FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week Will Pritchard speaks to Kojey Radical, a London MC finding experimental new ways to blend hip-hop and poetry.
NAME: Kojey Radical
MUST-HEAR: In Gods Body (Self-released, 2017)
FOR FANS OF: Saul Williams, Gaika, Jamie T
London’s Kojey Radical is the type of MC who turns the clichéd adage that rap is a form of poetry on its head. He seamlessly couches references to classical mythology within street slang diatribes, like a literary critic but with way more rhythm. He also understands the value of writing songs with accessible hooks, because he sees art, ultimately, as a platform for communication – not posturing.
Like many rappers, Kojey refers to himself first and foremost as a storyteller, and he employs a multidisciplinary approach. “It’s very normal for me to understand the practice as moving from illustration to maybe writing, or from writing into poetry and then poetry into music,” he says, in the same deep, gravel-throated voice he lends to his tracks.
In 2014, he released his debut project, DEAR DAISY, which blended spoken word poetry and hip-hop with field recordings, electronic experiments and radio-rap and trap flourishes. It’s a sound that’s carried throughout his music and reflects the political tone of his lyrics. Kojey raps about the gentrification and resultant displacement reshaping the east London neighborhood he grew up in and the pressures faced by young (especially black) men growing up in the city and beyond. His videos juxtapose the tower blocks and underpasses of his neighborhood with deeply symbolic imagery: performing in blackface; wrestling chains from his wrists against an all-white backdrop; or reciting lines surrounded by people in Afrofuturist attire. More recently, his 23WINTERS and IN GODS BODY projects have examined his relationship with his Ghanaian father (whose voice he samples) and his own, often politicized identity as a young black man respectively.
“The generation that’s taught you has not lived through your experiences,” he says. “As a generation, we go through everything, simultaneously, and are given no answers. You have to decide what you think about religion, what you think about love, what you think about politics, everything under the sun,” he snaps his fingers, “like that. Everyone’s shouting their opinions into the air and no one’s listening, so it just breeds this confusion that stays static and is never really articulated.” Kojey views his role as an artist within this context: not just to express the way he feels, but to listen to others and channel their feelings and concerns through his stories too.
And since touring the world – independently, as with everything else he’s done to date – Kojey has realized the wider potential of his storytelling. “A lot of people outside of England, they’re still a bit confused that there’s ends in London, or Britain,” he says. “To them it’s still pretty much just old buildings and crumpets.” He recalls playing shows in Johannesburg and Accra where people picked out his lyrics, explaining how they identify with the experiences he’s recounting. “Music does that,” he says. “It allows these experiences to be shared.”
This year, Kojey is intent on sharing more music with the world. He’s currently riding on the overwhelmingly positive reception to ‘If Only’, a pounding indictment of the music industry’s machinations, as well as a collaboration with UK garage legend MJ Cole. He’s been in the studio with Shy FX, and in May will release a first-time collaboration with fast-rising soul singer Mahalia. “I have so much music in so many different styles,” he says, “and I just want to give it to people without any of the faff.” It’s arguably this unrelenting, independent creative drive that sets Kojey so far apart from his peers – particularly those with more industry-defined ambitions.