THE WORLDWIDE VICTORY LAP OF KOJEY RADICAL
At the start of 2022, I got to converse with the award-winning rapper, poet and multidisciplinary artist Kojey Radical, in the lead up to his critically-acclaimed debut album, Reason To Smile.
Since then, the victory lap that followed turned into a marathon, with a cascade of international shows and guest verses, concluding with a final sprint in Australia, after a 6-year interval. Accompanied by longtime friend and selector, DJ Eli, the Australian leg of his Reason To Smile tour kicked off in Eora/Sydney supporting Afro-R&B superstar Tems at the Enmore Theatre, before shutting down Mary’s Underground the following day. The marathon continued with pilgrimage to the Promiseland Festival in Gold Coast, where our paths briefly reconvened almost 2 years later.
Upon arrival in Naarm/Melbourne, the weather was coincidentally similar to that of our London interaction (then taking place in front of the O2 Academy Brixton, after the release of the single ‘Payback’ featuring Knucks). Nevertheless, the whirlwind continued in the final leg of the tour with an explosive open to Tems’ Melbourne show at the Forum, subsequently followed by an exclusive afterparty in South Yarra. The night was scored with sounds by one Naarm’s best DJs, PK, and Radical’s own, DJ Eli, resulting in a euphoric blend of amapiano and old-school R&B that rolled into the early hours of the following day.
In the hours before his final headline show at the iconic Howler, I sat with Kojey Radical to reflect on his grand return to Australia after 6 years.
Noah daCosta: It’s been a crazy few days. For the both of us but especially you. I mean flying all the way to Australia – Sydney, Promiseland and now Melbourne. How’s the whole journey been so far?
Kojey Radical: It’s been good. I can’t complain – I can complain – I won’t complain. But it’s been good. I enjoy Australia. Every time I come here, I always leave saying, “it’s a shame it’s so far away.” Because honestly, I think even culturally, it’s just a vibe. The cultures click and connect. But the distance… you notice that when you get here. But there’s always a lot of love when you get here. A lot of love.
What’s your creative journey been like this year? We spoke a little off-mic, but the feature run since ROS has been crazy. There’s been a lot more amapiano tracks, of course more Hip-hop & R&B features, as always. What’s kind of your headspace been recently? It feels very different to the headspace in the lead up to Reason To Smile.
Yeah, I was sad and nervous and scared for my life. There were a lot of changes and I didn’t know who I was, [or] what I was really gonna do. That’s where ROS came from. Then ROS comes out, does really well, and leaves me in this kind of weird middle ground where everyone’s got like, the attention span of like, Dory so that you dropped one thing and like a week later was like, “when’s the new music coming?” And then I go, “guys, I haven’t lived anything.” I haven’t lived anything between the last album and then. But I knew I knew I still had a passion to create. So I was just actually saying ‘shout me’. I’d bump into someone and say “shout me!”. They shouted me – a good 20 plus times now! And I did all the records [and] I did more records. There’s more Kojey features knockin’ about. Honestly, I didn’t even do it thinking it was gonna be a run. I just wanted to do hoodrat shit with my friends. So being in the studio, being around and knowing where the energy is, and like, being actually proud of my people, was always an honour for me, you know what I’m saying? Some records have really done big bits and I’m just grateful to be included or even wanted in that way.
That reminds me of an interview I saw with Little Simz with Zane Lowe and she was saying how she’s gotten to a point now where she’s not worried about timelines and stuff like that. I wonder, with you wanting to do hoodrat shit with your friends, just creating, making music especially after your debut album – what’s your mentality like in regards to pushing whatever your next project is? You put so much of yourself into ROS, and I would say it was a very clean release, It wasn’t it wasn’t a mixtape thing.
I think I was running out of lifelines [laughter]. I mean, if I said I was dropping another mixtape, I would have been hung drawn and quartered. So I had to kind of buckle down and say this is my album. But I have no idea. I think I have no idea because I don’t know what it sounds like. I think the sound of an album is definitely the main thing that goes into how you promote and how you put it out. I’m always gonna make sure it kind of sits and exists in its own world. I think the hardest part is kind of knowing that everyone’s doing this and I’m forever going to be doing that. And as much as I would love to do this, I have to do that. Because there’s a lot of young people, or a lot of creatives in general, that find themselves right in the middle. And feel like they might not fit into this. And they might be too scared to do that. I’m here to make that look easy.
I remember after Cashmere Tears [Kojey’s 2019 EP] dropped. Shortly after you were working on the next album. And there was all that momentum then COVID came and that kind of stuff. Did that [the sound] change with the change of the times? And how do you find the sound of an album?
I think with [the time before] Reason To Smile, I didn’t expect Cashmere Tears to hit. We did Cashmere Tears quickly. So it was like, “okay cool”, let’s take this and make it 12 times more grand. Let’s have eleven pieces when it comes to the violins instead of four. Let’s have eight horned instruments instead of two. Let’s get all real pianos. Let’s have your favourite drummers come in and replay with these drum parts. Let’s just do it. Because at the end of the day, the music isn’t just given you, you just hear it. You can only speak about the experience that you have after listening to something and you know when something makes you feel good or when it makes you feel crap. And my whole thing about it was like, it’s good food, not fast food. It’s hard food. It’s food for the soul. It’s not like a 24-hour McDonald’s drive through. But there’s nothing wrong with some nuggets and Hennessy.
On that note, what’s your opinion on Australian food?
Okay, hear me out.
It’s cool. I don’t get it.
Which parts are you not getting?
Either it looks amazing but it tastes like nothing – like after I’ve got my picture, I could just not eat it. Or it looks like horror but it tastes alright. Or it’s just it’s advertised as one thing. Those are the only ways I could describe it. Like I’ve had so much crispy squid.
Calamari. I’ve been living in calamari – speaking of calamari, the fish is bangin’. Yeah, fish can slide. I actually went to a steak restaurant and ordered fish so maybe I’m like going to the wrong places for the wrong things.
Well, I got some good Ghanaian/West African restaurants –
I’ve been hearing about this, where’s it at?!
One’s literally not far from here [Edziban West African Bar & Bistro]. There are two within a 10-15km radius [the other, Vola Foods].
Is that where all the black people are?
Oh- there’s another one where all the black people are [El Shaddai in Footscray]. But we’re here.
Take me there… please.
Done. Actually on that – what’s your view of Australian culture, Bla[c]k Australian culture, music, creative culture or whatever label you’d prefer – what does that look like from your lens?
It’s interesting because I think there’s so many elements to culture out here. For example, out here, there’s a big focus on Islanders, and the Aboriginal culture and all that stuff and, and there’s a deep history there, a very painful history. You can tell that when you speak to the right people. Then outside of that you’ve got children of diaspora that are here for whatever reason, whether it’s migration, or whatever, trying to acclimatise to living in a world that isn’t necessarily designed for their blackness. And just trying to find their feet there, whilst also being quite disconnected from the source. So like, we are far away from South Africa, we are far away from this place and that place and etc, etc. For example, [with] my lived experience in London, there are community pockets. So I could go to Dalston and walk through the market and see bare Nigerians, bare Caribbeans and man from India and Pakistan and all that stuff just crackin’ on. Or I can go Northwest and see all the Somalis. They’re all there and you know where to go for culture – those people are going to be closely linked to the original source of their culture. So as you’re talking to them, and you’re learning about things, you’re going, “ah, okay, cool”, and then certain things start to blend. You’ll hear the Jamaican man using African slang, then you’ll hear that African man using Jamaican slang and all that stuff and but it all kind of becomes this one big melting pot. And I find that like, here that’s starting to happen. I think it’s just like really identifying what makes it special here. ‘Cause it’s happening everywhere, you know what I’m saying?
For sure. And it’s a very astute observation. It’s kind of interesting seeing how culture is forming in a modern context as well like outside of previous contexts. It’s fascinating.
I find it sick that black shit’s always gonna be black shit wherever you go. Like yesterday we played ‘Candy’. That took no instruction.
Oh yeah, shout out DJ Eli! That was needed. I was in the bathroom and I heard that come on… That was special. What are some of the other commonalities you’ve seen between the culture here compared to back home?
The further you go from cities or the capital, accents become more and more impossible to understand. Same thing with London. It’s like the further you go, it gets tecky [laughs]. But yeah, there’s loads. I think the youth culture definitely shares a lot of similarities. Just in like, the hustler spirit. I think everyone’s trying to make it [by] doing something. And that causes and forces communities to kind of start to build and emerge from nothing.
It’s fascinating to even see that you’ve been able to gather so much, especially with being on the road, where you only get to scrape the crust off. But it seems you’ve been able to take in a lot.
You know what it is? Like there’s this part where I’m out here doing shows and interviews – sick, cool. But people will tell you, I will just appear in your country. By myself [laughs]. And just do regular shit all the time. I do it all the time in loads of different places. I did it about six years ago – I came back to Melbourne on a quiet one. We were just here chillin’. It was in South Yarra. Just coolin’. Yeah. Did it in South Africa a few times. Again just to get that… people are gonna treat you different. When I come over, and it’s like “Kojey’s in town!” there’s a different treatment.
Does that ever get annoying? Because I’ve seen you move very naturally throughout the world. But obviously, as you keep going on, the freedom for that gets smaller and smaller. How do you actually navigate that?
I always tell people, I’m not even really that famous. I’m like medium-level famous. Like major medium level. I could happily be in the club, talking to a girl thinking, “oh, this girl really likes me” and then I clock that she thinks she’s talking to Burna Boy. It’s not always going my way in terms of the fame ting [laughs], but at the same time, it all depends on approach. On the right day, I’ve got time for 1000 people to come up to me and take a picture. on the wrong day, leave me alone. And that’s okay. There’s times even just as a civilian [where] I’ve got my headphones on, because I don’t want to chat to you. Don’t make me do this [removes hypothetical headphones]. There’s days where I actually might be second guessing myself and thinking nobody’s fucking with my shit anyway. And then I walk into a spot and someone says, “yo, I fuck with your music, I like this song, this song changed my life.” The gentle reminders that you need to carry on going. It’s always just time and space. And the moment itself.
How do you actually get to that space where you are centred? It’s something that I see that you do, but I actually have no idea how that is done.
I keep people around me that don’t care. My friends from back in the day – from, like, college – are still my same friends. They work normal jobs with normal lives. They’re happy for me, don’t get me wrong. If something crazy happens they’ll hit me up like, “yo, congrats”, but I can’t go and tell them man I’ve been asked to host this award show, because they don’t know what that award show is. If I buy a brand new pair of whatever the fucks, like a pair of Monclers, but my son wants to skateboard through the park on a rainy day, he don’t care how much them shoes cost. He’s like “skate, daddy”. There’s so many little things where in the grand scheme of like all of this, there is an element of the world that don’t give a fuck about you. People will take it as an offence. [Some] people will be chatting to me and be like, “no offence but I’ve never heard of your music.” Why is that offensive? Why do you feel like I walk on this earth like “everybody knows who I am”. That’s fucking weird. Like, chill out. I’m very fortunate to be able to make music for a living. To be able to do this as my bread and butter, live, eat, buy nice things, travel the world – do whatever. I know I’m in a fortunate position and that comes with zero ego. Because if I lose it all – which I’ve seen people do – that will keep me up at night. There’s people I’ve seen whose rise was so meteoric. And it’s like, “whoa”, this is gonna be the biggest artist from the UK. Then they might wake up one day, check Shade Borough, and they’re caught in a scandal. Next week no one’s trying to check for their music. No one’s buying it. No one’s going to their shows. I remember those people. I remember meeting them and shaking their hand and feeling like, my man feels he’s famous. He thinks he’s more famous. He feels like he’s a better artist. I could feel it in one handshake. And then it’ll all come crashing. Then you see the same man? “Yo my brudda, yo!”. So you have to just remain humble, man. We’re fortunate to do this job.
Yeah, absolutely man, it seems like a blessing. Coming into the last few minutes let’s get the obvious ones out of the way. Obviously, I’ve been loving the features. Keep them coming at your own pace –
Nah I’m done.
Honestly, at this point when I say I was frugal with verses, I was frugal. If we were cool, I’d be like, ‘I’m coming through and dropping a verse.’ Some people might have more than one, but for every one feature that somebody has out at the moment, they probably have two or three more verses. So that if they decided to put that out between now and me making the next whatever, I’m not gonna I’m not going to stop that. The label love me – hopefully, big up Atlantic, keep loving me, keep the budget gwarnin’ – but also I know that I stress certain people at the office out. Because they might get a feature one day come through and it’s Shy FX and Nile Rodgers – no brainer. We’re gonna sign it off, work out the splits and the money. Then I might just find one yout from Tik Tok that’s got like 2000 followers.
Let me just say I’ve always appreciated that because it’s from you that I discovered Lex Amor, I discovered Bawo.
He’s cold. And now look at them! They will all tell you I was fucking with them, when it was just me and them. I’ll reach out to somebody that’s just getting in the game. And say, ‘yo, I want to do a tune’ and I work with them. But I know they’re so early, they might not even have management, let alone lawyers to deal with major label contracts. So I’m always the one that’s like, ‘just clear it.’ I don’t need no money, just clear it. That’s it. And then if they don’t put the song I just — there’s even more features on Spotify bro, they’re just under aliases.
Oh, okay… We’ll have to unpack that another time.
I shouldn’t have said that but they are!
Aye look it’s on wax now. With that said, what are you most looking forward to in the next few months?
There’s a massive weight on my chest because I know I have to make another album. So I’m looking forward to that weight being removed the day I say the next album’s finished. Feeling like fucking very
Well, look, I’m looking forward to that day. I’m looking forward to what’s in between. I’m looking forward to the show, of course. Yeah. Finally catching you in Melbourne!
And it’s an actual show! Promiseland and support slots, you’re condensing an experience to pure entertainment. Whereas like when you got your own show, you can really just take your time.
Absolutely. The other ones were great, but this is what I’ve been waiting for.
And you’ve caught shows in London as well which has been a dope parallel to even see.
Man it’s been amazing man, but I risk running further overtime than I already have. Blessing to finally chat with you properly man.
Anytime and thank you man.
We’ll catch you next time on AUD$. I’m Noah daCosta – remember the name – and we’re with the one and only…
Houdini Kojini with the Pornstar Martini, The Chocolate Covered Saviour with No Behaviour, Luther VanKojey, Pablo EsKojey, Sir William Radical, so on and so forth, AUDollars, bang! Where’s my calamari?