Words: Dean Van Nguyen
Following a number of false starts, it’s no clearer when Rejjie Snow’s next album is going to land. Dean Van Nguyen investigates the online footprints to provide an understanding of what the Irish rapper’s next release may look like.
The twisted career of Rejjie Snow has a few common threads: slick rhymes, jazzy beats, and a disorderly release scheduled. We are talking about an artist whose much-anticipated debut EP Fish & Chips never actually came out – any version you find knocking about online is a (still essential) fan-compiled collection of recordings from his Lecs Luther era. His first album Dear Annie spent so long in the pipeline, you’d have been forgiven for considering it an Irish rap urban legend. For too long, there was simply not enough Rejjie Snow music.
Then, like a miracle, a wave of productivity hit. Snow dropped loosies collection The Moon & You and a string of standalone singles in 2017 before finally releasing Dear Annie in early 2018. Three years deeper into his career and rap is again suffering a Snow drought.
On its surface, Rejjie’s career appears to be a cautionary tale of what can happen to an artist when they link with big companies. He is cliqued up with Lior Cohen’s 300 Entertainment and powerhouse distributor EMPIRE. An incredible achievement, no doubt, but inking a contract with a huge faction can sometimes seem akin to signing for a top football club – it’s tough to say no, but there’s a risk your time on the pitch will be limited. Suits interfering with an artist is a tale as old as time. In Snow’s case, is it really that simple?
The mystery of the next Snow album has been like something out of an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! There were reports last year, predominantly on French language websites, that a record titled Baw Baw Black Sheep would be released in February 12, 2021. That title had also been Snow’s Twitter bio for a while (I had hoped to DM the rapper to ask what was up with the project but his account appears to have been deleted). The date, of course, came and went with no new album.
We do, thankfully, get some clarity via Paradigm Talent Agency’s website. Baw Baw Black Sheep does exist. Unlike the sessions that produced Dear Annie, a record entirely led by a fracturing relationship, Snow went into the studio with a clear pallet, a stack of ideas that came to him during a period of heavy shrooms use a couple of months prior, and an appreciation for Gene Wilder.
“I approached it lightheartedly from the point of view of making a short film through music,” Snow is quoted as saying. “I always loved Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I watch it all the time. I thought of Baw Baw Black Sheep like a soundtrack to it. I put the movie on with my album, and they synced up perfectly. I tried to tap into all of these feelings. The music is really colorful, and the lyrics are often happy, because that was my state of mind.”
The old maxim of being the “black sheep” has been evoked by Snow many times before. He’s used the expression in multiple interviews to describe himself as an outsider in various contexts, has claimed that religious-tinted song “Pink Beetle” is inspired by those feelings, and used the phrase directly in his writing on “Black Pancakes” (“But he’s skinny and he walks around with gold teeth/Slang with a twang and real rare like a black sheep”). Identifying as the black sheep has long been part of Snow’s character. It hints at a personal bent to this new record.
Still, don’t expect Baw Baw Black Sheep to have a hard narrative. If Dear Annie was executed like a concept album dedicated to that old chestnut love, its follow up appears to be less structured. “I felt very at ease,” Snow has said about its recording. “There was nothing heavy on my mind. Everything made sense. I’ve never been that quick with music in the past. It just flowed out of me.”
When’s it dropping though? Snow himself doesn’t seem to have a clue. In April 2020 he replied to an Instagram comment to say he thought an album might be released in the next few days (it was not released) and in November he promised another follower his next music-related post would be about an album (it was not). This lack of certainty from the artist himself screams label interference. He added more mud to the already muddy waters by recently posting an instrumental to YouTube featuring what sounds like a heavy reggae sample with the note, “off the beat album im [sic] gonna put out! Lots of sounds this year”. Whether it’s always been part of the plan to drop a beat tape or a way of getting something out there while Baw Baw Black Sheep toils in purgatory, Rejjie season seems to be approaching.
Snow’s post-Dear Annie output has included three singles. It’s unclear whether they will be included on Baw Baw Black Sheep – I mean, the release of Dear Annie was precipitated by a slew of singles and videos that weren’t included on the album – but they certainly fit the Willy Wonka aesthetic Snow claims he’s shot for. ‘Cookie Chips‘ and ‘Mirrors‘ are built on whimsical beats in the vein of treasured early tracks like ‘Trumpets, while all three tracks feature the smooth vocals of the album’s Executive Producer Cam O’bi. It’s easy to picture Bill the sweet shop owner vibing to them.
On ‘Cookie Chips,’ Snow casts back to childhood by remembering Pokémon, evoking the image of monsters under the bed, and even dropping a reference to the Soulja Boy dance. Then MF DOOM – whose image is tattooed on Snow’s leg – emerges to drop a classic DOOM verse, stuffing his bars with crazy internal rhyme patterns. Either this was one of the last verses DOOM recorded before his death or it’s really old, you were never quite sure with the supervillain. Either way, it’s fitting that this little tune about growing up sees Snow team-up with his boyhood hero-turned-mentor. Life is nothing if not filled with grand possibility.
‘Mirrors‘ also finds Snow in a nostalgic mode, again musing on his early days before shooting forward in tune to proudly assert, “My daughter got eyes on the prize like her mama.” The latest song ‘Relax‘ is the least impressive of the three singles. It’s mostly fine – the keys swirl like liquid in a cup and the drum loop really knocks – but the repetitive hook doesn’t do much for me.
What the singles don’t feature is Snow with the handbrake off, rapping rings around the beats like he did when he first emerged a decade ago. Snow has evolved into a more multifaceted vocalist than the bottomless spitter we heard on ‘Dia Dhuit‘. What these tracks do have, though, is a similar sense of weightlessness, as he finds himself in a casual headspace. If Snow is burdened by the realities of the music business, it’s not showing where it really matters: the music.
Will all this translate into a worthy album? Pray to the gods or, in this case, the person with their hand next to the big red button, ready to release Baw Baw Black Sheep from cryostasis.