ap london performer kojey radical opens up about family, staying true to where you come from

July 21, 2017

London MC Kojey Radical is the real thing. His last record 23 Winters made waves with its bold mix of sounds and his outspoken social and political messaging. Whether as a fashion designer, visual artist, or musician, his work holds nothing back, blending sounds from all over the diaspora. We got a chance to talk to Kojey before his set this weekend at the London AFROPUNK Festival.

So you just played a big show in Manchester this weekend, right? How did that go?

It went really really well. I was kind of excited for it because I haven’t played in Manchester for about 2 years, and the last time I played there I was still really really new. So it was like really small crowd in the same venue. So to kind of get back there and have the show kind of sold out, Maryanne Hobbs was DJing for me, and there was like avid listeners and avid fans down in the front. Which is always a nice atmosphere for the show. It was definitely really exciting. I was really happy for it.

Nice. Nice. So, something I’ve been curious about—because I feel like a lot of people want to brand themselves as radicals and revolutionaries and stuff right now, but you actually walk the walk—how do you describe being a radical or an activist? Is that name something you earn?

I’ve never learned necessarily how to if I’m being honest. I think it’s just a case of earning your namesake, in a way. When I first decided to call myself that, it wasn’t necessarily jutting to be like “yo this is who I am and this is who I’m gonna be.” But I just felt like an affinity to the word. And the rest of it; I learned that I was fulfilling it as I continued to live my life. I feel like if you genuinely believe in things, and you genuinely want to speak out about things, and you genuinely want to bring attention to things, then that should just exist in your lifestyle. That should never necessarily be something that you brand yourself as.

So I’ve always kind of like—I never pushed the radical side of my name to fill or seem like I’m an activist. That’s just how I am in my day to day, you know what I mean? I just genuinely care about things. So it just kind of became a case where I earned my namesake. But I don’t think I thought that.

What is a radical to you? What does that mean?

I think for me radical—without the context of activism—I think anyone can be radical in their specific field. I think it’s just the will and desire to really want to bring forth change to where you see injustices if that makes sense.


And I feel I think sometimes it’s more a state of mind or a state of being than a word that you can define for one specific context.

Yeah, that makes sense. I don’t remember where I saw this, but there was an interview where you talked about how Kojey Radical is more of a team than just one person. So who is that team? Who are the people that make up Kojey Radical?

I don’t know how to describe it. My talent was very raw when I came into this. There are people that have genuinely—I don’t know whether it was belief of just insanity—been chosen. For those reasons I feel like who I am is encompassed by who I’m around, and who I choose to work with, and surround myself with.

There’s a producer called KZ who’s produced all my projects so far; there’s never been an idea that I’ve taken to him that he’s told me no. My video directors Lewis and Alex from a team called The Rest have always believed in my video ideas; when I wanted to paint myself black and do contemporary dance through estates and the streets of London. They never told me no, they said “yeah, how can we make this happen?” My producer Charlie [Di Placido], he’s never told me any of my video ideas couldn’t work. Chelsea Bravo has always been a person that’s told me “yeah, like you wanna make something? let’s make it.” And helped me realize that I could have an influence in fashion. You know what I mean? There’s loads of people. I could keep listing for days down to some of my closes friends. I feel like I’m definitely a product of the village, if that makes sense.

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like there’s this trend of artists painting themselves like they came out of nowhere, like they’re self-invented. And it’s really disappointing, because the reality is there’s always a team. No-one does this on their own.

Yeah, 100%. Like even down to my manager Kaiya. I’m surprised that she still wants to manage me half the time, because I’m hard work. You have to have people that genuinely believe in you, and she’s definitely someone who believes in me. She’s definitely someone that I’d consider as much Kojey Radical as myself.

As you’re listing all the names, you mention these are all people that you can come to with ideas and they back you. You’ve got a very specific voice. You get pinned a lot as a more political and social activist kind of artist. Are there any ideas you’ve had that you think of and then put aside because they might be cool but they’re not “Kojey Radical?”

Nah. You know why? Because depending on how people become aware of me is who or what they feel like I should be, if that makes sense. But I’ve never shied away from any topic even when it comes down to talking about myself negatively in terms of love from a real conversational aspect. I’ve never shied away from anything. And that stretches over to the social and political side, where if something needs to be said then we have to say it. That’s just our right as human beings. And not saying it is becoming part of the problem. It’s not about talking when you’re misinformed. It’s talking when you believe in something, and you’re willing to be informed.

Are there things you feel like you as an artist would never touch?

Yeah. But not because I would never touch them. I just don’t feel like it’s the right time to touch them. There are aspects in anybody’s life, or perspective, that you have to allow yourself to go through a little bit more before you can really start to speak on them. It’s like people love the fantasy of what it is to be a musician, but when you’re an artist that people concentrate on, the things you say have an impact. So things like talking about my family; I do it, but I do it sparingly. Even the decision to put my Dad on the album was a careful decision, just because there are certain conversations that you have and you’re like “whoa where did that come from?” And people can misconstrue. So the only things I’d have reservations are things that are truly that personal. But it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t speak about them. It’s just how explicitly I’d mention them.

How did your dad being on the record come about? What was that conversation like?

The sad thing is I don’t think he ever really had a choice. [laughs] I was working on another project and I remember every time I would go away for a show, when I’d come back I’d speak to my Dad. And there was a summer period where I was basically staying there by myself because he was away. And I don’t know. I just started to grow this connection with my Dad’s house and hearing my Dad’s voice. And this record I was working on, I decided to scrap it maybe like 3 or 4 months off of when it was due to be finished and released. I was like “nah I’m gonna just start another one.” And I started it in November, finished it in February, and put it out like the day I finished it.

Like I used to paint before I did music, and even in painting, there’s a point where you have to stop and say OK cool. Just so you’re allowed to look at it and go “OK cool what do I need to make a better painting?” And everything my dad was saying to me seemed to mirror aspects of what I was going through in my day to day life. And I thought this is important because there’s a generation of diaspora that their only connection to their culture comes from having parental figures. But sometimes that dialogue is missing because the perspectives are different because we’ve gone through different things. So now if there’s a project where people can listen to both sides, the diaspora, they can start to get a wider picture of who they are and what their culture is and start to look into it a little more.

How did he feel about it, being on the record? Has he said anything?

How did he feel about it? He likes it. When it was finished, I took to him. And on my way there it had just been released on iTunes, and it came in on the top 100 hip-hop charts. And by the time I got to my Dad’s house, we were at number 5 in the charts. And I was like “Dad look at this.” And I think it was strange for him to be able to see that it was happening and that it was a real thing. Because that difference or confusion between cultures means that they don’t appreciate the same things that we put value in if that makes sense. Like for me, it’s a very very important thing that I’m doing AFROPUNK, but for my dad, if I went to go tell him, he wouldn’t know what AFROPUNK was. And I can’t blame him for that, he’s an old man. But like, when they see things take effect, it helps to validate what you’re doing, even if they don’t understand.

Right. Like “I may not understand it, but clearly all these other people do, and I can understand that.

Yeah exactly.

So you’ve got a new record coming out soon.

Yeah, I think we’re like a month or two off I think.

What’s the idea with it? Cause your last one was sort of a concept record. Is there a concept for this one?

I never want people to think I’m not thinking about the whole picture. With all my projects, you’re looking into these little snapshots of things I’m going through. It’s just how I’ve chosen to present them. I kept thinking about how I would follow on from 23 Winters, but not necessarily trying to seem like I’m just trying to reproduce the product. Because that project is special for all the reasons that project is special. So you kind of see me carry on from the sentiment of “Kwame Nkrumah” and explore some topics, and then you start to get a deeper aspect into moments in my life, experience, feelings, and problems. I don’t want to give away too much, but that’s all that I can explain without giving away what it is.

When do you think we’ll be able to hear some stuff from it?

It’s coming. We got a visual landing on Monday that kind of sets the stage for where we want to take it to next. I think I’m just having fun with the process of knowing that people have waited for music from me and that I can deliver.

I remember reading somewhere on 23 Winters, you had a look book that you were taking around to people to try to explain what you were going for. Was there a visual for this project that you used?

I made a book for Dear Daisy that was my first EP. With this project? Was there a visual? There was, but it was only—there was like a handful of people that knew what it was. And that was the people who were helping me work on the artistic direction on this journey. I always handle the creative direction over everything that I do, whether it’s film, posters, fashion, anything. I’m heavily involved. But I like to have people around me that are in tune with everything I’m describing. There’s only a handful of people that can respond to the things that I say sometimes and say “OK this is what we’re going to create.” I don’t know how to describe it. [laughs] But it’s coming. It’s coming!

It’s a very special project. I’d say it’s a wonderful snapshot of the types of conversations that people are having. It’s just from a first person perspective. You can look into the ideas of self-doubt. You can look into the ideas of unequivocal love. You can look into the ideas of polygamy or polyamory. You can look into ideas of discovering one’s sexuality or self-identity through body image. There are so many conversations on this project that it seems like it’s not there until you listen to it, and you realize it’s the same as having a conversation for 40 minutes.

Do you feel like there’s gonna be people in your life who are going to hear themselves on the record and clock that they’re hearing their conversation?

Yeah yeah. 100%. I played it to them though. I played it to them. Just to make sure it’s like kosher.

Yeah, you never want to put something out and have someone go “wait, I told you that in confidence.”

Yeah exactly, exactly. But what I do a lot of the time is like perspectives. Like I understand my experience of being a young black man in London doesn’t really necessarily equate to someone else’s experience. But by switching the voices, by switching some of the narratives, it kind of helps to connect the audience. I don’t want to announce who it is, because when I announce it, it’s going to be massive, but I had someone special come through and read a piece of poetry that I had written, that basically narrates the sentiments of the project. But it was a female voice. I’d written it completely from a male perspective, but just by having that female voice deliver it, I remember sitting down and thinking “did I write this? Did I say this?” Because it sounded completely brand new for me.

What else do you have coming up? Is there anything else you want people to know?

Yeah, come watch me at AFROPUNK! Make sure they’re there! They’ve got me on early, so I’m hoping they’ll make it. I’m trusting in London. It should be fun. I’m excited for it definitely.