the inside track

‘Don’t Judge Me’ Makes the Best Case Yet for FKA Twigs’s Hip-hop Crossover

Photo: YouTube

FKA twigs made her name as an R&B futurist. Her 2014 debut album, LP1, sounded otherworldly in every way — marrying her wispy, fragile vocals with wonky beats by the likes of Arca, Clams Casino, and the singer herself. The result felt precariously perfect, like if something were shifted by a millisecond, the song could come tumbling apart. Twigs expanded her repertoire on the following EP M3LL155X and album Magdalene, incorporating droning guitars, choral music, and even a Future feature. Each new dimension twigs unlocked in her work put her ahead of the curve, like challenging listeners came second nature to her.

“Don’t Judge Me,” then, her first full song since releasing Magdalene in late 2019, is the most attuned to what’s trending in the musical landscape that FKA twigs has ever sounded. She teamed up with U.K. hitmaker Fred again.., who counts Ed Sheeran and Stormzy among his regular collaborators, and rapper Headie One, a prolific member of the country’s drill scene. Originally, it wasn’t even her song in name — “Don’t Judge Me” began as “Judge Me,” an interlude on Fred again.. and Headie One’s 2020 collaborative mixtape Gang. On that interlude, twigs served as a moment of respite from the haziness hanging over the rest of the tape. But on the full song, she sounds at home in this alternate world her collaborators have created.

Fred again..’s propulsive beat is the chief reason for this shift. The near-constant thumping rhythm in “Don’t Judge Me” is a new addition that makes the song feel dynamic; there’s a palpable sense of drama when it cuts out at the beginning of Headie One’s verse. His bars about English racism are the heart of the song: “We can walk free, but are we really walkin’ free here?” he raps. “How can this be home when I feel I wanna flee here?” Fred’s beat rises on cue with Headie One’s passion — a clear result of their work together on Gang.

On twigs’s previous hip-hop work, something was always out of place. That felt intentional on M3LL155X standout “In Time,” which found her rapping a few bars as she waded through a dense, choppy beat, and on Magdalene’s “holy terrain,” which thrust Future into one of her eerie, alien soundscapes. If she sounded like an afterthought on her Ty Dolla $ign collaboration “ego death,” she wasn’t the only one — she, Ty, and Kanye West sounded like they could’ve made three separate songs. What makes “Don’t Judge Me” special is how none of the musicians have to compromise, least of all twigs. Her voice is no less stunning here, and the song accompanies one of her most impressive videos yet, featuring a group of Black British activists and Kara Walker’s imposing Tate Modern installation Fons Americanus.

Twigs recently finished a whole album, which she’s said has more features than any of her previous work. “Don’t Judge Me” shows just how fruitful this new era could be. By the climax of the song, twigs sings in lockstep with Fred again..’s beat and Headie One’s ad-libs for 20 seconds of straight ASMR. Just like all of her best work, it feels transcendent.

On ‘Don’t Judge Me,’ FKA Twigs Gracefully Leaps Into Hip-hop