Kojey Radical Is Still Just "A Kid from Hackney"
By Chioma Nwana
Chioma Nwana: So firstly, please introduce yourself to New Yorkers and the US in general. A lot of us know who you are, but there will always be people who don’t know yet. Can you describe yourself, the type of music you make, and what you’re up to?
Kojey Radical: My name’s Kojey Radical. I’m an artist from London - East London. I started off with illustration and art before. Moved into poetry, and then poetry helped me find music. Now, I guess I express my art through my sound. I think that’s probably the best way to even describe the genre. I’ve never been great at describing the genre, but yeah. I think it’s just expression, a lot of it. What am I up to? I’m just actually releasing.
CN: “If Only,” yeah.
KR: Yeah, I released “If Only” recently, and that’s been doing good. I’m really happy with it. So I’m enjoying that right now. It’s nice. It’s like, “Oh wow, people like this song. Okay, this is good.” And I’m just getting ready to shoot some films and release the next one.
CN: Films? Or music videos? Or both?
KR: A bit of everything.
CN: Okay, cool. So a lot of my questions stem from things that I’ve personally wanted to know as well as things I think would be cool for everyone to know.
KR: I like those questions.
CN: So how did you first get into rapping? I know you said visual art was first, and then poetry was next, and now here we are. You’re giving people rap with an alternative sound. How did you decide that this was the type of artist that you wanted to be?
KR: Do you know what, yeah? I always understood art to be a very fluid thing. For me it was never “either this or that.” I was always allowed to move through different practices and mediums until you found a home or space that you was comfortable creating in, until you was ready to move on. I think starting with more visual practices helped me with my storytelling. I wanted to be a comic book artist when I was a kid. So I just got into writing a lot of stories.
KR: Yeah. So I just got into writing a lot of stories. My first project was actually based on a book I had written called “Dear Daisy.” I decided to do a soundtrack to it, which essentially became my first EP. I remember doing that while I was at university, but it was a major risk because I chose to randomly start doing music my final term. So this was like, when it counted the most, I decided to just not draw anymore and stop doing illustration and stop doing what I was studying to go and do music. And when I finished it, I handed it in as my art project - as my illustration project - and I finished like top 6 in my university.
CN: Look at you.
KR: [laughs] I know. Yeah man, big up me.
KR: Then I put it out and it built up this little cult following for me back here. I guess it got spread by word of mouth. And then I dropped a track called “Bambu” about 4 years ago?
KR: 5 years ago? It sounds crazy. I don’t even know.
CN: It’s old now. It’s really old now.
KR: It’s an old record, but for whatever reason, people just discover it every day. And I’m just like “alright, sick.” It’s a really old record, but I guess it was like the start of a very avant-garde approach to music when it comes to the U.K. urban/alternative scene. I don’t even like the word “urban.” I hate that word. Or just the alternative hip hop scene. It definitely sparked something there. From there, we just concentrated on making sure that every project I put out was at least classic worthy or classic discussion worthy. Even if it’s not not, then in 5-10 years. I feel like I’m rambling, sorry.
CN: You’re not rambling - this is what we want! That’s really really cool. So you said that you have a cult following in the U.K. I’ve seen you tweet a couple times about how the vibe that you get in the U.K. from people around you isn’t the same as when you go abroad.
KR: Basically, yeah. There’s always going to be a ghost in the mirror, like when you’re shadowboxing. It don’t matter how well you’re doing in another aspect - you’re always going to concentrate on something that doesn’t feel right just because that’s your natural disposition as an artist. With the U.K., it’s like there’s a bunch of artists that have achieved crazy things and really put on for the U.K. It’s the same with anywhere: there’s a popular sound that exists, and if you’re not making that sound, sometimes you can feel overlooked or whatever. But to be fair, as I’ve grown up and understood what this industry is about a little more, I just tell people now, “Just don’t give a fuck about any of that.” At the end of the day, I’m just me. I’m a kid from Hackney, you get me? You couldn’t have asked me a day when I thought I’d land in Johannesburg to go play a sold out show. Do you know what I mean? Or like go to Australia and do a show there, or Russia, or Germany, or Bulgaria, or wherever. I didn’t know. So I can’t be angry. That’s why I just shrug it off now. Sometimes you just get in your feelings. You get in the cashmere - just sitting in your cashmere pajamas with your du rag on.
CN: Okay cashmere!
KR: [laughs] You get in your feelings and just start tweeting.
CN: Your answer leads into my next question. So like you said, you never imagined that you’d be where you are right now. How are you handling all of this? How are processing the fact that all of these people know your name and everybody wants a chance to talk to you? At your concerts everybody wants to take a picture with you! How are you staying humble while everyone is putting you on this huge pedestal? How are you maintaining your authenticity?
KR: Do you know what, yeah? My family, yeah. They really like my music, and it’s funny. I really like that they like my music. As long as they want to keep taking pictures of man, and they’re proud. My niece is little and learning to walk, and when she hears my music, she’ll dance.
KR: My other niece started learning piano because of my music. They finally got a chance to see me perform live. My nieces and nephews were sitting there vibing to my music. Yeah man, as long as they’re still fans, the rest of the other stuff is just part of the job. But I just want them to stay fans.
CN: That’s sweet. I’m glad they like your music. They have good taste. Alright, so you’re Ghanaian, right?
KR: Yeah, I’m from Ghana.
CN: So when you first told your family that you wanted to be a rapper-
CN: [laughs] So how did that conversation go?
KR: It was alright! It wasn’t treacherous. There have a couple of times when me and my mom have gone at it, but to be honest, thank God because some of the things I was arguing about were stupid. I’ll tell you that for a fact. They were just dumb. I said I wanted to intern for gallery stuff, and she said “So you want to go sit in a quiet room for free? Hurry up, go get a job.” [laughs] I said to myself, “My mom has had my sister, my other sister, my other sister, and my brother.” She’s given a lot to each child, so if there are certain things that she needed me to do, I got it done, innit. I went to university, I graduated, I worked for a while before I jumped into music. And she could tell that she couldn’t force me to be interested in something I didn’t want to be interested in. So she just let me get on with it. There was a certain point when she realized that it was sort of my everyday thing but didn’t necessarily understand it. But she always supported it. My mom’s never held me back. That’s one thing I can say I’m grateful for.
CN: That’s good.
KR: Even when she didn’t understand it, she never held me back. And my dad’s just chillin’. You know that the thing is? His best friend’s son is an international tailor. So he flies around everywhere and does cool stuff. I think in his head, he’s like, “My son does cool things, and he gets paid, so it’s fine.” He didn’t even know he was gonna be on my project. I just went and spoke to him and recorded him and then I went and played it to him, and he was like “It’s good.” So I can’t be mad. [laughs]
CN: So I was scrolling through your Twitter right before I called, and I saw someone said that you should be the Kendrick of the U.K.
KR: [laughs] Oh yeah.
CN: Do you listen to Kendrick? Do you like Kendrick?
KR: I love Kendrick. I love Kenny.
CN: Do you see yourself becoming the Kendrick of the U.K.? Would you even use that title?
KR: Nah. Do you know what? I understand why people do it, in terms of referencing other people. At the end of the day, you just gotta let someone be themselves. I’ve rather be known for being the me of blank rather than being the someone else of somewhere else. So nah, I wouldn’t use it to describe myself. If someone needed a description of my music, I wouldn’t be like, “He’s like the Kendrick of the U.K.” They’d be disappointed.
CN: I think it’s important for every artist to have the liberty to describe themselves as “I’m just who I am” rather than I’m the next Kendrick because then when you put out a song that doesn’t sound like Kendrick, everybody’s mad. They’ll say, “We thought he was the next Kendrick. Why does his song sound like this?”
KR: Yeah, yeah.
CN: So it gives you the room and space to create your music the way you feel it and the way you want to.
KR: One hundred percent. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. You gotta create how you want to be. You can’t be backed into a corner.
CN: Exactly. So what’s one piece of advice that you would give to an artist who’s just starting out and doesn’t really know how to get their foot in the door? How did you network and work your way up? Who did you talk to? How did you make this happen?
KR: I think the number one thing to remember is that there’s no step-by-step process of “getting into the game.” I think that consistency is a big thing and so is paying attention to what circles you’re in and where you’re placing yourself. My aunt says it best. She says, “I don’t play with my time.” She’ll say that to you even if you’re just a couple minutes late to meet her. That’s a big thing, innit. Use your time wisely. Don’t just go to things because you think it’s going to be “a look.” Nah man. You could be writing. Go places that will be worthwhile. Build a better network of contacts. Music is all about contacts - who can you call in, who can help you do what. Yeah, that’s probably the best piece of advice I’ve got.
CN: I think that’s helpful though. A lot of people don’t know the crowds they should be running with, they don’t know whether the people they’re around are actually helpful to them, or whether the people around them actually want them to succeed.
KR: Exactly. My sister works with me. I would say to keep family around you if you can. That’s not the reality for everyone, but if you can, keep family around.
CN: And I have two more questions.
KR: No worries.
CN: First one: what are the pros and cons of being a rapper in the U.K.?
KR: [laughs] The pros and cons, innit. The pros, yeah?
KR: When you come from such a thick and rich culture - diverse culture - in terms of diaspora and ethnicity, you’re gaining influences from so many different sounds that it forces your music to be creative. There’s a story to tell in every sound. Pros… We’re just lit. We’ve just been lit from the jump, yeah. And everyone’s kinda catching up now, which is cool. It’s cute. We rate it. But at the end of the day, if people wanted to do their research into the U.K thing and see how deep it goes, you’ll be there for centuries. We’ve influenced every culture at every point, and, in turn, we’ve been influenced by every culture at every point. Hip hop tends to be attached to American culture, but in reality, we’ve got such a dense history here. We gucci over here, baby. Cons? What are the cons? All the cons are becoming pros, innit. But we’re far away. Not all of the music stretches across the pond, innit, you get me. But at the end of the day, everyone realizes that we’re all in the same position, just in separate countries. I’ll give you another con. There’s more places to tour in America because it’s bigger. So you can make more money. That’s it.
CN: Speaking of that, when does the U.S. get to see Kojey Radical?
KR: When they give me that work visa, number one. You gotta speak to that Trump guy. They gotta give me the little visa ting first. They give me the visa ting, then mans gotta see who’s calling, innit? Like, who wants to see man? I don’t know where to go.
CN: We all do. Start with New York.
KR: Do you know what, yeah? New York is probably first in reality. Do you know why? Because I like New York.
CN: New York likes you too!
KR: Do you know why I like New York? Because New York is like London. They’re very similar, but New York is just a bit bigger, in terms of, like, the buildings. But in terms of that pace, even how people move. Even that little stuck up vibe that New York has. London has that too. We’ll not rate you because you’re American. What do you mean? You’ll get rushed. Allow it.
CN: So then my last question is a two-part question. My first question: who is your favorite U.K. rapper and who do you want to work with? And the second question: who is your favorite U.S. rapper or music artist in general, and who do you want to work with?
KR: Who’s my favorite rapper in the U.K. that I want to work with… That’s hard, you know? Because everyone’s lit. So it changes every week. But I would say… Who can I rate? Can it be a singer?
KR: It would be Emeli Sande.
CN: I love her!
KR: Yeah, Emeli Sande. And then American… Kemba from the Bronx. I rate Young M.A. I do put respect on her sound. Andre 3000. Do you know what, yeah? It’s mad because a lot of these men have charges. People ask “But why do you like him?” I like the tune, innit? I like the one song. And they say “You know my man caught this, this and this charge.” And I was like “Man didn’t catch the body with him.” Oh, Erykah! If Erykah Badu wants to swing a little chorus.
CN: I’ll let her know. Okay this is the last-last question, I promise: what should we be expecting from you in the next couple months?
KR: Next couple months, yeah? People should be looking out for immaculate performances. Energy that you’ve never seen before in your life. They should be looking for vibrations and sounds that they didn’t even know they could tune into. And higher frequencies that will lift them into spaces that they never fathomed before. They should keep their eye out for visual experiences that will teach them how to experience.
CN: In all my time interviewing people, I’ve never gotten an answer so specific.