To call Kojey Radical a creative polymath is somewhat of an understatement. The 27-year-old rapper not only dips and dives into a broad pool of musical genres within each project, but his approach to creating is multidisciplinary in all senses of the word. A poet, writer, visual artist, and all-round creative powerhouse, Radical is one of the brightest talents to come out of London in the last 10 years. Beginning his artistic journey as a fashion illustrator at London College of Fashion, Radical was discouraged by his tutors for wanting to interweave sound his practice. His music tackles sensitive subjects head-on, transforming personal demons into truly poetic bodies of work.
On Cashmere Tears, the artist’s latest full-length project released last September, Radical unpacked his own struggles with depression through an eclectic display of slow-burning hip-pop, punchy jazz and dazzling gospel. The visuals that have accompanied the album thus far have seen Radical sport a range of striking fashions, including vibrant shirting, innovative tailoring and a few pearl necklaces thrown in for good measure. Radical is deeply passionate about menswear, and after a successful slew of collaborations with the brand Chelsea Bravo, he is currently working on launching his own label.
With such an inherent passion for dress, Radical is the perfect fit for Flannels’ summer editorial. Starring alongside fellow British talent Cosima, Radical can be seen donning Prada anoraks, Vivienne Westwood twin-sets and full Gucci monogram looks. To mark the editorial’s release, we jumped on a Zoom call with the artistic shapeshifter to ask him a few questions:
1. Have you picked up any new hobbies during lockdown?
“In the beginning I was playing piano quite a bit, trying to learn it. Then I thought I still don’t know how to record myself, so then I started learning how to engineer my vocals and stuff. Then I kind of put the piano down and just went into recording myself which has been helpful because it’s helped me start the next project at home. I’m working on an album at the minute.”
2. We are in currently within an age where producing an album is not as popular as it used to be. Why do you still set out to produce full-length projects?
“I feel like I’ve always treated every project I’ve ever made with an album mentality, but I understand and recognise that the world in which the album is valued isn’t the same as it once was. So for me, it was never as important to put the kind of mantle of an album on any of those projects but I think I’ve reached a point in my life now where I want a finished book. I think an album will help me complete this book so I can move onto the next chapter.”
3. You’ve put out a new single during lockdown, “Same Boat”, featuring Mereba. What made her the perfect artist to feature for the track?
“Perspectives, I listened to a talk by an excellent writer called Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and she spoke about the dangers of a singular story, only seeing something from one perspective. I feel like blackness is something that’s very complicated and it can’t be seen from one perspective and I try and make sure within my music I try and show a different perspective from my part. But I know I still can’t tell the whole story.”
“This is a song where essentially I’m talking about my own life struggles and at the same time showing appreciation to all the strong black women in my life. I felt like it was important to have a strong black female voice on the project, well I call every song a project but on the song. The same way we did with Mahalia on “Water.” Just having these female presences. Like even Michaela Coel reading out a poem on “Super Human”, I just try and make sure there’s like an inclusive, empowering voice.”
4. Speaking of Michaela Coel, have you watched I May Destroy You yet?
“I have not started it yet because I heard about this project a little while ago. She hit me up for some music for it and we gave her a couple of tunes. She told me personally that she had written them into the story in a really kind of unique way. For me, it was just the biggest and best news because it’s all well and good getting your songs played in the background of a scene. But to have your song written into the story, I was like ‘okay I need to wait’, or just try as hard as I can to wait it out – even today I hit her up I said ‘I think I’ve waited enough, and she said there’s like nine episodes out and I said ‘perfect’. I wanted to wait so I can watch them all back to back to back and then I’m gonna do my big Michaela Coel appreciation post.”
“Again, it’s not even just about the fact that my song’s in it, there’s something deeply empowering about seeing a woman like Michaela Coel reach the heights that she has, like we essentially grew up in the same neighbourhood and didn’t even know… So even to see a black women rise to that level of success that’s come from the exact same neighbourhood that I came from, you have to just take your hat off to her and just bow down to the queen one time.”
5. You are constantly changing your musical style and are never tied to one genre, growing up which three artists do you think shaped your sound?
“That’s really tough… I think Andre 3000 would be one, Kano would be two, and Jamie T would be three.”
6. Why is it important for you to keep experimenting?
“Because I think I can liken each little pocket of my life to a particular sound or genre, whether it be hip-pop, jazz, soul, indie, rock, punk – whatever it was. I was one of those people who when I was in, I was all the way in. So getting into all those genres between the ages of like 14 to 21, that’s what kind of shapes your manhood. So if I’m now in a position as a music artist reciting stories about growing into an adult, growing into a man, the genres of music should reflect the times in which I felt those emotions.”
“So like “Kwame Nkrumah,” even though that song is about African independence and the independence of thought, mind, body, and soul – all of the above – the energy from that comes from a time when I was listening to a lot of punk, and just finding ways to marry what I understand my identity to be now. Even though firstly I identify as African, I do understand part of my heritage to be British and there are major cultural shifts that have happened in both spaces, in Africa and in England that have gone on to influence me. So I think it’s all about like not telling the singular story.”
7. I want to talk a bit about fashion. Where did your interest in menswear stem from?
“I think growing up as a kid I was always into performance and acting and things like that. But outside of that, I was an illustrator, I’ve got a bunch I’ve done in my room. But with illustration, even though I was thinking of these elaborate superheroes and people as a kid, I was super into like how what they wore defined them. As I got older and went on and studied at London College of Fashion, even that process studying fashion within the context of an education system actually prepared me for a music career.”
“Even though it had nothing to do with my course and they told me I was going to fail and that I should go and decide to do music instead of submitting artwork, I did it anyway and I got a first. But the practice of breaking down a brief, researching, going back over it, finding different creative elements, sticking it down and collaging it and building up a picture before everyone else gets to see it is how I approach my music. So fashion as an industry, as a subject, as a history has always kind of been an interest of mine.”
8. I want to touch more on your time at LCF, did any pieces of advice from your tutors particularly stick with you?
“Daniella was like my uni angel. My main tutors weren’t really feeling it and she was one of my lecturers that did not tell me no in the process of me deciding I was going to go and do music and include that with the art. All my other lecturers, and I’m not saying they were bad lecturers, they just didn’t believe in that side. So it’s less about one singular piece of advice but more concentrated appreciation for a new idea and not stifling it.
9. If you could swap your wardrobe with anyone else who would it be?
“Yohji Yamamoto. He believes in black in terms of colour palette. So as the designer, it’s not about you standing out, but almost like designing within your means to create something new around a practice. His wardrobe would bring me the least amount of stress, because I’d open it up and it would all be black. I could just pick up this and put that with that. At that point, it turns away from ‘I need to match this colour,’ and ‘this shade doesn’t perfectly match with this’. I’m now looking at silhouettes, I’m looking at shapes, I’m looking at concepts, do you get me? I’m looking at utility, so Yohji.
10. If you could only keep one thing from your own wardrobe what would it be?
“Nothing. Start again. I’m not attached to anything, Do you know what I mean? I think as much as I have a deep appreciation of fashion, I need to recognise these things are material and some things need to be destroyed for new things to be ushered in. So it could all go tomorrow and I wouldn’t give a flying…”