Headie One readies an album of “home truths”: “To rap is to tell your story”

Ahead of his second studio album ‘The Last One’, the North London legend talks to NME about maintaining authenticity, his new album and lessons for younger artists

Headie One. Headz. The One. Irving Adjei goes by many names and sounds. The honcho from Tottenham, along with the ascending collective OFB, helped put North London onto the drill world map; his catalogue has, over the years, been Trojan-horsed onto Burberry runways, the stages of Parklife, prisoners’ wings and the Spotify playlists of every young drill fan across the world.

He’s been one to do it all: music and road, Scarface-type boogeyman to meme, inmate to rap star (and back). There are layers of complexity to explore in Headie One’s music. Think of his work as a lenticular print: look at the subject from a different angle and you’ll see something new, whether it’s pathos crushed by the electronic production in ‘Gang’ or his profound studio debut ‘Edna’, which paid tribute to his late mother while hitting the milestone of becoming the first Number-One selling album from a drill artist.

Headie One lets us know another identity of his right at the start of his upcoming second studio album, ‘The Last One’. The opening song leads with sombre piano keys and soaring backing vocals and Headie One declares: “A6436CK, they address me as Adjei.” Apparently revealing his prison identification number, Headie goes through this album ridding himself of systemic and emotional shackles. Set to be released this Friday (June 28) via Columbia, ‘The Last One’ features a stacked guest line-up with the likes of Stormzy, Potter Payper, Sampha and ODUMODUBLVCK. It’s a dense album fitting for his enduring legacy.

It’s a sunny spring afternoon in west London when NME meets Headie One. Wearing a Trapstar tracksuit and indulging in a platter of white chocolate chip cookies and pastries, Headie One takes our questions about the record and maintaining authenticity and longevity. He speaks with conviction: “This album is the end of the beginning.”


Headie One, photo by Frank Fieber
Credit: Frank Fieber

NME: You’ve been making music for over a decade now. Is your second studio album really the last one?

Headie One: “It’s the last one but it’s not the last one you know? This album is about the place we come from, the negative things that happened and that are still in effect today so I’m giving a lot of home truths in this one.

“When I was making this album, I realised I was at the point I wanted to be when I dreamed about making music to actually doing it. Back then, I was in a different mindframe and needed to experience life before things were going good with the music. [‘The Last One’] is about the journey, seeing time as a full circle when people want to see it as linear.”

You reflect on this full circle philosophy in ‘I Still Know Better’, where you look back on the events from your 2019 hit, ‘Know Better.’

“Man… the situation I was in, I had to experience everything: my family getting dragged into it, the place they resided in got raided, my friend had to go to pen from the neck of that and the girl had to relocate for safety reasons… But people saw it as entertainment so you only see one side of it.

“I was signing off at the police station three times a week and getting performances on the back of that song. That’s the part people didn’t see, they just saw the reactions and there could’ve been a million endings to that story. I learned to think about the bigger picture and not be impulsive or follow what social media says.

“Even when I got recalled, it was demotivating. I had to try and take positive steps forward dealing with the distance from my loved ones and it’s hard to come out better because of those situations. You have to rehabilitate yourself but it was hard doing that.”


In the single ‘Martin’s Sofa’, you’re anchored by that formative time in your life, too. Do you still keep in touch with Martin?

“He’s doing good still. He reached out to my manager the other day, he’s been busy. It was also a complicated situation for him at that time.”

“‘The Last One’ is about the journey, seeing time as a full circle when people want to see it as linear”

The features on ‘The Last One’ are really strong. There’s Stormzy, Potter Payper and you can notice Jim Legxacy’s vocals on a number of songs. What made you pick these artists for the album?

“I can’t remember how me and Jim first linked up but we were in the studio one time and it was different. We linked again in Ghana. I like Jim, he’s a breath of fresh air. His beats are futuristic-sounding and he’s a sick singer too. For me, it’s about building relationships so when we collaborate, we’re already on the same wavelength.

“I have done songs with Potter and Stormzy before and I’ll say they’re the best when it comes to authentic raps [and] making people relate to their struggles so it was only right for them to be on the album.”

You also collaborated with K-Trap on the 2023 mixtape ‘Strength to Strength’. You both came up during the controversial rise of UK drill. Nowadays, drill feels more accepted, but the two of you are releasing albums that aren’t wearing rose-tinted glasses. Is there a need to release albums like these when drill music can be commercialised by others?

“That’s interesting… The music goes parallel with what’s happening in real life. When [me and K-Trap] first started linking up, we did ‘Strength to Strength’ and we’ve done drill in different spaces too. It was tough to be accepted but the tide’s changing, people are accepting and lives are changing for the better so I see that as a positive at the end of the day.

“But there’s a lot of drill rappers I started with and most of them are serving life sentences or dead and those were men who could’ve been great. Maybe they didn’t make the same decisions as me or have the same luck. That’s the double-edged sword of being ‘real’. It’s coming from a real place too.”

Is there anything you would share with younger artists going through a similar situation as you did in the past?

“I’ve been rapping for time and I feel that when you grow, you should be growing with your fans and they can connect with your sound. So one thing I would say is: a loyal fanbase will be there for you.

“There can be pressure to blow up quicktime though. When artists were coming up back in the day, you could see the progression: performing at uni shows, events at 300 [capacity], grinding until the shows got bigger and they’re doing venue shows in London at 1,000 plus cap.

“These days, it’s like you hear about an artist, it’s like they come out of nowhere and all the attention is on them but maybe it’s because people are fans of what’s popping at the time and not necessarily you as an artist.”

Headie One, photo by Frank Fieber
Credit: Frank Fieber

Everyone’s been talking about it so I wanted to ask you: have you been keeping up with Kendrick vs. Drake beef?

“It was a bit of a sticky one still, bare disses from both sides. It was mad, I had to take a break and log out for a bit.”

Some have criticised Drake for making “shopping music”. You’ve collaborated with Drake before and your music is renowned for being authentic and hitting charting milestones at the same time. What do you think of the idea that to be a commercial artist suggests your music may not be authentic?

“To rap is to tell your story. You got rappers from Essex [who] might not have the same identical experience of council block living in West London. But they add context and they can connect.

“When I listen to an artist, I’m listening because this is what I like and there’s some comparisons people make that are just crazy. [Laughs]

“There’s so much music that they could choose to listen to the artists they said are not there, but they are. So when people say this in the UK scene, for example, that everyone in the UK doesn’t rap about real things, it’s a decision of choice too. If you don’t have an ear for what you like, then just stick to the vibe-zy music and don’t try to dissect things.”

That’s true, there’s enough music out there to find what you like. You’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs throughout these past five years. What’s one lesson you’ve learned from making this album?

“With this album, it’s showing the end of the beginning and enjoying the space and mindset I’m in now. It can be hard to detach completely even if things have improved in my life to a more positive space but that’s why I’m focusing more on the glass being half-full than empty.”

Headie One’s ‘The Last One’ is out June 28 via Columbia


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