In Conversation With Kofi Stone – Music, Life and Working With Benjamin Zephaniah

Harvey Marwood

By Harvey Marwood

Harvey Marwood

21 Jun 2024

Kofi Stone has long offered an alternative away from the generic and routine genres within the UK scene. Presenting his fanbase with a temporary escape from the emotive hardships of life within society today through his introspective approach to music, the Birmingham-based rap artist and vocalist is no newcomer to the industry. Having arrived on the scene with “Stories In Pyjamas” in 2017, the talent now possesses more than 70 million streams on Spotify alone with more than 650,000 monthly listeners, and has collaborated and toured with the likes of Loyle Carner – he is a staple voice for those who may not have one otherwise.

A career spanning seven years with many more years as a creative under his belt, Kofi Stone is one of the most talented wordsmiths in the music industry, a real unique talent in a heavily saturated genre. With a string of impeccable recent releases, including a brilliant form of art in “May Sound Crazy” with Benjamin Zephaniah, we caught up with him to discuss all things life and music for Mixtape Madness.

First of all, I like to start my interviews by taking it back to the beginning. Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? 

So I was born in Walthamstow, London at Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone and then I moved to Birmingham when I was around five. Then I just grew up in Birmingham, that was my upbringing. I’ve done everything in Birmingham. I found my way back to London when I went to university and was kind of just chasing the music dream at the same time. Yeah man, so that was me, the upbringing was kind of humble.

And how has growing up in Birmingham influenced your career to date? 

I think it gives you that sort of underdog spirit. Growing up in Birmingham, especially being in music, something that’s kind of more London-centric, being from outside of London gives you that edge, that sort of underdog spirit that you’ve got to kind of come through and show what you’re about a bit more. You get that from Birmingham.

When did you decide to start making music as a form of expression? 

I started when I was young actually, probably at the end of primary school – so like year six at ten or eleven? That’s when I first got inspired to write, and I was writing poetry at that time. My granddad was a poet and I wanted to emulate what he did. I just found it so intriguing and so interesting. I remember hearing a song, that was the moment that just made me want to rap in year six. From then I just tried to put the two together – I tried to rap my poems, which was cool. Yeah, they weren’t great, but you know, humble beginnings.

We’ve seen a string of releases from you now potentially leading up to a project. Every single one has been so powerful and carefully crafted that I can’t help but ask to go into more detail about them.

To start with, “May Sound Crazy” with Benjamin Zephaniah. How was it working with someone as iconic and legendary as him, rest in peace. 

Yeah, man. Zephaniah, Benjamin Zepahaniah. I’ve got no words for him, man. He’s an incredible man, you know. Even down to the fact that we were able to do it in the time frame; we were able to do it because he was essentially dying at the time that he starred in the video – he wasn’t well. But, he was so adamant for him to be in it. That for me gave me the feeling of, it’s almost as though it was meant to happen, you know.

It was really upsetting to hear of his death. I got to know him in the last year before that and we sort of wanted to do something. My manager and I spoke about it and reached out to him, and he was so down to do it. And yeah, so that kind of came about over the course of the last year. We met up, and we went to one of… he was narrating a Peaky Blinders ballet, which was really interesting and I was his plus one. Then, that evening we went to record his section of May Sound Crazy.

That song is an ode to Brum. It’s just about my upbringing in Brum and there was no one better to have on that record – he means so much to Britain and the world.

He had a lot to say – if you go back to it, he was saying what we’re doing. One of the lines is, we came to raise your consciousness. That’s really important in today’s times, you know?

Your single after that was what made me step back and think, yeah I’d love to interview Kofi. “Black Joy” – what a masterpiece. The visuals, lyrics, nostalgic sampling – everything about this track was so great. How did this come about? 

That came about when my man Joyce sent me the instrumental in mid to late 2020, around when we went into lockdown. I heard it and I thought, this is amazing – I really want to do something with this. It didn’t connect straight away. I had some other stuff that I’d written over it and I was like, yeah, this is nice. This feels nice. It feels regular – I hadn’t got a message across yet though.

Fast forward, maybe three years, I was able to get the first verse of Black Joy. It started taking shape and I was like, you know what, this means something. As I wrote the first verse, I kind of was like, okay, this is heading in the direction of something that feels like a celebration. When I’d finished the track, exactly what I intended sort of was encapsulated, I think. Celebrate joy, to celebrate the good things, and to show the black experience in Britain. I just feel like sometimes, you know, myself growing up, I was shown some of the images I was shown growing up weren’t positive. So I feel like it’s important that we have some positive images because that’s the most important thing in life. When I say an important thing, I think I say that’s like important for people because people, what they see is how they figure the decision they make on people, you know. The media is really powerful in that sense – I think it’s important that I do my job in painting pictures that allow people to see the good side. 

I was just going to say, the visuals as well, speaking of powerful, the visuals are powerful alone. Were the visuals your idea? Did you have your say in directing them?

Yeah, so that one was basically my idea. Along with my manager Sena, we sort of sat together and we planned what I wanted to say and we wrote it down. Initially, we had another video and it didn’t come out how we wanted it to, which is quite a bit of a shame. And we were kind of like, oh man, we spent all this money trying to do this video and we can’t use it. So we thought we were pressed for time and I just was like, you know what? I’m gonna just sit down, give me a day. I’m going to come up with this idea of what I want it to be. I want it to be joyful. I want it to be fun. I want it to be intelligent. I want it to have a deeper meaning. So if you look in the video, if you look at the video, there’s like certain things in there that are, that have like a deeper meaning behind the imagery.

I think that one of the things that stands out for me is that your music has always offered a window of introspection into different aspects of societal issues. 

Do you see yourself as a voice for those who may not have one otherwise as such, and is it your thought process to be introspective when stepping into the studio? 

I would like to take that on. I definitely would like to take that responsibility on. I would, I’d leave that up to the people though to decide. I try to channel my emotions and things I’ve seen and speak about, you know, the world and what’s happening in the world. I’m always conscious of what I’m saying and what this might mean to someone and my vulnerability, I know that there’s not much of that. So I know that if there’s not much of it, then people might not feel like they can be vulnerable, you know? So I know that my contribution means something. So that’s always on my mind when I’m going into the studio or when I’m writing before that. That’s one of the most important things about being introspective for me – speaking about issues that aren’t always spoken about and telling people’s story, telling my own story and yeah, letting that be positive, so that’s some positivity man.

Your discography to date is so advanced and you have a wide range of tracks. “Nobody Cares Till Everybody Does” is one of my favourite projects to have come out of the UK personally. That was released five years ago – what’s changed for you during the five years that have passed?  

Yeah, I think that over the last five years… well, before I dropped Nobody Cares Till Everybody Does”, I wasn’t doing this full-time. I was working in a retail shop in Brum, a vintage retail shop. Now I’m on full-time, praise God. But yeah, I’ve been able to sort of understand who I am a bit more. I think there’s been a lot of growth in who I am as a man, and as a person in this world. I think there’s been a lot of growth. My faith has grown, my faith in God has grown. I look at things from a different, a different angle. yeah, it’s just, you know, you’ve got to grow with the punches and yeah, definitely become the best version of yourself as you grow older.

Your brand new single “You’ll Be Okay” dropped yesterday. I love it so much. Can you chat with me a little bit about the creative process for it and the reaction you have received so far?

Yeah, man – “You’ll Be OK. That’s been an interesting one. I had the music for a while and I kind of sat thinking through lockdown, I had that music and I am maybe within the past year. I was quite low that particular day that I was writing it and was reflecting on some of the things that have happened to me, and then I thought, I need to put this in the music. I think I just wrote it in one sitting – I thought this emotion I’m feeling right now needs to be captured. So, I captured my feelings at that moment but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you can’t, you know, make the transition. You can’t sort of transfer that energy into music. In that time I was able to do it and… yeah, the response has been nice, man. It feels like people are really connecting with it. For the people, it might be interesting because you know there’s a bit of range there I’d say – to go softer because some of the other singles were quite a bit more intense, a bit more energy infused.

It seems as if you’ve had some newfound super consistency of late. Can we expect a project soon perhaps or would you rather keep that under wraps for now? 

We have something coming, man – whether that be a project or an album. I think I’m most likely going to call it an album – I’m weird with that stuff. The first one I called a project because I’m unsigned, I’m independent – it feels strange calling things a studio album because of the way I’ve worked on it. You know, I haven’t been to the big studios. I’ve just done this at home, most of it. It’s just kind of quite raw, quite raw, the approach. So, yeah, something is coming.

What keeps you motivated on a day-to-day basis to keep on going, to make music and be a spokesperson? 

The state of the world, man. The state of the world and… People are important, I think. I care about people, I care about how people are perceived, and how people feel. I care about being there. If I can do that through the music, then that’s what sort of keeps me going, you know. I know that the music means something to someone out there. Whether I might be feeling down that day or I don’t feel like I’ve got the energy to do it. I know that it’s important I write because this means something to someone else. It’s almost bigger than me in some sense. My motivation is my family – looking after Mum, cause you know as a single Mum, she looked after me since I was young and she was there for me, she would do anything for me. I owe her that – to try and make this happen and give back, you know?

I like to close up all my interviews with like a philosophical question, which isn’t necessarily easy to answer, but it might intertwine with the previous question I asked you. What is the meaning of life for you and has it changed? You know, since Stories In Pyjamas” came out in 2017, has the meaning of life you hold shaped and changed over these seven years have passed?

Yeah, I think for me, God has always been at the centre of my life. It’s grown over time. So for me, it’s serving in terms of my faith. It’s serving. Being a positive example to humanity and helping your loved ones and generally spreading love amongst your circle, the people you’re around, and the people you come in contact with so that it does a 360.

I think that we sometimes forget the power we have in just simple conversation, the simple acts in life of holding the door for someone, saying thank you, complimenting someone, smiling at someone. I think that we sort of underestimate how powerful that can be in life as a whole, you know. Someone can do something to you and you can now feel a certain way that allows you to pass it on – it’s a knock-on effect. I think that that’s the most important thing to do and be – I’ve got this song called “Same Old” – it says “the cycle repeats” because life repeats, but it’s what you do when you’re here that makes the world, the cycle that you’re in, better.