The UK's Black music scene has been surging in recent times, with Skepta, Stormzy and Little Simz all attracting global attention. Now, East London's multi-faceted Kojey Radical (aka Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah) could have 2022's most credible British release. A fashion illustration graduate, Kojey launched himself as a spoken word poet before segueing into rap. This past March, the MC delivered his long-anticipated debut, Reason To Smile, which landed in the UK Top 20.
The British-Ghanaian's lyrics explore family, journeys and diasporic identity – his émigré mum Janet, depicted on the cover, symbolically narrating. A communal Kojey notably showcases rising UK stars like the Motown signing Tiana Major9 and producer/vocalist/DJ Lex Amor plus the buzz underground rapper Cashh. However, he's also joined by stars Kelis, Masego and Wretch 32. Kojey reveals his scope on Reason To Smile, flowing over Afrobeats, grime, neo-soul and vintage funk. He's shared several singles – the latest being the G-funk Talkin with Kelis and Tiana.
Recently, Kojey has hit the European festival circuit – he'll hopefully reconnect with sometime cohort Mahalia at Manchester's Parklife. And the rapper is keen to return to Australia after collaborating with Sydney's B Wise on his pandemic banger Think Twice. ("It was a blessing, man," Kojey extols. "I love B Wise.") Kojey spoke to Cool Accidents over Zoom late one night, remaining chill despite sirens in the background.
Cool Accidents: Congratulations on your album, Reason To Smile. It's a consummate work. As it came out in March, I wondered how you feel about the response?
Kojey Radical: The response was way beyond my wildest imagination. Honestly, I think, as an artist, you make a piece of work and you kinda hope for it to be well received, but anything past that is like a pat on the back, do you know what I mean? It's a reason to celebrate. So, I've loved it.
I think, for me, I'm just excited to get on the road and see how it's really affected people – 'cause you can measure it off stats and metrics and stuff, but what it does to people's lives is what really makes a difference.
Did you actually achieve what you set out to with the album? Because you didn't rush it – you made sure you started this record when it felt right.
Yeah, no, definitely. I mean, I started it in the pandemic so there was a lot of time, you know? (laughs). Everyone had a lot of time – and it was a lot of thinking time and a lot of time to assess my life and to grow.
I think any which way I start a project; I'm always just trying to capture what's going on in my life at the time and create this kinda snapshot of what's going on for me. And I think Reason To Smile is that. So, I'm excited and happy that it was my debut album and I could tell that story as unfiltered as I wanted to. There was nothing really standing in my way – which is the most important part.
Of course, you released your first EP, Dear Daisy: Opium, back in 2014. How do you feel you've grown as an artist, and a person, since that time – because it's coming up to 10 years?
Yeah! I always ask myself, like, what would my 16-year-old self think and feel about what's going on now – and would he be excited? I think the answer is definitely 'yes'. I'm fortunate – I think I decided young that I was just gonna do what I wanted and make a living doing what I wanted. And I was gonna follow one blind mistake into the next one 'til it all started to make sense.
I think, even when I look back on the projects, it's fun for me because I can hear the innocence – and that's something that's hard to recreate the further you get in your career; that innocence of wanderlust and discovering things and just making it happen in the studio.
You've always worked with amazing female artists – and, on Reason To Smile, your mother is at the forefront. She narrates it. How did she feel about being involved with the project?
Mumsy loved it, yeah! It was funny because she's come to the studio and she's pulled up and she's got these long pieces of paper of all these lines that she'd rehearsed. I was just kinda like, 'Yo, just stop that, let's just talk' (laughs).
But, I mean, the whole experience was a dream come true for her as well – like, walking around [London], not only was it my hometown, but it was hers. She'd decided to move there and start her life anew. [So] she was walking around and seeing billboards of herself and thousands of people queuing up to buy an album cover with her face on it and her voice on it. I think it's a crazy experience for any parent.
You've worked with some legendary female artists. Shola Ama is one of my favourites – you worked with her in the past. But, on this album, you have Kelis. How on earth did you get her involved?
Lord knows – I have no idea; I wish I could tell you. Honestly, I wish I could tell you – I don't know how I did it, I just did it. It happened! (laughs) I had a moodboard and I said, 'Oh, I'm gonna have Kelis on my album' – and I had no way of making it happen. I wasn't sure she was ever really gonna do it. Then one day my boy calls me – KZ, he's a producer on the album – and he's like, 'Send me the instrumental!' I'm like, 'Why?' He goes, 'I'm about to get in a session with Kelis now.'
I remember when my manager first told me, I just kept calling him a liar! I said just, 'You're lying, bro...' But she came through and she's really dope. She's one of them people where, like, for example, we'll need something for the album, but she'll only wanna speak to me… She remembers and appreciates the actual integrity of artists working with artists, you know? I have nothing but love and respect for Kelis, 100 percent.
Finally, you've got a fanbase in Australia – you first toured in 2017. Any chance of you coming back here?
Yeah, if they let me in or someone books me – tell them, aye, tell all the promoters… I'll come there in a heartbeat. It's not a question mark. I love Australia, but I just haven't had the chance to get over there [again] yet. I think, when I do, it's gonna be big. I think people are gonna really, really show up and show out.