kojey radical is keeping poetry alive through rap
We caught up with the rising London star about politics and poetry — because what else are you going to talk about in 2017?
Kojey Radical is a self-described polymath; a ceaseless boundary-pusher with a strong creative vision and an urge to leave behind an artistic legacy. Since the release of his critically acclaimed EP 23 Winters, the UK artist has fascinated anyone with an eye on the future of rap, grime or poetry. Championed by pretty much every music publication worth reading, Kojey is an undeniable lyrical force that's consistently potent and enticingly ahead of its time.
Kojey's made waves without adhering to any of the labels the music industry likes to throw at new artists; instead, he's gravitated towards descriptors like 'poet' or 'spoken word artist.' Kojey has a unique way of exploring life, philosophy and politics: his style is agile, fresh, and a little existential. Currently in Australia getting ready for his debut tour, including performances at Dark Mofo and Sydney's VIVID festival, we caught up to talk about poetry and politics.
I was reading throughout your interviews that you're not so keen on being described as a rapper — what would you like people to say when describing Kojey Radical?
I'd like to be called an artist. I use rap as an art form to communicate. I don't mind being called a rapper, sometimes I embrace it to be honest. But when I consider my legacy and how I want to be remembered, I want it to be more than simply a rapper. I'd like to be remembered as an artist who genuinely cared about the arts.
In which ways do you think you are a poet and in which ways do you think you are a rapper?
I began with poetry and performing spoken word. I wouldn't necessarily consider them different. Rap to me is rhythm and poetry, they come hand in hand. So the transition of moving from poetry into rap wasn't difficult. I would say, though, that rap makes it a lot easier for a wider audience to digest. If I was to present myself as just a poet a lot of people would switch off before even giving my music a chance.
It's an interesting phenomenon. I was reading an article that argued that we are currently consuming more poetry than ever except we don't call it poetry, we call it rap.
I always understood rap to be poetry but that's because that's how I actually learned poetry. My older cousin would make me break down Tupac lyrics when I was a child, before I even discovered Pac also wrote poetry. Sometimes I would try and write down Andre 3000 lyrics like poetry in efforts to understand his writing. I guess now we have Rap Genius to do that. The poetry world in a traditional sense has always felt a bit segregated but I feel the more people embrace the spoken form as true poetry, the more it will open it up to wider audiences.
In terms of Kojey Radical though, how do you think poetry operates within your music?
Poetry is the foundation of my writing. I think people can hear it when I project but I don't think it's distracting. It's like a bonus. Poetry has definitely allowed me to speak on and express my feelings towards political and societal matters a lot more candidly. There's a comforting distance between you and judgement when you express yourself through poetry. Your thoughts are yours to project and that intimacy is shared when you decide to let other people spectate.
Your lyrics definitely have a sense of 'life philosophies' rather than 'personal opinion.' It's interesting because in some interviews you speak about not being a political person but then again so many things you say feel intrinsically political discussing race and everyday politics.
I offer more philosophical approaches to considering the world around us and everything we choose to ignore. I think I'm affected by everyday politics, but also everyday naivety. For that reason I wouldn't consider myself a political artist in the traditional sense. The problem is people don't want to speak out in fear of being wrong, which is fair enough. But being wrong is human and I promised myself a long time ago I wouldn't let fear hold me back. I'll never be afraid to talk about race, identity, politics or anything the same way. I'll never be afraid to talk about a darker side to love and the complexities of life.
Would you say your music speaks more about the politics of the everyday, the idea that everything we do is political and therefore poetic?
Precisely, everything is part and parcel. If you break things down to it's most basic sense we're all operating on curiosity and experience and learning as a result. I've always just seen life like one big painting that can be dissected in a magnitude of ways. There's a rhythm to the way people think, feel, walk, breathe. Everything has a pulse. None of us know the answers to the questions life presents but we figure it out. That's the beauty in it.
What was the last thing that you saw or experienced that made you think that's poetry, right there?
Seeing my niece try and walk for the first time.
Kojey Radical is currently touring Australia:
8th June at SYD Vivid Festival with Gaika, Cassius Select and more.
9th June in Melbourne with 30/70 and So.Crates
11th June at Dark Mofo with Gaika and Kandere
Text Triana Hernandez
Photography Craig Most Popular Human