The internet has, however, opened up a vast array of opportunities for the young Drumcondra man, allowing him to occasionally step outside of music to pursue other means of expression. Last summer, Rejjie was asked to walk for London-based designer Samuel Ross’s A-COLD-WALL* SS18 collection, he also styled a shoot for LA label BRANDBLACK, he name-checks several high-end brands in his music, and he even has a track called ‘Fashion Week’ in which he references Comme des Garçons.
“I’ve always loved fashion. Even growing up in Dublin I’ve always been into style. I think with my music and fashion; those worlds kind of go hand-in-hand. A lot of times designers just hit me up. So with A COLD WALL*, Samuel just hit me up to walk the day before the runway thing. His stuff is amazing to me so it was a pleasure to do that. I love to collaborate with designers. Especially with the tour coming up, I might wear different pieces from different designers to make the show that bit more of an experience.”
Rejjie clearly has a receptive and openminded approach to collaboration. Dropping everything last minute to walk a runway isn’t something most rappers would even consider. But it’s that mentality that’s led him to make some of the most forward-thinking music and art direction of his career.
“I know with hip hop it can be tough, especially with all the masculinity about it. I just try to be open minded and be myself really. In the last year or so I’ve really come into myself and that’s super important to me because again it makes everything a lot more relatable to people. I think that’s where a lot of people have to stand.
“When I was growing up in Dublin I was so confused whether I should dress in tracksuits or dress in baggy because you don’t really know. You have all these images you see from other places so you have to make your own images, you know what I mean? When you’re yourself that’s enough and that’s where people take inspiration from.”
There’s been a tangible shift in hip hop in recent years. The concept of the ‘rapper’ has mutated, artists are no longer caricatures of themselves. Lethal Dialect, aka Paul Alwright, recently spoke out about not being comfortable with some of his previous work and the impact it had on a young family member. Rejjie is another champion for battling toxic masculinity.
“I think that change is coming from the fact that people are talking about it now, which is amazing. I think those sort of conversations are good because a lot of the masculinity stuff with hip hop isn’t true or real. There’s always been femininity in hip hop. Even go back to the 70s and some of the stuff that people were wearing. It’s always been there. I think it’s good for people to be encouraged and for artists in general not to have those barriers against them. Especially with the gay world and hip hop. It’s good that people can be a bit more open minded about that now. Even someone like Paulie [Alwright] – I think it’s great that he’s speaking on that because he’s someone that a lot of people look up to. It’s always been a thing where hip hop equals being tough or being hard and it’s just always been that way. I feel like now there’s an option, you know what I mean?”
It seems Paul Alwright isn’t the only Irish artist that Rejjie respects. 18 songs into his debut album ‘Dear Annie’ there’s a pleasant surprise for fans of Republic of Loose.
‘Charlie Brown’ is a rework of the funk-rock band’s 2008 track ‘The Steady Song’, which stayed in the Irish Singles Chart for 13 weeks. Rejjie sounds pretty excited as he tells me how Mick Pyro, Republic of Loose’s lead man, gave the track the green light.
“I’m a big fan of him. It was a cover song and it was going to be a remix later on in the year. I sent it to Mick and he really loved it. Obviously, I was a bit weary because it’s one of those songs that I didn’t want to touch, because it’s just its own amazing piece of music. When I got a blessing from him I put it on the album. It’s a nice surprise for people to hear. Hopefully for people who haven’t checked out [Republic of Loose’s] music yet, this will open up that world.”
Back in the late 2000s, Mick and his Loose cohorts reached platinum sales on their records, with everyone in Ireland wanting a piece of them. There’s a complex expectation put on Irish artists who make it big, an expectation to wear the tricolour, literally and figuratively. I ask Rejjie if he felt the weight of the flag and if that was fair.
“It’s always in the back of your thoughts. ‘Am I doing this for myself or am I doing this for the city?’ or whatever. It’s not a bad thing, it just shouldn’t be the main focus. It should always be about the art. For me it’s always been about learning how to marry that with still being super proud of where I’m from and you can still hear it in my music, but not have to don the big flag around my neck and really sell it to people in that way.”
An interview he did with The Fader in May 2017 was dissected online by Irish forums when it came out. But there was one quote I wanted a little clarity on as a parting question, I ask him what he meant in that interview by wanting to ‘give back to my city’.
“I guess just through the album. Just that piece of inspiration, you know what I mean? I feel like I opened it up for people, if that makes sense? Also just giving back to the youth and working with people, especially in north Dublin. I guess I’ve got a lot of ideas and all of the ideas I have I want to take back to Dublin. I feel like it’s up to people like me to do that. There are only so many people that can do that, so I guess it’s up to me to really take that back and have more space for people to create things.”
The floodgates for hip hop in Ireland have burst and that happened, coincidentally or not, as Rejjie Snow rose to prominence on the world stage. He’s got Ireland on his back though, and he’s cool with that.
Rejjie Snow plays The Olympia Theatre on March 12.