‘You don’t want the truth, then why you ask me?’ rasps 360-degree artist Kojey Radical’s If Only, the first single release since his incredible 2017 album In God’s Body.
With an astonishing gift for music, poetry, visual arts and fashion, the unsigned, MOBO-nominated artist is one of the most exciting talents to enter the British music scene in a long time. Combining potent lyricism and chill-inducing vocals with genre-fluid beats, truth-telling is at the core of everything Kojey Radical does.
Combining potent lyricism and chill-inducing vocals with genre-fluid beats, truth-telling is at the core of everything Kojey Radical does
Raised in Hoxton, the British-Ghanaian first reached our ears in 2016 with his breakthrough album 23Winters, which earned him two MOBO Award nominations, including Best Newcomer. After losing out to WSTRN and Nadia Rose, Kojey Radical took a small step back to recalibrate. Fortunately, not for too long, although the false allure of the music industry and all that it promises to an act on the rise is a recurring theme in his music.
The latter half of his recent double single release, ’97 / Pure, hones in on this particular event and the song’s overriding message ‘The pure hearted will always prosper’ emblazons the official t-shirts for his Can I Speak tour, coming to Bristol this November.
‘Can I Speak reflects how I’ve been feeling for the last year since I dropped In God’s Body’ Kojey explains. ‘I’ll put something out to the universe and instead of just getting a response for what I’ve said or the actions that I’ve put out into the world, I have to battle against people’s perception of where I’m meant to be or what I’m meant to be doing.
Can I not be the person I want to be without having to think about what a million people think – or if a million people are thinking about it?
‘It’s people’s opinions constantly, when really it’s just this honest moment, so I’m saying, can I not just do what I’m doing? It’s my voice. Can I not be the person I want to be without having to think about what a million people think – or if a million people are thinking about it?’
It’s important to note that Kojey Radical speaks his truth; his lyrics aren’t political, they aren’t telling you what to think. They speak his experiences as a black man, human and artist. An irony is that Kojey Radical’s words aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, radical. Though he deals heavily in themes of racism, exoticism and exploitation, Kojey doesn’t see his work as social or political; as he reminds us often with his lyrics, he isn’t here to preach, he’s here to be heard. His name is, in fact, taken from a comic book cover he drew as a child, portraying himself as the eponymous superhero Kojey Radical.
An irony is that Kojey Radical’s words aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, radical.
Returning to the idea of an exploitative music industry, Kojey explains how he came to terms with being part of a world that, by nature, commodifies people:
‘I feel like some of it was real, some of it was in my head – the negativity that I felt towards the industry. For a long time, when you’re on the come up and you have so much self belief, hearing no almost feels personal. Though, actually, the way I developed, where I went off and did my own thing and cared about my own space, I realised half the things I thought were industry cosigns or check points that I had to get would come anyway.
you can’t come to school every day trying to be liked or your life will be miserable
‘To be honest, they don’t read as authentic unless they are authentic. So I stopped looking for validation in any way and just did what I wanted to do. If people like it, they’re gonna like it and if they don’t, they’re not going to like it. It is what it is. The industry is the same, they’re either going to like you or not, but you can’t come to school every day trying to be liked or your life will be miserable.’
As well as striking up meaningful music relationships with artists including Ghetts, Mahalia and Poté (…) Kojey Radical heads up London media collective PUSHCRAYONS
However he feels about the industry as a whole, Kojey creates a world of like-minded artists where he can exist freely. As well as striking up meaningful music relationships with artists including Ghetts, Mahalia and Poté, who collaborate back and forth on music, Kojey Radical heads up London media collective PUSHCRAYONS. The creative collective direct most of his music videos, in which they extend a part of this world to those who are paying attention. ‘From our earliest videos, we’ve been building one specific world, one universe’ he explains. ‘I’ve always left Easter eggs in each video that tie with another video.’
Explaining the concept behind their latest video for ’97, he says: ‘We wanted to pair it with, visually, what we see as the polar opposite, which would be 700 Pennies, and take some of the themes from there and further develop them. I’ve always spoken in my music about battling with demons and having my own personal voices in my head, so we wanted a video were it seems like everything in every scene is fine, but it’s not fine. At the end you realise why it’s not fine. It’s taking the most simple concepts sometimes and figuring out the best way to articulate it in a way that allows the audience to fill in certain blanks that, actually, I might not even have discovered yet myself.
I’ve always spoken in my music about battling with demons and having my own personal voices in my head,
‘Even though the song came out a minute ago now, I knew that people were keeping the song alive for me, where I hadn’t necessarily dropped any music of my own because I was doing so many features. So I wanted to give something back to those people who would still message me saying, “yo, coach I play this song every day”. Well I’m like, “if you play it every day I’m going to make a video then, fuck it. It’s coming. Just bear with me.”
‘I like to thank my supporters for being patient, ‘cause lord knows they have been. It’s been a minute since my last anything. I’m surprised every time they do stick with me, but when they do it’s lit. That’s why I can’t wait for the tour.’
However, Kojey Radical has been far from off the radar, with four releases in the last year including If Only and 97 / Pure, as well as Water with Mahalia and Swindle in May, and Soak it Up with MJ Cole in July, on top of features for Mahalia, Ghetts, Wretch 32 and more.
Kojey has also been announced on a track alongside Maverick Sabre and Kabaka Pyramid on Rudimental’s forthcoming album, Toast to Our Differences. The incredibly successful drum and bass group have achieved nothing less than UK Number One with their first two albums, and signs for a hat trick look promising, with the album’s second single, These Days with Jess Glynne, Macklemore and Dan Caplen, reaching number one in the singles chart.
Although he hasn’t dropped much new music himself, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been making any. When we ask hopefully whether a new album is on its way, Kojey says excitedly, ‘Do you feel like it’s album time? Almost, innit, almost. That’s the best way to answer that, it’s almost album time – we’re getting there.’
it’s almost album time – we’re getting there
Fans can definitely expect to hear some new music when Kojey Radical brings his Can I Speak tour to Thekla this November, but more importantly, Kojey’s music takes on a whole other dimension heard live. The emotion and personal experience poured into his music is laid bare in front of your eyes and delivered by a true performer.
‘I know what feeling I get from seeing my favourite performers do their thing, people like André 3000, Black Thoughts, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip – just real legends of hip hop that perform. When they perform, they put on a show.
I’d love to get to the point where my shit’s like Thriller
‘There is new acts, too, where I love their live show, but I know that they were inspired by their forefathers. It’s about doing the research and reflecting the people that came before us. I guess the future generation know what a good live show is; we grew up watching Michael Jackson do his thing, I want to be that for the younger generation. I’d love to get to the point where my shit’s like Thriller. It’s coming though, it’s coming.
‘Every tour or show we always ring off some new music. I feel like there are some records I’ll have for so long and I don’t know about them until I see what it does to a crowd. So sometimes we like to draw for the ones where it’s like, I love this record, but let me just see…
‘I think that’s what makes the ticket worth it. You know you’re not coming to hear me yell over a song you could have played in your bedroom, you’re getting a real show, you’re getting moments you can’t recreate.’
we always ring off some new music. I feel like there are some records I’ll have for so long and I don’t know about them until I see what it does to a crowd