Essentials: Kojey Radical is contemplative & triumphant on his debut LP, ‘Reason to Smile’
Essentials: Kojey Radical is contemplative & triumphant on his debut LP, ‘Reason to Smile’

Essentials: Kojey Radical is contemplative & triumphant on his debut LP, ‘Reason to Smile’

With features from Masego, Tiana Major9, Knucks, and more.

Kojey Radical made himself known within British art circles during the mid 2010s, first as a fashion illustrator and then as a rapper with a prolific streak. His lyrics were politically aware, investigating disparate facets of Black pain and joy, the strength in family and history. These themes would go on to become continuous threads in his music, explored not just lyrically but also sonically as the artist connected diverse eras through his collaborative spirit and an enthusiasm for sound.

Kojey’s last project came almost three years ago, on the silky Cashmere Tears, a tape suffused in warm melodies and poignant tales. On “Sugar” he collaborates with cousin Amaarae, a groovy horn-lined song that sounds like cruising with the homies on Sunday evening. In return, he turned in a scintillating verse on Amaarae’s “JUMPING SHIP,” off her debut album The Angel You Don’t Know. That bolstered his name among African listeners, stoking anticipation for a new Kojey Radical album beyond his immediate sphere of influence in the UK.

For a mainstay such as Kojey there’s certainly an element of surprise to his debut album only being released now. Shorter projects are usually considered the prelude to the main action, often expressed passionately but lacking the poise of an accomplished creator. It’s not the case for Kojey Radical, whose early projects got him a MOBO nomination and the respect of his peers. If anything, the anticipated Reason to Smile shaped up to be a seamless entry into his impressive catalogue, supported by the release of two singles—“Payback” and the Masego-assisted “Silk”—earlier this year. 

The album is a fifteen track journey, partly about the family history of Kojey Radical, who was born Kwadwo Adu Genfi to Ghanaian parents who immigrated to Britain in the late 1950s. Weaving memory into vivid production, Kojey invites his mother to narrate the album. She charts her departure from Ghana and her experience of raising black children in a white world. Her son’s lyricism is similarly introspective, couched in grimy beats that are soulful enough to play inside the church.

Throughout the album Kojey’s gruff vocals can become menacing or contemplative, wholly invested in each song’s narrative. On “Together” he unites P-Funk and R&B-esque keys, adapting a wavy flow amidst luxuriant female voices on the chorus singing, “get your shit together”. 

With features stacked everywhere, Kojey’s arrangement skill shines through the fact there’s no clutter. The likes of Cashh (“Born”), Ego Ella May (“Anywhere”) and Rexx Life Raj (“Solo”) were standout features, extending the tape’s sonic texture into afro-bashment, a ballad-paced duet and Trap-esque cadences. “Sometimes I’m not okay, and that’s okay,” Kojey Radical sings on “Solo”, sketching the album’s message of staying strong even when everything’s falling around you.  

Listen Reason to Smile’ here.