FKA twigs is inclined toward the grand gesture. Her albums—right up through her best yet, 2019’s MAGDALENE—are immersive worlds of vanguard-testing sound that demand listeners either submit to them or reject them, anything but be unmoved. So when twigs turned up to lend a lighter-than-air vocal to a short interlude from rapper Headie One and producer Fred again..’s 2019 mixtape (the dynamic London duo’s GANG), it was hard not to be left wanting more. With “Don’t Judge Me,” a finished version of the track (with twigs now sharing credit as a primary artist), she delivers, and the results are characteristically magnificent.
The original “Judge Me (Interlude)” feels like a loose sketch. Headie One doesn’t rap so much as speak-sing, and his mesmerizing voice bounces around through funhouse-mirror effects. Whatever he has done (“I was broke and I loved myself,” he admits), twigs too asks the listener to withhold judgment, offering her “precious love” in return as her soprano soars. Fred again.. builds the surrounding production with precision, forming a choir of spectral twigses backed by weary drones and room-shaking thuds. The completed “Don’t Judge Me” starts there and goes further—exhilaratingly far. Headie shows why he’s a Drake-backed leading light of the UK drill scene in a dazzling new verse, rapping with escalating urgency about being judged on account of his race. With a measured delivery, Headie One grounds this anti-racist message in personal references (like his crew’s beefs or a high-profile London police shooting), avoiding clumsiness with specificity. The video, co-directed by twigs and Emmanuel Adjei, takes the song to a higher level still, connecting the music’s sensuous plea for empathy to both the visual artist Kara Walker’s 42-foot Tate Modern fountain and an unseen power that tries to hold twigs back. Nothing can.