Multi-media artist, poet and spoken-word-meets-rap artist Kojey Radical has a fire in his belly. The level of creativity, determination and raw talent in one person is hardly possible to conceive.
At only 24 years old, the Hoxton-raised British-Ghanaian creative has three full releases to his name, staunch credibility as a poet and artist, and also heads up Push Crayons – the mysterious London creative collective comprising art, fashion and music.
Although he only played his first headline show two years ago, his brilliant 2016 album 23Winters earned him two nominations at last year’s MOBO Awards, including Best Newcomer.
Coming into music through art encourages a freedom to experiment and craft a truly personal sonic tag that other UK rappers tied to a genre might lack.
Coming into music through art encourages a freedom to experiment and craft a truly personal sonic tag that other UK rappers tied to a genre might lack
Where a visual artist is expected to produce a completely different body of work from their last, followers of a musician can conversely feel disappointed when they change their sound. This isn’t a concern that holds Kojey Radical back.
‘Coming from an art background, getting into the music industry was an interesting one for me. I’ve always been quite insular with my process and that’s what made it special. That’s what people hear when they listen to my music, the fact it is these really personal moments in this really expressive sound.
‘I’ve never really considered changing my process. If you like it, you like it; if you don’t, you don’t – that’s alright.’
If you like it, you like it; if you don’t, you don’t – that’s alright
Nonetheless, he released new album In God’s Body this September to rapturous applause from both fans and critics. The new 13-track record covers hip hop, trap, spoken word, electronica, jazz, and even funk with the Pharrell-esque Love Interlude; but always with a darkness to the production that matches the distinct gruffness of his voice and ferocity in his delivery.
And despite the variety throughout the album, almost everyone that’s heard me play it over the last few weeks has – within a couple of tracks – asked who we’re listening to, making a mental note of the name.
‘I was painting and drawing from the time I could pick up a crayon. That was the first thing that helped me realise my ideas. After that, my family encouraged me to be expressive, because they could see that was all I really cared about. They encouraged me to do other things like dance and writing.
‘That’s important, because without that, I don’t think I would have the diversity in my palette and the versatility I would need to stand out in an industry that’s quite saturated.’
Choosing a word as provocative as radical as part of your stage name seems like a bold move, and while he’s definitely earned his namesake – dealing openly with themes of racism, exoticism, exploitation and social injustice – Kojey Radical didn’t set out to lead a political revolution. Born Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah, the name actually comes from a comic book cover he drew when he was younger, portraying himself as the eponymous superhero Kojey Radical.
while he’s definitely earned his namesake – dealing openly with themes of racism, exoticism, exploitation and social injustice – Kojey Radical didn’t set out to lead a political revolution
‘As I started to progress in music and art, and figured out how I wanted to move and represent myself, the name just kind of earned itself. The idea of going against the grain and believing in something and fighting for something – especially when the intent of that is for the sake of positivity – I think that’s how people communicate radicalism in their work. I personally attribute it to more of a state of mind.
‘We all have voices and it’s important for us to use our voices in some way, shape or form. I think if more people did it, it wouldn’t feel so alien. It shouldn’t feel so strange to do it.’
Kojey Radical’s lyrics are probably most powerful because he’s not telling us what to think, he’s not telling us how to vote and he’s not alienating listeners with different life experiences. Instead, his work hones in on the everyday, relatable experiences that help make these huge themes tangible. Take the track After Winter, for example, which deals with black slavery: Can’t rewrite the past / No way, that’s a long story / Saw Roots before I saw Toy Story.
The idea that my work was social or political was alien to me, because I never considered that when I was making it
‘I take inspiration from the conversations we have every day. That’s the dialogue that’s important to communicate – things that feel personal. The idea that my work was social or political was alien to me, because I never considered that when I was making it. I was just making music and talking about the things that everybody was talking about day to day.
Like much of Kojey’s work, In God’s Body is rife with collaboration, with features on nearly every track from guests including Ghetts, Shola Ama, Obongjayar and Chewing Gum creator Michaela Coel. However, it still feels very much like a fluid solo album without any sense of collaboration for the sake of it, or raising each other’s profiles.
‘It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time – have a project with people that I know and respect musically, and have them fit in and blend different sounds.
‘That’s always a very difficult process, but actually listening to it top to bottom, sometimes you can’t tell who’s coming in and out of what song – and that was something we did intentionally.’
Going well beyond the album-tells-a-story trope, lyrics carry through the album like a storybook. The record opens with the hopeful Collard collaboration Utopia and closes with Dystopia: In God’s Body – a spoken word poem penned by Kojey and read by Michaela Coel; the final words echoing his anti-industry track Icarus: I hope their love for my expression is truly one that lasts / and they never see a day they clip my wings. / In God’s Body, amen.
Going well beyond the album-tells-a-story trope, lyrics carry through the album like a storybook
‘Everyone I work with, I get along with. We sit down, we talk, we have conversations. We talk about what we want to actually do in music, rather than what song we want to make or what we want a song to do in the charts.
‘Collard, for example, is someone I’ve known for some time and we go back and forth with writing so fluidly that those songs are maybe two out of 50.
‘Ghetts has been supporting me from back when I was doing just poetry. We were waiting to get to a point where I developed through my music confidently enough for us to do a collaboration that made sense. It was definitely a big dream of mine to do a record with him and, again, that’s just one record of many.
Ghetts has been supporting me from back when I was doing just poetry. We were waiting to get to a point where I developed through my music confidently enough for us to do a collaboration that made sense
‘Shola Ama, I remember I had written a lyric about her and I was sitting with my producer and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Shola was on a track?” And he was like, “Yeah, it would be.” He called her there and then, and she came down to the studio hours later – it was so surreal.
‘Me and Potè worked on Dynamite for about a year – I don’t know why it took us so long, we just wanted it to be this masterpiece of a record. Almost like All of the Lights by Kanye, collecting together all of these really big musical parts that helped bring together this sound that feels familiar but is still really different and alien.’
With headline shows in Bristol, London and Manchester this October, and a spot on most credible ones-to-watch lists, Kojey talks about how it feels to have the collective eyes of the industry on you, especially after last year’s double MOBO nomination:
‘It was nice to feel that gratification for my work, it was nice to have that learning experience – it was definitely a learning experience for me.
When you get these opportunities, it can feel like a moment of sight to a blind man
‘When you get these opportunities, it can feel like a moment of sight to a blind man. This one particular moment when you get to open your eyes and see all these possibilities and things that you dreamed about, and the next it’s gone. And you have learn to accept your reality and keep creating for whatever it is that you chose to create for in the first place – and that was simply to make myself happy.
‘I treated the whole thing like a learning experience rather than a hype to my career, because we’re going to have more high points, we’re going to have more victories. The fact that the attention is there means we’re in prime position to do exactly what we intend to.’
Photos: Ejiro Dafe