop. And it’s notable that when the London-based MC Jesse James Solomon appears on “The Ends”, his London accent and slang is kind of startling.
Rejjie Snow may be from Ireland, but his accent and style make it difficult to label him a ‘UK Rapper’ like Solomon and the myriad grime rappers making waves recently.
Dear Annie isn’t a grime album, it may hardly even be a hip-hop album. “LMFAO” sounds more like 80s dance music than rap.
On “LMFAO”, Rejjie is now post-breakup living in Paris and enjoying himself with new Parisian love interests.
Charting that love story from beginning to end throughout Dear Annie infects the project with a sort of cinematic quality. You follow this narrative, riding along with Rejjie as he navigates multiple moods and sounds, to emerge after an hour in a new emotional world.
For Snow, who studied film in college, this isn’t a coincidence. He explained how film influences his art and Dear Annie to NPR:
“I really tried to make it like a movie. I guess I’m really inspired by movies. I studied film in college, so that’s something that’s a passion of mine and I always tried to mix both worlds — the music and film ideas and that visual side. I think if you marry those two worlds, it makes the music so much better, I think. When you make an album that should be what it is, an experience and something that can obviously be enjoyed as well through music, but also visually as well.”
Dear Annie is indeed a visual and musical journey. It isn’t a perfect album, some of Snow’s ideas fall flat, but there’s an exciting potential in the 24-year-old from Dublin.
If you’re looking for some hip-hop that will make you think way outside the box, take the Dear Annie journey.