Alex Anyaegbunam comes from a place where kids don't end up on a record label with Young Thug
Rejjie Snow is talking about his allergies. He’s sat on a bench by a bike shop in front of a wall plastered with posters, slogans and community notices, a short walk from his home in Elephant & Castle, south London. A white cat with pink eyes and a charming arrogance strolls into the shot as Rejjie’s having his photograph taken. “I love dogs, but I’m allergic to cats,” he says, in a thick Irish-American accent, “they give me the sniffles.” There’s something both amusing and unexpected about hearing this deep-voiced, athletic, tattooed rapper use the word “sniffles”. But in a way it sums up the 23-year-old from Dublin. Having spent a couple of hours in his company on two occasions he comes across as a sensitive, mild-mannered, honest guy, both proud and unashamed of his roots. In other words: if you’ve heard tracks like ‘D.R.U.G.S.’, in person he’s maybe not what you might think.
It’s a bracing cold January afternoon. Outside on the street, the rain turns to sleet turns to sludge. Rejjie walks into a modern cafe serving strong tea and playing reggae on the soundsystem. He keeps his coat on, the spiderweb inked on his neck visible from underneath his beanie. We’d met a fortnight before, in the even chillier surroundings of Groningen, a university town in the north east of the Netherlands. He was performing at Eurosonic festival, an event programmed early in the year, where festival agents from across the continent travel to watch new artists play and book them for their summer line-ups. The morning after his show, I took him record shopping for Loud And Quiet’s web-series Bands Buy Records. He bought some jazz, hunted unsuccessfully for some rap, and came away with a Billy Ocean record as a present for his mother. As I left he was searching for a local place to buy some dutch hash brownies. “I ate them before I got on the plane home,” he says today, recalling it with a wise smile, “they were pretty good.”
Alex Anyaegbunam is a child of the early ’90s’. Born in Dublin he grew up in Drumcondra, on the north-side of city. With an Irish mother and a Nigerian father he has a brother and a sister (who he doesn’t get on with as they’re “total opposites”). As a youngster he’d spend lots of his time at his grandparents’ house. Along with his dad’s music collection, that’s where he first came into contact with the sounds of jazz and ska. The classics: Bill Evans and Miles Davis. But back then he wasn’t going there for that, even if they were subconsciously filed for later years. His other male cousins would be there and they could play football. At school and around home his friends were just mates because they were local. He was outgoing, sporty and “a bit of a terror,” but there was always a nagging sense of his difference.
“I always knew I was different to everybody,” he tells me. “I was always reminded of that, too, everywhere I went. I’d put on a brave face everywhere I went. I’d always try to be sociable, but as soon as I went back home I’d be asking my parents all these questions.
“The area I lived, for whatever reason I was the only coloured kid. I just had a hard time at school. Not a hard time… just in the sense that I’d have to explain a lot of things and people would say things to me and I wouldn’t know why. I’d always see myself as the same as everyone else – I didn’t see colour.
“Because of that I feel like I’ve got too much patience these days. It’s not such a bad thing though, is it? I’m very open to people. That wasn’t always the case, I used to be a bit of a hot head.”