Wonderland.

Kojey Radical

Wonderland talks art, survival and utopia with Kojey Radical at his boiler room set in Hackney.

Photo by Jade Jackman

Photo by Jade Jackman

Kojey Radical is multi-faceted in the truest sense of the word. The Hackney native and child of African diaspora lives and breathes art. He’s a visual artist, turned poet, turned musician and he’s even premiered the visuals for his track ‘Open Hand’ at the Tate. (Serious goals). His music is deeply layered in drums and bass with a slow, hypnotic backtrack. On his newest track ‘Gallons’, it almost feels like Kojey’s raw, powerful voice is leading us down a dark labyrinth of sound. We dig it big time.

Wonderland caught up with Kojey before his performance at Boiler Room x Saul Williams, part of Black History Month UK. The gig was a marriage of poetry and music. The first half welcomed guests to a darkened theatre space full of wooden benches.The room was filled with a palpable awe as Kojey took the floor alongside other renowned artists like American poet Saul Williams, Kate Tempest and Klashnekoff. The slam took the form of a spirited conversation between the audience and the performers, for every verse there was an answering whoop or gasp, each rhyme and metaphor was matched with cries and laughter. The second half of the set took place in the main bar lit only by swirling yellow and pink projector lights, no stage, no barriers, just a sea of spectators jumping around Kojey and co. While the space felt very much like it belongs (rightly) to people with a particular experience and story to tell, it didn’t feel exclusive. Performers like Kojey aren’t trying to keep people out, they just need to be heard and understood.

So how did you get into writing?

I got into it after art. I was doing art before, I had an idea for like an art project and I was kind of dabbling with poetry here and there and I think it got to a point where I was like let’s just do it. Yeah just kind of said I’m gonna do it and gave myself no trace, that was it, I gave myself no trace.

You were like, this is the route I’m going down?

With art I could put a lot of meaning into an image but it’s dependent on the viewer being in front of art. With music I can get things out a lot more quicker and a lot more passively. You still have audiences so it was a way for me to kind of create and be free and try to put myself out there but it could reach people more quickly. Art gave me mad anxiety. When you’re drawing if you make a mistake you’re aware you made the mistake on the spot. With writing if it’s rubbish I can just delete it, but if I mess up in a painting or a drawing it’s messed up isn’t it? I used to get really tense every time I was drawing and my escape from that was writing so that’s what I thought I’m going to write. I still paint and draw but it’s for me now.

You must have that visual aspect though because with your latest video it’s clear that you are also a visual artist.

Yeah I deal with the creative direction in my visuals. I’ve got an amazing team that allow me to express that art side of myself. I come to them with that background context and all these drawings and these images and then it’s kind of up to them to interpret it. It’s weird like the video concept started from a painting I did in like 2013, like an old ass painting and I’ve still got it in my room, and I was like yeah, let’s make it a video.

Saul Williams with Kojey Radical by Jade Jackman.

Saul Williams with Kojey Radical by Jade Jackman.

It’s really powerful. What are the messages that you’re trying to share with your art, with your words?

There’s a lot of conversations we have in private, that are probably our most fulfilling. ‘You might wake up the next day and be like I’m gonna start doing this today. Or I’ve never thought about that in this way before or this person is a dick because he doesn’t agree with me. My music was that, it was all those intimate, personal conversations that you have with somebody one on one but on a record, on a stage for more than one person. I’ve decided to go deeper, and go further and further into myself. I think more so now than ever the message or the intent is up to the viewer. I don’t want to force anything on anyone. In any lyrics or lines you’re either going to identify with it or you’re not. My thing is not to alienate audiences. I don’t say my music is based for certain people; it’s for everyone, because everyone goes through different experiences and everyone listens and learns and understands it from their perspective. The problems that we face as a society is when we segregate our experiences and make them like ‘this is something that we just get, you would never understand.’ And like you can understand this, it might take you a little bit but we’re all human. We just all kind of get on with it.

What matters to you, do you think?

Surviving. I grew up in Hackney, that was a jungle in itself, you had to survive there. You go to university, or you find yourself in any kind of education system and it’s more difficult than you intended and you just think ‘I have to get through this.’ I’ve got to get to this position. I’ve got to that position, after surviving, but it doesn’t ever really go away, that just like animal feeling. Even now when I listen to music I’m doing it as a student, I’m doing it as a person who wants to learn and who’s constantly pushing forward. I remember I’d just finished uni and I’d made my first EP and I was still working part-time and I lost my job, my job just didn’t exist one day. I was like I can never be in a position where my job is decided by someone else, I’ve got to own it and if I don’t survive that’s my fault.

So the visual video is pretty dystopian, what’s your vision of utopia?

Anybody’s version of a utopia is gonna be bubble gum, so yeah, peace. Peace, equality, understanding, for me all of those things should be the norm, I don’t believe in giving people a trophy for shit they’re meant to do. We shouldn’t be sexist, we shouldn’t be racist, we shouldn’t be down right evil but sadly evil makes money. I think my version of utopia would be having an economic system not based on economical constructs at the cost of the people. That’s pretty much where most of the evil constructs that make up society came from: to make money, slavery was about money, as was the war on guns and the war on drugs.

Kojey Radical

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