Kojey Radical is always creating across a spectrum of media, from visual art to fashion, to spoken word and, of course, hip-hop. This cross-pollination has taught the 26-year-old Hoxton, UK native, born Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah, the importance of community, something he fights to promote throughout his lyrics and lifestyle.
“We’re making people understand that we’re all the same,” he tells me by phone. “That’s the importance of art.”
Though many UK rappers gravitate toward either the gritty stylings of grime and drill or smooth dancehall and afrobeat, Kojey’s broad perspective allows him to draw from a more extensive musical palette. Since his 2014 debut EP, Dear Daisy: Opium, Kojey has painted artistic portraits with soul, gospel, funk, and trap as he delivers heartfelt performances and conveys personal and socially conscious life lessons.
It’s been two years since Kojey’s last project. Bouts of depression and self-reservation left him without hope and hindered his creative process. Despite these personal hardships, the East Londoner’s most intimate and cohesive project to date, Cashmere Tears, is slated for a September 13 release.
In anticipation of its arrival, Kojey spoke with DJBooth about the record, the emotions he invested in the project, his community, and more. Lightly edited for content and clarity, the interview follows below.
DJBooth: Are you ready for the project release?
Kojey Radical: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s like being pregnant and knowing exactly the moment and hour that you’re going to have this baby. Hope this kid doesn’t grow up a screw-up.
The artwork for the album and its singles feature blank faces. What’s the significance of that in connection to the music?
I commissioned an artist from America, Shaina McCoy, to do the artwork. She managed to catch something in simplicity. As artists, we find ways to overcomplicate and add and add constantly. Looking at her work taught me the importance of taking away and understanding everything else to complete a picture. That’s what you have to do with my music: understand the whole image rather than looking for every single detail.
When you look at somebody’s face, that’s where you get all their emotion from. But in reality, you can look at someone, and they can tell you they’re fine. But the only person that knows how that person feels is that person.
I wanted to make a project that was still conceptual, but it’s a lot more personal. It was me telling people how I was feeling or what was going on. Not from speculation, you hear it from me. That’s why the project’s called Cashmere Tears. It’s about making feelings into a luxury rather than a weakness.
From confidence to depression, you rap about the range of emotions you’ve experienced over the past two years. How did you feed those feelings into Cashmere Tears?
Cashmere Tears had to feel like those two years right before the moment the depression came. When we were trying to create the flow of the project, we wanted people to start brazen, confident, full of life; how I felt when I was first getting into music. Nothing could touch me. Nothing could waver my confidence. But track by track, you get these things that slowly take you out of your element.
I remember on “Eleven,” I’m talking about my best friend [Harry Uzoka] being murdered. I’m not going into detail about the murder, because I can’t change that. But more so, what the stages of guilt taught me. What that experience taught me is that life is very fleeting. For all the time you think you have, you don’t. So you have to enjoy the time that you do have. I think losing my best friend in that way was [a reminder] it’s time to make that project now. For all the excuses that you’ve made or reservations that you’ve had, make the project that [Harry] would’ve wanted to hear.
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Man, that’s tough. As someone in his twenties, the theme of feeling invincible in young adulthood resonated with me.
The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years is how to deal with disappointment. That’s the invincibility card: “I can deal with disappointment.” Whatever comes, I’m gonna be able to get past it. That doesn’t mean I’m not gonna feel pain. It doesn’t mean I’m not gonna be hurt or confused or sad. But I’m gonna be able to do the next day and the next day after that.
Feelings are the most important thing. And sharing feelings is the next step, and listening and hearing and understanding and saying, “Well, you feel like this. I feel like this too.” And realizing there’s a commonality somewhere. You just gotta find it.
I think that was the coolest thing that I’d find at shows. People would tell me they met one of their best friends at a Kojey show. They didn’t know each other before, but now they’ve managed to find some commonality even though their worlds were completely different. That’s the importance of music. It’s one of the last things we have that will always bring people together.
Speaking of bringing people together, it sounds like recording the album was a blast.
We made the project in just over two weeks. We went to a place called Henley-on-Thames, to a studio called the Doghouse by a lake, and we just lived in it. With this project, I assembled my Megazord. I assembled all the people that I’ve worked with in the past that I felt understood what I would wanna do next—people like KZ, Kyu, Swindle.
Then I forgot how big their black book is. So if Swindle had an idea for a bass or horn line, best believe someone was coming the next day, making the hour drive to the middle of nowhere to come lay the bass line for “Can’t Go Back” or lay the guitar for “Hours.”
I remember the last day when we added all the horns. To see my music written out in musical notes somebody could read and then interpret and play, I was standing there like, “Wow, we’ve really done something.” Having moments like that and taking control of it is the most important thing.
Was the community vibe instrumental to the energy we hear on the record?
100%. It’s genuinely family. What you’re hearing is real people that have come together and want to make something that represents all of us. Everybody that’s worked on this project—whether it was a line, a note, a sound—is excited and proud to say they were involved. And when I say family, I mean my cousin Amaarae was one of the writers on “Sugar.” She’s from Ghana. She’s gonna be the biggest thing that ever happened in Africa. She came to Henley-on-Thames in the middle of England. Even on “Can’t Go Back,” one of my best friends from childhood raps a line on there.
Was focusing on family more important than your persona?
This project is British music. It’s not the music that you would hear typically from the UK, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s made with that energy of “let’s all do something sick and mad.” That’s the UK way. We know we’re a tiny little island, but we’ve managed to make this global impact. And it’s by encouraging difference. It’s by saying, ”What’s now is cool. But what’s next?” That’s why we ask the question at the end, “What do we do next?”
For me, I never saw this project as my album. I saw it as an extended project. This is ten records made in a period of time and encapsulates a moment and a vibe.
Why don’t you consider the project an album?
I didn’t come from music. I came from art. So for me, to make a body of work, it feels quite natural to make something that feels together and cohesive. It’s one big painting. Track one is starting at the top corner. By the time you make it down to number 10, you’re still looking at the same image. It’s just told you a story. It’s just taken you somewhere by the time you get to the end of it. So I see this project as a picture rather than a collection. It’s one image. So when I make the album, it’ll be a collection.