Candy cane stripes and cartoons of semi naked mutant pin-up girls adorn the walls of the east London bar where I meet Kojey Radical. The spoken word artist has become a poster boy for the underground music scene in London. He lounges on one of the brown leather sofas that line the tiny space, inches away from a ginger in bondage painted onto the pillar at the centre of the room. His Supreme hoody is pulled up, his DBDS cap pulled low and sunglasses obscure his eyes; the room’s intense vibrancy is overwhelming, particularly for someone who ate space cakes earlier on and is now trying to navigate a press junket. “I’m bugging out” he announces, “and there’s a lot of boobs in this room.”
Kojey has just returned from his final show of the year – a slot at the Right About Now INC. festival in Amsterdam. For him, his team and his friends it was an opportunity to celebrate the end of a big year, “We rolled deep. There was a squad of us, a good fifteen of us there with my band.”
“Kojey is gaining increasing attention as one of the subversive young Londoners taking a DIY approach to their craft; he isn’t signed to a major label, he creatively directs his own visuals – and he didn’t even have a publicist until four months ago.”
23Winters, his second EP, set the precedent for 2016. Released in February it collates earlier tracks ‘Bambu’ and ‘Open Hand’ into a potent 10-song body of work, weaved together by narration from his father. He has collaborated with numerous brands, sold out shows at the Oslo and the Jazz Café and was nominated for two MOBOS – Best Newcomer and Best Video. Kojey is gaining increasing attention as one of the subversive young Londoners taking a DIY approach to their craft; he isn’t signed to a major label, he creatively directs his own visuals – and he didn’t even have a publicist until four months ago.
Kojey studied illustration at the London College of Fashion. Before music, he says that art was his bread and butter, “I think the first person to buy one of my pieces was G FrSH,” he says, referring to the south London rapper, “I painted a whole bathtub for him”. Kojey started to use poetry and music as a creative outlet during his studies and released his first EP, Dear Daisy: Opium, in 2014. He recalls this as being the last time he painted before beginning to focus on music, “I wanted to draw the cover, design the clothes, make sure that was my baby.” Kojey’s forays in both visual and sonic arts have earned him a reputation as something of a maverick, dipping in and out of mediums. Comparison, though, made his original pursuits difficult, “Being in a classroom full of artists, everyone is incredibly talented and you start to look over your shoulder like, ‘I want to draw like these people’. I couldn’t flex while I was…” he trails off for a moment, laughing his conclusion, “My friends just got so much better than me.”
“As a poet-rapper whose sound doesn’t fit comfortably in any genre, with audible influences from Fela Kuti to Young Fathers, it would be pointless to compare him to artists from whom he so markedly differs.”
He regards his music rather more optimistically, confident and assured of his talent, but noticeably eager to remain modest. I ask if he ever catches himself looking over his shoulder at his musical peers. London after all is awash with young, independent talent. He makes the valid point that his music is unique. As a poet-rapper whose sound doesn’t fit comfortably in any genre, with audible influences from Fela Kuti to Young Fathers, it would be pointless to compare him to artists from whom he so markedly differs. Later on in our conversation though he informs me that his friends keep him in check, “They are so rude,” he stresses every word, “If you try to get a big head you’ll get humbled in a heartbeat. Efficiently.”
“People are listening to me and admiring me for my hunger,” he comments, “if there’s nothing that exists to make me hungry, where do I go?”
Friendship is deeply important to Kojey and he admits that this year his biggest mistake was taking those closest to him for granted. His biggest achievement, ironically, was losing the MOBO, “People are listening to me and admiring me for my hunger,” he comments, “if there’s nothing that exists to make me hungry, where do I go?” he embraces his depiction as the zealous underdog; one that protrudes from his poetry, which is delivered with harshly punctuated precision atop bass-heavy production.
He hints at new material but responds with shifty eyes and “announcements are a bit passé” when asked to elaborate. Despite this, in the days following our conversation his social media becomes inundated with unsubtle hints at a forthcoming project; a short video clip of an unreleased track, sneak peaks of photo shoots and tweets that he has something special planned for ‘National Kojey Day’ (aka 4 January, his 24th birthday). Looking to 2017, Kojey is keen to refine his focus and prioritise music, “I don’t want people to think I’m just some arty guy passing through mediums,” he says, “music is at the centre for the moment.” He becomes distracted, fixing his attention on the red headed cartoon in front of him, “It’s mad to think about all this while I’m looking at this woman in bondage”, he thinks out loud, “I’m tweaking.”