The eclectic renaissance man bringing a richly textured new sound to the British rap game and beyond.

Kojey Radical for the Winter issue of Wonderland closeup

Jacket BIANCA SAUNDERS, Kojey’s own necklace

Kojey Radical for the Winter issue of Wonderland closeup
Jacket BIANCA SAUNDERS, Kojey’s own necklace

Taken from the Winter issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

One thing you may not know about Kojey Radical is that he can make an analogy out of almost anything. “My analogy game is crazier than my music-poetry game, people don’t know that,” he boasts casually. Over the course of our chat, when grappling with any nuanced sensation, scenario or conundrum, the East London artist endeavours to find the crux of it; you can practically hear his cogs whirring at warp-speed through the phone, and, within seconds, he is able to paint any situation as an amusing, albeit tangential metaphor.

We’re about three or four analogies deep when this talent becomes apparent, the vibrant rapper and visual artist likening his creative output to an unstoppable train even when he’s struggling: “Either way, what you’re going through is what you’re going through. I always felt like if you stop then you die, and I didn’t want to die.” As I question the fairness of his demands on himself even under extenuating circumstances, he exhales and pauses briefly before resolving, “I feel like it depends on how you’ve got the train set up… Trains have carriages. So the whole train doesn’t have to stop just because one carriage took a little break.” At the age of 26, Kojey’s consistent musical output over the last five-or-so years has closely mapped his journey as both a creative and a human being: his shifting priorities, his philosophical interests, and his broad creative ambition. Reflecting on the stages of his career, he cites his first project, “Dear Daisy”, as one that dwells in the liminal space between fantasy and reality, the rapper explaining how he “brought these ideas of reality into my safe space, which was my imagination.” From there, his adolescence highlighted a disconnect between his current identity and his namesake. Born Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah in Hoxton, East London, “23Winters” documented Kojey’s search to grapple with the history of his first-generation British-Ghanaian status, as well as that general sense of belonging that one yearns for in adulthood, in songs like “Kwame Nkrumah” and “Love’s Interlude”. The next was a journey for balance, “not just culturally but also socially, emotionally… All of that.” With In God’s Body, Kojey took a quiet moment to ask who he was and what this is all for, explaining the added difficulties he faced “thinking and feeling all these things in a rap space, where you’re not really allowed to be that introspective.” And though the subsequent project was a textured and poetic exploration of love, philosophy, and religion, showcasing Kojey as an urgent and unapologetic force in the scene, it didn’t provide him with the answers he sought at that time. “So for two years, I was just lost,” he candidly details of the next stage of his life — one of a kind of emotional stasis — continuing to work and create with diminishing passion and love of life (refer back to the aforementioned ever-chugging train metaphor).

Ironically, the subsequent material Kojey made in this darker, more apathetic space went on to become some of his biggest releases yet. “That was actually the catalyst for Cashmere Tears,” he explains; “I realised that I’d been afraid to feel in public. I thought I had to handle all that on my own, but I realised almost everyone around me is going through similar, if not the same things.” That dawning realisation of the respite in community and honesty went on to inspire the healing sentiment of his latest project: “It was this newfound acceptance of what life is and finding ways to celebrate even in the darkest spaces,” he says. And that paradigmatic shift is palpable in the iteration of Kojey we see today: steeped in charisma as always, but tackling life’s greatest questions with more of an optimistic curiosity than an urgent frustration. Exec-produced by long-time collaborators Swindle and KZ, the instrumentation extends into a world of softer jazz and funk-led experimentation, seeing Kojey flex his singing chops more than ever before. On the playful “2020”, he tracks his metamorphosis year by year, announcing his arrival at this new secure location, growling over-energetic trap beats: “I’m the man now, let ‘em know, time I let ‘em know / This ain’t nothing like the usual, I ain’t removable”. “Can’t Go Back” is a triumphant fanfare, reflecting on a darker past and determined to never return there, and the EP’s titular track sees him don the role of luxurious romantic lead.

Kojey Radical for the Winter issue of Wonderland wearing white


Kojey Radical for the Winter issue of Wonderland wearing white

There’s never been any doubt that Kojey has a fervent belief in himself. His confidence seeps through intermittently as he discusses his relationship with his own music, wryly admitting the fact that “two months could go by before realising I’ve only been listening to… myself”. As a self-defined music fan first and foremost, he admits that when he finds new music or listens to a lot of the stuff out there, it merely spurs him to go on and try to perfect it, or recreate in his own way in the studio. That’s not to say that he struggles to relinquish control when necessary. In fact, arguably the biggest shift for him in recent years was his decision to sign with Asylum Records via Warner Music after years of releasing independently. And to articulate that relationship, he once again reaches for the simile, comparing his own label and collaborators to a football team, in which “you can’t be the striker and the goalie.” He has no issue taking the opinions of the label and his team into account when it comes to rollouts and planning; in fact, if he’d had it his way, there may not have been singles out leading up to the project, a decision he now backs wholly.

“It’s like entering a marriage, you just gotta have your own shit,” he rationalises. By this, he means the only way to enter a healthy and symbiotic partnership is of course to do so from a place of stability and independence, not one of necessity and desperation. And by bringing his established sound, vision, art, team, “even my aura” to the table, the young multi-hyphenate was able to enter this new space without compromise. That’s the balance he evidently struck with a year that saw him achieve what could be seen as his widest level of mainstream success so far, including a debut performance on Jools Holland, a sold-out 2020 tour including a date at Roundhouse, a brand new Colors session, and tunes bumped on the radio across the country. Success that many fans will say is overdue.

This sentiment of being ‘slept on’, popularised in the realm of Twitter discourse and often bestowed on the rapper by well-meaning fans, might be seen as a slightly unfair measurement that tends to oscillate between two extremes. Kojey, however, is unbothered. “I think sometimes people can lack the language to say ‘I really like somebody, I wish more people liked them with me,’” he chuckles understandingly. “But then also the same people say: “I want you to like this person because I like them, but I also don’t want everybody to like them. Because if everybody starts liking this person, then I’m not interested.’”

Disregarding the arbitrary boundaries over and under ratings, Kojey simply strives to be vital and original. A goal of his is to create something so universally-loved that it would be career-defining (and he could take a break). “When I say my first album needs to be as good as The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, what I mean is that I want it to be so good that people will question if I’ll ever make another one [like it] again.” He lets the controversy of his statement hang momentarily, being both tongue-in-cheek and 100% serious. He expands when he hears the creeping suspicion in my voice: “Lauryn Hill still travels the world, selling out near-enough arena-sized venues from one album 20 years ago. Meanwhile, people are struggling to sell 500-cap venues at the end of the year, when they dropped five songs at the top of the year…” He pauses to allow for my faux-horror adlibs before hitting the punchline. “I don’t want that ratio!”

As I chastise his ruthlessness, he elucidates with a newfound clarity: “it’s peak because it’s true, and it’s true because I was one of those people.” Matter- of-factly, he brings as evidence the vast difference between the eight months it took him to sell out 1,500 tickets for his KOKO show last year, versus the twelve hours in which he sold the same amount for his upcoming Roundhouse gig just a year later. “I’m very aware of when things start to connect and take shape,” he says. It’s confidence but it’s humility at the same time. People think that to be humble is to be unaware – nah. I’m not unaware, I’m grateful because I know where it came from: work.”

Even so, theoretically, would he have the patience and restraint to leave the studio for good and tour a single record for the rest of his career? There’s a stark silence on the other end of the line, before he groans and concedes hectically: “nah, I’d get bored and make more music; I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m a mess!”

William Arkle Marsden
Doug Broad
Michael Gray at David Artists using Sisley and Bumble and Bumble
Set Design
Hollie Peck
Tesa Pavic
Special thanks
Kaileidoscope Studio