UK Radar: Kojey Radical

An artist in every sense of the word; welcome to the unapologetic world of Kojey.

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Already 2016 has spawned a wealth of good homegrown music, most notably the powerful and poignant recently released 23Winters EP. The release follows the rhythm and poetry devotee’s debut EP, two years earlier and bounced into the number four spot on iTunes shortly before surpassing King Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly pushing it out of its number three position. Intent on creating something that was real and honest and through provoking [23Winters] isn’t exactly easy listening; covering a range of controversial topics comprising musings and personal experiences of religion, love, society, revolution, and family; the EP itself is narrated by Kojey’s father.

Lyricism cuts deep, right from the cathartic intro Footsteps, through to the tracks that have been floating around like Bambu [“Some love the blindfold of ignorance it’s a shame to see”] and Open Hand [“We no longer need to close our fists, for the revolution”]. But spazzing out on Kwame Nkrumah produced by close collaborator; Lupus Cain has clearly touched the minds of many. In his own words, “it sounds like Django jumping off the horse and axing a man in the neck with a pen”.

A dancer, fine artist and filmmaker prior to finding poetry and music, the Radical one admits he’s an infant in music but he’s determined to work at destroying the archetypes of ‘urban’ music and making audiences think and feel. We met up with the self-professed enigmatic Londoner in Shoreditch’s creative hub, The Ace Hotel to talk 23Winters, leaving the church, going at music independently, addressing the lesser known road side of himself and breaking the musical mould.

On why he creates music…

I can’t see myself doing anything else. Although I never said at a very young age I was going do music, I knew it wasn’t going to be a standard state of routine – I always wanted it to be creative and live as an artist. The need to do that slowly turned into an obsession and became whom I was. I still say I don’t do anything because everything that I do is just me. I always tell people that the notoriety of it all is amazing and I appreciate it but regardless, I would be doing the same thing.

On the added stress of being an independent artist…

I think on the surface there are a lot of things that you assume music is and then as soon as you jump into the world, so many other things start to come out of the woodwork. There’s so much admin that comes with music that’s so daunting when you’re an independent artist because you don’t necessarily feel like what you’re doing is big enough to even jump into that world.

On his most poignant lyrics to date…

“You think I give a fuck about a genre, I’m still trying to send my parents back to Ghana” – “Kwame.” that sums up the latter half of last year, with people actually thinking I care if they label [my music] as rap or poetry. I’m just trying to create and in the process of treating creativity as catharsis and using it to just riddle the bad tensions that I have or the good energy. There are people that I need to support and look after and make proud and that outweighs any discussion.

“The irony, dying is something we’re born to do, half of you wouldn’t die for something you were born to do” – “Footsteps.” It’s just the idea of it becoming an obsession and it actually being something that you are prepared to put yourself on the line for and that can come in so many different facets. Naturally as a poet, I’m expected to say more and to say it less candidly and I think about things consciously but everything I’m saying just because I’m a poet and I am articulate doesn’t mean it’s fact. It’s opinion still and as soon as you put your opinion into the world, you allow it to be judged. You don’t know the extremes someone is willing to go to in order to protect their belief and opinion, which essentially puts you at risk.

On leaving the church…

Religion has been used to fuel wars for centuries, so realistically the basis for religion is belief and naturally people believe we should do good. I was an alter boy, I used to serve in church and go to Sunday school. When you’re going to a Christian church and a Roman Catholic school, it sets you off in two different limbos and actually asking, what do I believe? Even at a young age you’re thinking, my mum took away my Gameboy, I’m going to pray because I was taught to and not getting a response is confusing. I was always too much of a thinker as a kid.

There was one particular day looking out at the congregation, I just starting to see people as people and collectively everyone’s looking for answers, so what is church and what is religion? Naturally as humans we all love to believe that there is something bigger than us, it keeps us in a stage of humility and curiosity. There has to be something bigger for the questions we can’t answer and then that becomes God. So from the beginning, God has always been a manifestation of the human mind. I think it comes from a projection of self, in being everything that humans can’t be.

On being able to digest 23Winters

It’s one of those projects where people are going to say it’s brilliant, or I don’t get it because of the blend of rhythm and poetry. You’re so used to a certain sound or guideline and then my songs come along; they have patterns but not structures. If you’re coming towards the project looking for some sort of fast food music that’s in one ear and out of the other then, don’t bother. If you want something that as a musical experience is going to carry you and make you feel certain things and cause you to reflect and understand and enjoy, then listen to it.

On exploring other sides of himself on the EP…

Because of the way I speak and carry myself, I think people would disassociate me with any sort of road life but I was very closely affiliated and involved with it at certain points. I’ve never really discussed that just because from the outside looking in, I’m a bit of an enigma, there’s not much to reference. You have my debut EP Dear Daisy but that was written in this fantasy world and then you’ve got Bambu, which is very socially aware but still tongue in cheek and concise with the trap genre. So, is he a trap poet? No. And then Open Hand came out and it’s like, is my guy trying to lead a revolution? Maybe, whatever the revolution is. I see my journey in music to be very long and deep rooted in legacy more than the initial hype and buzz.

On a few standout 23Winters tracks…

The intro ["Footsteps"] is about four and a half minutes of lyrical fuckery. I sent it to Ghetts and he said it gave him goose bumps, so I was cool because I know he wouldn’t lie to me, especially when it came to bars. I’m not one of those people that try to seek approval but I think I can’t be so insular all the time. The intro is intense; I had a lot of angry things to say, so I could either say it now or later. But it was like, press play, I’m saying it now, welcome it’s peak, you’re in for a ride. “Love Intervention” is the ‘Future Lovers Rock’ song with Ray Blk who is an artist I’m so excited about. I’m about energies and I think she’s probably one of the most pure hearted people I’ve met in music. We did three or four sessions, at first it was just me and by chance Ray Blk walked past the studio, so we revamped it from a two-minute record to a six-minute centrepiece. The session I did with Bobii Lewis was exciting because it was probably the first time where I had written a whole record and knew I couldn’t sing every part. Being able to write something and hear someone sing it, just the way you wanted to hear it is cool.

On the significance of Kwame Nkrumah…

That record is so important to me, I wrote it for my Dad about Kwame, who was the first Ghanaian president and led Ghana to independence. [My Dad] speaks so highly of the effect that he had at the time; whether you agreed with his approach or not, it was always in aid of helping Africans to understand themselves as their own entity and be dependent on themselves. As a son you hear your fathers words and you think, ‘Will anyone ever speak about me to their son with that much pride?’ This is so much more important than me trying to become a character that I’m not. It was one of those records that by the time I really understood what I was writing, it completely took a life of its own. This sounds like Django jumping off the horse, and axing a man in the neck with a pen; it’s pure Tarantino rise and fall. You get this massive chorus section and then you go back to this really simplistic trap beat that has this indirect African influence. It’s a hybrid of so many things and that’s the thing about my music, I’m conscious of all of these things.

On what makes live shows so important…

I have one of the most amazing bands in the world because I think indirectly all of them have played around the world. They all carry so much good energy and it reads on stage. At my headline show, my guitarist came over to me, gave me the neck of his guitar and whilst I’m holding it, he’s just shredding with one hand. There’s certain people that you go and watch and you know that by time you come out, you’re gonna be a different person. Like, if you go and watch Lauryn Hill perform or if you ever managed to see MJ or James Brown, it will probably change the perception of what performance is. For me, that was Kendrick Lamar at Electric Ballroom in 2012, it was so raw. I wasn’t one of those kids that were allowed to go concerts, so it was probably one of my first concerts. I was standing in the audience looking up at the stage and he’s broken down into that spoken word track I Am and people are yelling it back to him. I’m like, that’s poetry so, this isn’t far fetched, and this isn’t an impossible dream. I remember walking out of there and I just felt charged to do something and that’s important. When people leave my show, I want them to have felt something, I don’t care if no one jumps on Twitter saying it was lit, what did it make you do?

On what he wants people to think of when they hear his name…

It’s such a cliché word but art, the art of it all. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, an artist. I can’t disregard that if this is my first attempt at music and it’s managed to get me this far, it’s a talent that I hadn’t discovered but it’s definitely something I possess; so it would be a shame to not grow it as much as possible. There’s always going to be another music artist but my position is not guaranteed, it’s something that I have to work for. I feel like the confinements and the archetypes of what music and poetry and urban music is have already been defined; my job as an artist, is to alter the status quo. It’s a case of treating myself, and what I say as a piece of artwork. There’s a feeling that I used to get when I played my dads old records or listened to Buju Banton and Bob Marley. I think in the process of making music that we wanted to be popular we lost that feeling. Everyone consumes music in different ways and I know that my music isn’t going to necessarily be for everyone; it’s not going to be mass consumed music but it will be appreciated by the masses.

Keep up to date with everything @KojeyRadical and you can cop 23Winters now on iTunes.

Revisit the latest part of our new series UK Radar with Jorja Smith here.

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Nardene Scott

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