Kojey Radical Talks His Debut Album, The ‘Tough As You’ Initiative With Dr Martens & More!

Elle Evans

By Elle Evans

Elle Evans

9 Mar 2022

Standing as one of the UK’s most treasured artists is Kojey Radical. Born and raised in East London, the critically acclaimed prodigy over the years has become of the most exciting artists in Black British music. Reputable for his genre-bending, fearless, and innovative approach, it’s artists like Radical who reign it in for those who crave quality and admire the art behind the music. Carrying with him a number of reputable projects from ‘Cashmere Tears’, ’23Winters’, and ‘In Gods Body’, the London native has built a cult-like following and in turn collaborated with the likes of Goldlink, AJ Tracey, Mahalia, Knucks, Masego, and many more.

Alongside the release of his highly anticipated debut album ‘Reason To Smile’, Kojey also teamed up with Dr Martens for the ‘Tough As You’ initiative; a mentorship programme that pushes diversity and represents the underrepresented. Supporting two youth-led community projects in Hackney at RISE 365 and Hoxton Hall, he mentored an up and coming filmmaker Ade Femzo as well as five young producers helping to develop them as artists.

Mixtape Madness got the chance to catch up with Kojey Radical ahead of his album launch! Talking all things ‘Reason To Smile’, his partnership Dr Martens, as well as the books he’s been reading recently, and more. Tap in below to see what he had to say!

You have teamed up with Dr Martens for the ‘Tough As You’ initiative. What does it mean for you to be a part of something like this?

I like working with brands that have always shown me support and Dr Martens has always been one of those brands. Once the opportunity presented itself, I was going to say yes but one thing that tipped it over the edge was how much community work they were willing to do with me. That’s the tough part, giving back as well as looking back and figuring out what’s necessary instead of everything being about selfish gain.  

You’ve been working on a film project alongside mentoring five young producers – how have you been finding it?

The younger generation is always going to do what they want to do. The blessing is having respect and care enough about your opinion for your help to mean enough. Growing up and being a part of youth programmes was a massive help. Being able to work with two of the main ones that I grew up with it was important. There were producers, rappers, singers, and songwriters – it was amazing to see the range of talent that exists out there.

Diversity has been a huge topic and issue over the years in the creative realm. Aside of this initiative, what else do you think needs to be put in place to help underrepresented people break through?

Do you wait for the slave master to give you a chance or do you make for your own opportunities? That whole era of waiting around and hoping someone will let you through the door is dead now! Make your own door. You are never going to be satisfied with representation unless you represent yourself. When you put yourself in the position to be the representation or to oversee who is in charge of representing you, you change the game! It’s just about taking things into our own hands!

You’re debut album is coming out soon! How does it feel to say that? How are you feeling atm about the album dropping?

For me it’s just waiting for everybody to know, something that I already know. My album is amazing, and I’ve just got to wait for everyone else to hear it so I’m not the only one that knows that! I have been fortunate in my career whereby people have allowed me the time and space to make bodies of work, and I think this is one of my best work yet. I’m excited to what people think!

You’ve named the album ‘Reason To Smile’ – talk me through the meaning behind this name?

At that time in my life there was a lot going on. A lot of it was good, I was becoming a dad, my project was doing well, and I was about to start touring. So many things were working in my favour, but I couldn’t necessarily see or feel that. It’s like when somebody asks you “How are you?” and you say “I’m fine” without thinking, you haven’t actually processed if you are or not, but you’ve responded because you know how to. That’s what my life was becoming; an automatic response rather than taking time to consider how I am feeling or why. The whole album became the journey of figuring out those reasons to smile, what was important to me, and what path I was on. It’s a personal one but I think the title applies to everyone.

You just mentioned being a father. Has being a dad helped shape or change your outlook on music or how you create it?

It grounded me! For the most part, there isn’t many things that can change a young man’s perspective until he has to stop thinking selfishly and instead think for somebody else; essentially a new generation of himself. Fatherhood was one of those things that came along and knocked me for six a little bit. I wouldn’t change it! I forget how many other artists are dads! Studio conversations are a lot different instead of talking about random sh*t, you are sat talking about soft play with some of the country’s favourite rappers! *laughs* I’m enjoying it!

What was the main concept or message – if any – that you wanted to convey? How long has it taken for you to put this project together?  

Art is interpretation. For me to dictate what I want people to takeaway from it would defeat the reason why I made it in the first place. I made it for me and my personal journey! When people listen to it, I would like people to find their meaning. There was a project I made quite a while back called ’23Winters’ and it featured a lot of narration from my dad. One time I was in Australia touring and normally when I am done with a show I will wait and talk to every single person in the crowd. I spoke to this one guy, and he said that the project helped rekindle his relationship with his dad and that’s not something I could tell you I wanted to happen but I’m glad it did happen! I’m excited to hear how this project will sit with people in their day-to-day lives.

How long did it take to string together?

Longer than normal because of the pandemic! I couldn’t fit that many people in one room; I usually liking having everything and everyone I might need there in one room. Even if it means having a violin sitting on standby for three days because I might have an idea, whereas this time I couldn’t do that! It was fun though! We went to Oxford on a farm, and I had all my favourites come down. We’d sit around have dinner, watch Grand Designs as a family and talk about the state of music like a family! *laughs* The process of making this album was immense!

What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of putting this project together?

Dealing with anxiety! There’s a lot of pressure with something being your debut; wanting to make something quality and seeing your peers do so well consistently, you start applying unnecessary pressure to yourself. It was getting over those demons and learning to love the process!

Putting the music aside, what makes you happy? What do you like doing in your spare time?

Regular sh*t! Smoke weed, read books, skateboard, cook, and chat to gyal! *laughs* Regular stuff!

What kind of books do you like?

As of recently I have been listening to my books instead of reading them. One book I am listening to at the moment is called ‘Open Water’ – it’s a bit lovey dovey for me though, I’m a bit of a grinch! The book my Mark Manson’s ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck’ is pretty good! I love true crime documentaries; I start my day with them more than anyone should! *laughs*  If anyone is on the hunt for anybody, are getting stalked or harassed – I’m not a detective but I am definitely qualified just by my viewing pleasures.

What else can we expect to see from you this year?

I’ve got some cool stuff happening with BT Sports! I want to get more into voice acting and TV work! There is a lot on the horizon!

Keep up to date with all things Kojey Radical via his Instagram here. Listen to his debut album ‘Reason To Smile’ below.