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Rejjie Snow: Weaving Childhood Fascinations into the Seams of His Music

Rejjie Snow: Weaving Childhood Fascinations into the Seams of His Music

by Down to the Wire Entertainment


By: Noah Snieckus 

 

An eclectic set performed by an at-ease rapper – at Toronto’s Velvet Underground raised a sea of adoring listener’s hands, utterly enamoured by his monotone melodies. But finally, no amount of hands — “left, right [or centre]” — nor self-applauding Torontonian “hell yea(s)” could account for a crowd unfamiliar with the winding and, now, tastefully fermented discography of Rejjie Snow. 


Rejjie’s creative output has always seemed to come from an internal place that strives for the excitement found in adolescence. On his debut attempt at a body of work – not long after he harnessed a sound that fused traditional 90’s boom-bap hip hop with an essence of soul, occasionally leaning towards the more experimental crooning swing singleRejovich saw a refrain that was returned to repeatedly - childhood inspired contemplation. From the reflective and mournful ‘Loveleen’: “Born in 93, one double nine three/ 93, pre-millennium a little bumble bee” to ‘Olga’, parenthetically titled ‘1984’, to “Three was the age…/ Confusion occurred and daddy got rage/ Back in '92, Dr. Dre came…/ I started making raps around '98” of Loyle Carner featured ‘1992’. And this concept has only been explored further and more deeply as Snow has progressed alongside his career. 


Aesthetic choices that, to an unknowing observer, may seem nothing less than symbols to fit a musician with an abstract character – almost purposefully unique and edgy in their coolness – are in fact historically meaningful to Snow on a personal level. His LP of 2021, Baw Baw Black Sheep is titled as such to reflect Snow’s social surroundings; having grown up in Dublin, he recalls in a short documentary with Noisey “being the only coloured kid in school, on [his] football team.” 


A creative of many facets, one of which is visual art, a separate interview with FaceCulture revealed that “painting came first”. When asked what he would draw early on, Snow mentioned “sheep, and animals... and pyramids”. Such personally rudimentary symbols would find a way into his creative output, as seen in the ‘sheep’ titled LP, as well as the visual accompaniment for ‘Relax’, the album’s sixth track and a showcase of Rejjie’s dancing abilities in front of an array of Egyptian pyramids.


Rejjie’s ability and desire to interweave childhood fascinations into the seams of his creativity perhaps speak to why his music hits so close to home to listeners. Through even the most bleak and stark of his lyrics, the bow in which songs are wrapped can feel almost comforting, as listeners get the sense that he is a widely accepting man. This could also be postliminary of feeling socially isolated, “being born in Dublin with a Dad from Africa”, in a predominantly white area of Ireland. 

Rejjie Snow live performance

Photo credits: via Katrina Lat, Aesthetic Magazine

So, it stands to reason that even on a chilly spring evening on the West end of Queen Street, a diverse group of – the upper end of 300 – 16-25 year old indie-rock heads, hip-hop enthusiasts and streetwear lovers would crowd shoulder-to-shoulder in the red-brick interiored Velvet Underground. Iconic in its hay day as a Goth venue, the ‘VU’ has hosted a broad range of acts: from metal bands like Swallow the Sun; to alternative/indie artists such as Summer Salt; to, most famously, Ottawa’s pop-turned-rock star Alanis Morissette


Although I was scheduled to see Rejjie perform in the early months of 2017 at The Marble Factory in Bristol (UK), at the last minute the age minimum was raised from 14 to 16+, so I wasn’t able to attend. Because of this, it wasn’t until February of the following year, when he returned to the same venue for his Dear Annie tour, that I would catch one of his publicly praised performances. Two Tuesday’s ago, on an April day that should not have been as chilly as it was, Johnny Blaze and I reached the Toronto venue at around quarter past seven with doors having opened on the hour. I was surprised to be amidst a cue of fans with similar style and manner as those that would have attended one of his many British shows – it was uncanny. A venue that sells tickets exclusively at General Admission, to a space capacity of 400, on the 19th, it was pretty much that. 


It’s always interesting arriving at a gig ‘early’. At first, the crowd was small: groups of conversationalists immersed at the front; rows of observers to the side; and individuals dotted impatiently either at the front or on the outskirts of the main bustle. There was also a space at the opposite end to the stage where fans who wished to converse, or perhaps felt ‘too old’ for the predominantly young mosh of listeners. To me, it feels both the most personal, and impersonal, interaction between fans throughout the evening. 


I nipped to the washroom, knowing that warm-up act Richie Quake – a low key indie-rock artist from Brooklyn – was soon to touch the stage, and when I returned he was in the middle of his set's introduction track. The room was filling up now, and Quake’s presence immediately held weight on stage. Rocking some polished Doc’s and 90s-style rectangular frames, he was cool, calm and collected when interacting with the crowd: “the show goes on!”, he said when the lights weren’t deemed “moody” to his liking and humbly noted that, in being here, “I’m just as excited as you guys, honestly”. ‘That’s not love’ was a top tune to introduce the crowd to his artistry, so that he could veer further into his far left leaning croons; perhaps too good. 


The first several tracks he played – the aforementioned ‘That’s Not Love’, ‘Sensitive’ and even ‘Afterglow’ – were so well received, that by the time he began delving into more experimental and less sonically pleasing joints – ‘You’ and ‘Cherry Red’ – the concluding cheers sounded less joyous and more supportive. Richie even led several claps that felt more like ones of sympathy than anything else. That being said, he – and his bassist Frank Corr (of Morning Silk) – are a brilliant duo, and strong instrumentalists, respectively. But his vocal abilities, though I do understand the raspy, cigarette-smoked aesthetic that run parallel to the genre, were far less admirable. Instead of the soulful bellow of a King Krule-type vocalist, Quake’s – at the Velvet Underground on the 19th – was more of a sentimental wisp. Needless to say, the crowd was ready for Rejjie. 

Rejjie Snow Live Performance Toronto

Photo credits: via Katrina Lat, Aesthetic Magazine

Succeeding a half-hour intermission of restlessness —a scrum of young lads engaging in some sort of elbow wrestling; all-kinds of couples ‘getting down’; several drink spillages and weed-billages— Rejjie took the stage. Snow, throughout the past decade has spent a great deal of time in America. He relocated to Florida at 18 on an athletic scholarship, before a year later, on graduation, attending the Savannah College of Georgia where he studied Film & Design. He would go on to sign to New York based record label 300 Entertainment, under which he would travel around the country composing his debut Dear Annie, which featured an array of American artists and influence. Though, Snow’s listeners are often surprised to learn of his Irish origins. And to be fair to them, the American influence’s prominence is prominent. At the Velvet Underground last Tuesday, wearing an olive-green Patta shell tracksuit, some asics stompers, with his hair tied in cornrows, one could, with ease, mistake him for a number of West-Coast rappers style-wise. Taking a martial arts type bow over the ebb and flow of a funky loop, it felt almost like some anime combat-style video game - a peculiarly specific entry, but fitting.

Interluding the set’s opener ‘Rainbows’ and the promiscuous ‘Pink Lemonade’, Snow began his punctuative fan-interactions with a humorous string of call-and-responses: “Make some noise for white people!”, to which a moderate cheer met; “Make some noise for straight people!” - again, a cheer, but unenthused; but when the forseen “Make some noise for gay people!” arrived, you would not believe the roar of excitement that burst from the audience, even before he had finished the statement. Really, what Rejjie wished to make clear was: “Toronto, Everybody’s welcome so let’s do this shit!” Acceptance, hovering at the forefront of Snow’s public self-portrayal, one could infer would have come from being the symbolic “Black Sheep '' of a predominantly white area, as titled in his latest LP and discussed deeply in the cuffs of his lyrics, yet again childhood features continue to highlight the details of Rejjie’s music. 

One thing that must be said is that Rejjie is a masterful performer. All attributes one would associate with an experienced performer: smooth mannerisms – guiding the crowd “From the front to the back, to the left to the right” – easy breath-control, sincere interactions – “You guys could’ve been anywhere and you guys are here so thank you so much” – and relevant, punctuating interludes, he carried out precisely - free of error. And the ease of watching an able performer was a pleasure. But it was the “everybody’s welcome” energy that Torontonian fans seemed to connect with. 

That same drive was upheld throughout the hour-long performance; lapping the stage in clockwise circles - as if to wind up some internal clock to keep himself ticking along. As he leaned through ‘PURPLE TUESDAY’ and into ‘Désolé’, I was relieved to hear fans sing along to the chorus and basics of its French: “Je suis désolé”. But just like ‘Egyptian Luvr’, I couldn’t be certain that the hook’s refrains weren’t just repeated enough that they had simply caught on to the melody and key words in that very moment! 

Instrumentation on tracks like ‘Sunny California’ and ‘Spaceships’ with thick synths and revved-up rhythms rang throughout the space, which – with its rectangular confinement – meant that the richness of the sound wasn’t lost as electronic samples often are in live performance. 

The sound system, brilliant all-round for Snow’s eclectic, yet selective, discography, was best suited to slower, more jazzy joints like ‘Room 27’, ‘Mirrors’ and ‘1992’. But the crowd seemed less attuned to such, and more so to Rejjie’s disco-fusions — and he was okay with this. 

Finally, Rejjie seemed to revel in appreciation, regardless of the crowd’s lack of familiarity of his decade long career’s contents, as if he’d be performing with the same grace and glee whether to 10 or 10,000 fans - and he made sure to express this gratitude at regular intervals throughout the night. But this is a new side to Snow fans are beginning to see. It used to feel as if Rejjie was rejecting of conventional societal values and the multi-layered concept of being liked, especially as an artist; perhaps best reflected in a 2018 interview with FaceCulture where he answered, if given the choice of animal for physical reincarnation, he would be a snake because “People hate snakes. Now, it would seem he understands himself and embraces who that is, so is better able to accept others on a more worldly basis.

Maybe because he, like King Krule — the man who’s sofa Snow surfed on when first moving to London — has warmed to the brotherhood of societal goodwill and “appreciate[s] humanity now”. In fact, both he and Krule have, within the past few years, seen the birth of their first child; this solidifying his greater leanings to accept more widely. Or, maybe, his long-standing childhood inspirations are now seen through the eyes of his offspring. 

Either way, it feels as if something is beginning to de-ice inside of Snow, and on an April evening in Toronto – as Spring set upon the sidewalks – under the blue stage lights, we saw an artist blissfully enjoying the fruits of his artistic labour


Track list


Richie Quake:

  • That’s Not Love
  • Sensitive 
  • Afterglow
  • Crawl
  • You (Unreleased)
  • Cherry red (Unreleased)

Rejjie Snow:

  • Rainbows 
  • Pink Lemonade 
  • Black Pancakes
  • PURPLE TUESDAY 
  • Désolé 
  • Mon Amour
  • Egyptian Luvr 
  • Sunny California 
  • Room 27 
  • Spaceships
  • Mirrors 
  • 1992 
  • Cookie Chips
  • D.R.U.G.S. 
  • Annie
  • Blakkst Skn
  • Charlie Brown
  • Disco Pants

ALL photos in this article are credited and sourced from Katrina Lat, via Aesthetic Magazine. 

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