Album Review: Headie One Comes Of Age On ‘The Last One’

Joe Simpson

By Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson

28 Jun 2024

For the past seven years Headie One has been a totemic figure in UK Rap. From his early ‘Drillers X Trappers’ tapes with RV to his solo work on ‘The One’, the North London artist helped define and nurture UK Drill into the dominant genre that it became. Since then, his debut, number one album ‘Edna’ solidified his place in the upper echelons of Rap music in this country, as well as being nominated for a Brit Award thanks to his collaborative project with fellow Drill pioneer K-Trap last year.

Now, Headie has released his sophomore album ‘The Last One’. Although the title implies that this is his ultimate release, the songs within it demonstrate that this is merely the closing of the first chapter to an already historic career.

The album kicks off with ‘I Could Rap’, where across poignant piano keys and Gospel choir backing Headie is able to tell the story of his journey so far, showcasing his signature melodic flow as well as emotive, introspective wordplay. The opening four songs on the project follow a similar pattern including the stellar lead single ‘Martin’s Sofa’. This run culminates in ‘I Still Know Better’, which interpolates one of his earliest and most iconic hits, ‘Know Better’ featuring RV, and demonstrates the development both artistically and as a human being since that moment early in his musical conquest. 

It’s not a reach to suggest that Headie is the most innovative and ambitious of his generation when it comes to production. From sampling Ultra Nate’s ‘Free’ for his 2019 hit ‘Both’, to teaming up with Fred Again on ‘GANG’, the rapper has been brave enough to step out of the Drill by numbers comfort zone that so many other artists find themselves in. While ‘GANG’ divided opinion and may not have been consistently excellent, it did provide us with ‘Charades’ which is one of his best songs to date. 

‘The Last One’ continues this ambition, assembling an all star cast of producers to help effortlessly weave between genres and soundscapes that keep the record vibrant and interesting for the listener. After the delicate piano keys that introduce the album, we are greeted by the quintessential sounds of Jim Legxacy on tracks ‘Form 696’ and ‘Recall/Why You Look So Tired’. Elsewhere, Tay Keith brings the heat on ‘Cry No More’ featuring Stormzy, while towards the back end of the project Headie is able to tap into more uptempo production thanks to the help of the likes of TSB and Toddla T. 

This all helps to create a body of work that is sonically diverse, whilst the artist’s consistent delivery on each track ensures that the album remains cohesive. That is not to say however that Headie has lost the essence of what got him here in the first place. He has already shown that his signature sound is still very much alive on this week’s ‘Mad About Bars’ appearance with Kenny Allstar, and this is further backed up by tracks such as ‘Karma’ and ‘Happy Music’ on the album, produced by M1OnTheBeat and Kenny Beats respectively. His strong wordplay and punchlines coupled with his trademark flows and adlibs make the artist inimitable, further emphasising his importance and status within his genre.

When an album comes in at 20 tracks and is littered with features, this often screams of a lack of quality control and a lazy attempt to garner attention from other audiences. However, this could not be further from the case on this project. For the most part, each feature brings with it a different energy that enhances the tracklist and allows the lead artist to express himself in other genres. The appearance of Skrillex sees a Jersey Club influence appear on ‘Make A W’, while Potter Payper adds a Real Rap flavour to ‘Lonely’.

Other highlights include Bnxn on the infectious, saxophone tinged banger ‘Bounce’, as well as a touching performance from Sampha on the standout track ‘Memories’. The only real downfalls in terms of featured artists come from Fridayy on ‘Soul To Keep’, while Aitch’s verse on ‘Tipsy’ leaves a little to be desired, which is a shame given the quality of the beat. It cannot be said though that these tracks are filler, they just miss the mark slightly in terms of quality.

‘The Last One’ therefore is undoubtedly Headie One’s most mature release to date, and in my opinion surpasses what he was able to create on ‘Edna’. The mammoth tracklist stands up to scrutiny for the most part and Headie should be praised for his desire to push himself out of a safe space artistically, delivering a project that surprises and stimulates throughout. We also see the artist at his most personal and self analysing, backed by outstanding production that helps him to tell his story. Headie has already proven himself to be at UK Rap’s pinnacle, but this album makes it evident that he is capable of staying at the top for many years to come.

Star Rating: 4.5/5