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Drew Famous – HEAD HELD HIGH (Album Review)

The Roanoke, VA rapper’s extended version of his latest album helps to complete a story. On Head Held High, some of the smoke is cleared to amplify assuredness.

Head Held High // Artwork by BJ The Art Kid // Additional Music Features: Prince Gravy, Nobi, Will Amadeus, Left Brain, Parkboy Play, 1pump, RXKNephew, kliftxn, & BKA Trip.

“Virginia is nothing if not innovation, and this is innovative.” A statement that rings as true as ever on both points. The Commonwealth has given birth to a handful of trailblazers on music: Teddy Riley, Pharrell Williams, Pusha-T, Missy Elliot, Timbaland, D’Angelo, Mad Skillz, Chris Brown, and the list goes on. Sonically, each of these tycoons have carved their own lane apart from whoever else was in their class. Operating with tunnel vision, allowing them to apply full focus on their crafts, which propelled them into super-stardom. It has been said that there’s “something in the water” when it comes to the level of talent produced out of the Hampton Roads, VA area, specifically. So much so, that hometown hero Pharrell Williams even established an annual festival named after the popular phrase; it’s first two years being held in Virginia Beach. It is high level showcases like these in the past few years that have given inspiration to up-and-coming artist such as Drew Famous. [Unfortunately, this year’s SITW festival will be held in Washington, D.C. on Juneteenth. The re-routing was largely due to the Pharrell Williams’ opinion of how the city handled the police shooting of his cousin, Donovan Lynch out at the Oceanfront in March of 2021. (Virginia Beach ruled the shooting justifiable on the “fact” that Lynch was brandishing a weapon). Williams also described the current energy in the city as “toxic.”] Nonetheless, Drew Famous plays a significant part in representing the statewide-span of what that “something” is that seems to reside in the waters of Virginia, and has been for a while now.

Drew Famous is from Mount Pleasant, a community on the line of Roanoke County, Virginia.

I feel like that “something” is an it factor often said about those who have an undeniable level of dedication to their craft, and Drew’s has been on display since his high school years, when he began taking trips to Richmond, as he was getting booked to perform at Strange Matter; his friends who attended VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) that let him crash at their residences. It was around this time that a love for the Richmond scene grew within the rapper, driving his decision following graduation to make the move to the 804, what he now calls home. Growing up, a strong work ethic was instilled in Drew (born Andrew Huddick III) by his parents, who were the type to make a friend help the family do chores if they decided to spend the night. That kind of upbringing can only lead one to continue that pattern of stick-to-it-ness later in life, applying it to whatever pursuit they desire. Drew Famous‘ music has evolved a lot over the past ten years, with each stage sounding distinctly different than the last. It’s important to him to remain fresh, as well as provide timeless material that one can always return back to and enjoy as much as on the first listen.

Drew Famous – DAZE (Official Music Video)

Back in on September 27th, 2021, Drew Famous released the album Head High. This contained 9 songs spanning over 27 minutes, and features from Wiley From Atlanta (“Head Held High”), Kaleb Mitchell (“Case Closed”), Demetrius (“Turnt Back”), Tony Shhnow (“Bleu Oceans”), and Zach Thousand (“Back N Days”).

“Head High is evolved punk music. Instead of smashing a guitar on stage this screams smashing MacBooks.” – Drew Famous (via Twitter ahead of the album’s release).

Head High‘s introduction uses roots from his home state of Virginia with an interpolation of “People Like Myself” by Timbaland and Magoo. Drew rewrote the hook and tagged Wiley from Atlanta to perform it. On the track he shouts out everyone who play’s a part (no pun intended). If you’ve ever been to one of his live performances, you’re familiar with the following track, Aaahhh!!!“, containing a gut-belching sample with a scream. To me, the most ostentatious moment on Head High is experienced when Drew is heard alongside one of the hottest upcoming artists out of Atlanta; the one and only Tony Shhnow.

Top: Head High 09-27-2021 // Bottom: Head Held High 04-22-2022

There is an evident emphasis on the importance of self-confidence on Head Held High (shortened as HHH). The title is almost like a command, telling everyone to do just that no matter what life throws at you. HHH has more moments, additions to previous sounds – marked as “v2’s” – and in its entirety compliments what Head High is. He describes is as a deluxe, remastered director’s cut. “This was my original goal for Head High, but dropping 17 songs at once seemed like things would get looked over.” The interesting fact about the development of HHH is Drew Famous acted as his own A&R, crafting who and what he wanted for this logbook of songs. Each one inspired by the authentic daily junctures of the self proclaimed ‘Star from the Star City’. Even taking it back to his hometown to record one of the standout feature ticks with ‘the Slitherman’ himself RXKNephew, who provided a verse that completely transcends; later adding Newport News’ Kliftxn for an immaculate offering. The second big standout comes from a legendary name. The one and only Left Brain of OFWGKTA cleared a production for “Play Your Part“, featuring one of Drew’s friends and frequent collaborators, Will Amadeus (1/2 of 757 rap duo MadeUp with HalfCab Jalf). On the second version of the outro, there’s an excerpt from Drew Famous’ live performance on The Hourglass via the Metaverse – being the first rapper to ever perform through the tech world’s newest endeavor. It’s moments like these that make Head Held High so special, and that help to consummate Head High‘s anthology.

Watch Drew Famous perform with a live band on The Hourglass Sessions, released following Head High, the album.

Overall, Head Held High is Drew Famous‘ 17 track, 51 minute soundtrack to growing up and finding oneself. A masterpiece that he executively produced and arranged, picking each and every beat and feature integrated. Apart from being a very, very good rap project – one of the best out of any Virginian artist this year – I believe it serves as one of the projects that will, as it reaches more ears, place more eyes on the ever-innovative scene bubbling all across the Commonwealth. Also, this can stand next to any rap project on a bigger level, as it came out the same day as Pusha-T‘s highly anticipated fourth project, It’s Almost Dry.

“At this point in my life music is documentation. I’m having lots of conversations, a whole days worth of smoke and activities before we record the song of the day. So every song is bringing me back to an exact point where I have literally documented my thoughts from the day on record.” – Drew Famous // Photo by @playknows

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