kojaque is the dublin soft boy rapping about shitty jobs and irish life
And deconstructing toxic masculinity in the process.
Photography Donal Talbot
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Where England has greasy spoons, Ireland owns the deli. They sell sausage rolls, paninis and melted ham and cheese concoctions called jambons. They’re institutions run on saturated fat and carbohydrates, they’re a hangover’s best friend, but they’re not really the place you expect a concept rap album to be set. Mesmerisingly cringeworthy Bob Marley covers that replace the word ‘jammin’ with ‘jambon’ perhaps, but not rap. Then again, Kojaque is not your average rapper.
The trained visual artist raps in a Dublin accent, deconstructing toxic masculinity with the music he puts out on his own Soft Boy Records. Keeping it local, he wrote an eight track concept album called Deli Daydreams that follows a week in the life of deli owner. But it’s not because Kojaque has a fixation with beige foodstuffs. He doesn’t even eat at the deli anymore. Instead, he whiles away hangovers watching Village Food Factory -- a YouTube channel based in India (exact whereabouts unknown) featuring a man referred to only as ‘my daddy’ cooking a phenomenal array and amount of food on his own -- 1000 chicken gizzards, 100kg of watermelon juice served straight from the shell, fried mutton brains, homemade KFC chicken, a natural viagra recipe made from 3000 drumsticks.
“When you work in a job you don't like, you don't think about the job. It's the last thing you think about, you think about everything else -- what you don't have, what you could be doing, where you wish you were.”
It may seem like mass food production is a common thread in the content Kojaque consumes and produces. But when it came to the album, the job of a deli owner was just a placeholder for any mundane job you have to do to facilitate a living. “It's arbitrary, and that's the point”, Kojaque explains. “When you work in a job you don't like, you don't think about the job. It's the last thing you think about, you think about everything else -- what you don't have, what you could be doing, where you wish you were.”
It’s through this lens of an unfulfilling job that Kojaque traces the tribulations of working class Ireland. Take the opening track, White Noise, there’s run-ins with the Irish police (“weekly standoffs in the streets with the Síochána”) and legal battles (“my court proceedings weighing on me”). There’s universal political problems (“fuck the handouts / give tax breaks to smarmy fuckers in the grey suits / leave me starving tryna find a source of income”) and country-specific ones (“sovereign state / they'd rather see my mother bleed out than build a clinic) though thankfully Ireland’s anti-abortion laws are moving towards change. It’s three minutes and eight seconds of smart, inflammatory flow. “I want to get people pissed off,” Kojaque says. “There's agency to anger, there's no agency to apathy.”
“I think fragile masculinity is the bedrock of a lot of braggadocio and aggression that you see among men."
But the music itself isn’t angry. It’s slow, oozing, melodic. Kojaque flows effortlessly over lazy beats, jazz-inflected piano and saxophone lines. It’s an apt soundtrack for a heatwave, for hanging on someone’s doorstep chatting shit and swigging beers. It’s hints of Odd Future and its offspring -- Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler, the Creator. Which figures -- they’re the ones who got him in the game in the first place. “I saw Odd Future play at my first festival when I was 16 and it was a complete mind fuck.” So he started consuming everything he could, then started producing, because it looked simple. “I pretty quickly realised it takes a lot of hard work to make shit look easy.”
Clearly, he’s worked hard. Yet while the music feels effortless, the deli life isn’t. Last Pint sees him on a night out, doing bumps off the mirror, passing up a pill because he’s seeing “babies on the ceiling” -- a nod to a gruelling scene in Trainspotting where Ewan McGregor’s character is hallucinating from heroin withdrawals. The film reference figures, given Kevin’s visual background and production approach. “I try to think of it like a movie -- I make pictures with my music.” His most-played track on Spotify, Eviction Notice, is about a breakup. It marries yearning hooks with melancholic lyrics: “I put my pants back on / I put my heart through the wash.”
Politicksis is about politics, a word as jumbled as our current state of democratic affairs. This one, too, is about working nine to five, spending wages at the bookies, not having enough money to eat. The video, which we’re premiering today, opens with Kojaque puking on wet tarmac. He runs into the middle of a road, stops a taxi, hops in, and spends the rest of the video spitting bars in the cab’s neon lit interiors. Friend and fellow Dublin dweller Luka Palm delivers a guest verse from the backseat.
Both the track and the album encompass the dichotomy of anger and fragility, bravado and insecurity, of -- as put so well in another track’s title -- Love and Braggadocio. “I think fragile masculinity is the bedrock of a lot of braggadocio and aggression that you see among men,” he says. “So I try and explore that through characters and in myself.” And with good reason: Ireland, like many other countries, has severe issues with mental health and suicide, especially among men. “If I can articulate a feeling that someone has but can't express themselves, it can act as a kind of release for them,” he says. “As well as for my own peace of mind.”