Down the cafe with Kojey
Kojey Radical is giving a platform to up and coming talent with a new night at The Jazz Cafe
29 March, 2018 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Rapper, poet and mixed-media artist Kojey Radical
“THIS is the problem [with] being a young adult in a five-second attention span generation. One minute you’re thinking, how do I change the world? How do I save people from poverty? The next you’re thinking, how do I get this girl to come to my house? Next, you’re thinking, yo, the state of music is trash, I’m going to be the saviour. Then you go, my music is trash and I need saving and then I go, nah, then I start watching Viceland documentaries and then you start writing about other things and then you go, maybe I should stop doing this?”
Kojey Radical is reflecting on the many thoughts that flick through his mind at any moment.
Rapper, poet and mixed-media artist Kojey, who grew up in Shoreditch and Hoxton, has racked up an impressive body of work at the age of just 25. After graduating from the London College of Fashion, he turned to music, winning critical praise for his powerful spoken-word, his affecting songs, arresting videos and work as creative director of arts collective PUSHCRAYONS?. He released his first EP, DEAR DAISY : OPIUM, in 2014.
“You’re not always going to have 100 per cent creative attention on one particular thing and actually being able to move through different factions enables me to create more,” says Kojey.
“So yeah, I dibble and dabble in the fashion world. I work with creative direction, film, modelling, I still paint, I still draw, this was all stuff I was doing anyway as a kid. I just didn’t stop doing it.”
A true collaborator and collective artiste, he launches his new night, End/Less.001, at the Jazz Cafe on April 4, with a line-up of carefully selected artists whose talent have caught his eye. And, while he isn’t slated to perform on the night, he hasn’t ruled it out – it just depends on if he has a drink.
Kojey says: “When I was coming up in music there were a lot more shows that were just about live music and it presented the perfect stage for people, for an audience to discover artists they might not necessarily be totally familiar with and give a chance to people growing their fanbase or get together with people that have the same energy.
“That’s my hope for and feeling behind this night.”
Fed-up of going to gigs where people showed “no love or respect” to support acts, Kojey was inspired to curate his own night.
“This is all music that I listen to in my personal time, and every time I play it, people stop me and say, who is this? So instead of me saying, it’s this person, I know I connect with people most when I see them live for the first time, so I want to have a platform that does that.”
The launch night features R&B singer Bassette, songwriter and vocalist Ego Ella May, poet Caleb Femi and grime artist Mugun.
“I first saw Bassette play at Old Blue Last and she was like this rare Pokémon, you know when someone is just a unicorn, they shine. You could tell she loves music, and performing music is still a personal experience for her, so it makes her performances so intimate and engaging, you can’t help but just watch. Who are you? Who are you, mystical unicorn? She’s from Bermuda and she’s got such an interesting story.”
Kojey first heard MC Mugun on a mix-tape.
“I remember hearing his voice and being completely fascinated,” he says.
“I checked out his Soundcloud and GRM Daily. He’s like a jungle MC that raps over lo-fi beats. He’s got an old soul and old spirit in the way he raps. You can tell he’s been around and is a real lyricist.”
Poet Caleb Femi stood out at a night Kojey was performing at with Saul Williams.
“This boy in the crowd called Caleb – I’ll never forget his name – delivers probably one of the best verses I’ve ever heard anyone deliver, with such effortless finesse that I instantly became obsessed. I was like, who is this kid? Where do I find him? And what I love is noticing people and then being impressed by the work-rate and how much they put into themselves and slowly but surely I saw his name pop up everywhere. He is amazing, definitely the type of person where talent speaks for itself. I’m grateful he’s even doing the show.”
The line-up is completed by Ego Ella May.
“You’ll understand why she’s everybody’s favourite. She’s the next one to take over from Sadé for real, she’s that serious.”
Last year Kojey played an astonishing Jazz Cafe show, following the news he was nominated for two Mobo Awards.
“You know, I performed for, like, an hour and a half longer than I was meant to. They were trying to get me out but I carried on,” he said.
“I was meant to be drinking water but then we did the (Mobo) announcement too early so I had this bottle of champagne in my hand and I liked the way it looked so I kept swigging it and next thing I know I’m drunk, like actually drunk drunk, and the show’s just gone out of the window and I’m just winging it. I’m just happy to be alive.”
Kojey was joined by a number of surprise guests including Maverick Sabre and Zulu in a memorable show, which included an exclusive preview of a song he had been working on, played straight from his iPhone.
“You know that song never played out. That was meant to be on [2017 EP] In God’s Body. I lost it, I swear to God, so people that heard it in that room are effectively the only people that’ve heard it unless you came to me randomly to say play that song. I don’t play it anymore. I played it around them times and then we lost it.”
Behind Kojey’s exuberance lies a shrewd working mind, creating a mass catalogue of songs and working with his team to create videos that demand attention. The subject matter of his songs can be dark, heavy and uncomfortable at times, but arresting. Preacher Preacher looks at his memories of serving in the Church, older track Bambu drew controversy for his black make-up, talk of n*****s hanging from the trees – but wouldn’t be easily forgotten.
“Preacher Preacher is a real story. All the songs are real, I can’t write a song that didn’t happen to me or at least happen to someone very close to me, but that was about me,” he said.
“I was young when I was part of the Church. I used to be an altar boy, I used to serve in the church and that gave me a very different perspective on what church is and the importance of people gathering to unify in one particular thought. I think parts of me couldn’t reason with things I was taught or understood about religion or the Bible. The craziest thing about that song is when people listen to it, it sounds like I’m going at someone or something on first listen, but actually, if you listen to the chorus that’s me going to the preacher as a broken person, ‘hear me’, as a person that is falling away from religion, in a state of dissolution and asking for help, that’s what that chorus is.”
It seems the song is often misunderstood.
“I think people are so sensitive about religion that they hear it and if it’s not, ‘ah yeah praise the Lord, praise the Lord’, then he’s attacking us. I’ve had people walk out when I perform that song and I think to myself, why? Get a backbone,” he said.
“Yeah that’s what that song really is about is about me having all these thoughts, having all these feelings, feeling so confused and going to the preacher and saying I’ve only been sinning. I know you sinned, because I’m up here next to you, I’ve seen what you do. But you seem to have a connection with the Lord so you tell me, help me, I’ve only sinned half as much as you, don’t condemn me, it’s one of them tunes.”
Some may wonder why one of Kojey’s most successful songs to date, Bambu, isn’t performed in full onstage these days.
“I wrote that song about four years ago, maybe five, and the way I wrote, the way I rhymed, the way I put songs together back then is just completely different,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of songs, a lot of songs, so it’s hard to perform that record, especially in its original structure. I feel like what happens is as people are introduced to me they just Google Kojey Radical and Bambu must be one of the first things that pops up still. So for a lot of people discovering me that song is a new song, it’s a song that they grow to love. For me and the band and everyone around me that song is five years old and very long, a very lengthy song, and it doesn’t always translate live. I enjoy the fact that people can sit at home and listen to it but it won’t translate the way people want it to onstage so we save them that trouble. What we might start doing is just perform it as a poem as it was originally written.”