Keep your ears peeled. Kojey Radical is staking his claim as one of the most formidable emcees in the UK. His EP release 97:Pure is more of a double single that acts as a wake-up call to those sleeping on his gruffness. Sitting at the intersection of hip-hop, grime and spoken word Kojey is carving out his space and what a space it is.
With the wave of 90s nostalgia still prominent and pervasive, Kojey kicks off this release with an anthem the tagline of which is ‘I’m bout it bout it like it’s 1997’. The song is a meandering celebration that moves from Kojey’s brazen call that ‘all young kings get beheaded’ a veiled reference to the Basquiat piece ‘Most Kings’ all the way to his hushed self-representation in the first verse. The musical motif that acts as a backbone to the song is a high flute melody that Kojey matches in the hook before dropping his vocal tone deep and down for the verse.
‘Start by getting the facts straight’ is an opening line that feels so urgent and integral because as the flutes disappear from the verse section of the song suddenly you hear the grime. ‘Way way down down in a dark place I sunken/ Rat race, money chase I’m lost in’ – when Kojey spits this in his mahogany leather vocal tones you can hear a rapper coming into his own. For the second verse, we drop the drums and get intimate before building back up to the chorus and when we drop in ‘Just when you thought we were done’ we’re reminded of how versatile the song is. Moving from irresistible braggadocio to learned hard-knock wisdom, 97 proves that Kojey can produce a banger and still maintain his message. The song in his own words is about the loss of a close friend but positioned as a celebration, a song the two might listen to in heaven.
Moving slick over something like a classic hip hop beat, a subtle and sweet female vocal sample, Pure is an unadulterated 3 minute monologue. Here we can find Kojey in conversation with himself, switching vocal styles to make up for the lack of a chorus. His breakdown in the middle gives Kojey a chance to speak his manta. ‘Pure hearted will always prosper’. He turns his observant eye and sharp tongue over the industry in which he works, one that has rejected him and one that he has arrived in to overcome.
‘Be the first soul to test my conviction, who run it?
I’m only talking with who running the kingdom
Phone ringing guess they need me now, oh they see me now’
With his small vocal ticks, tiny little ‘hmms’ and ‘uhs’ between lines you can feel him leaning into his delivery and style, building a repertoire as an emcee, things that he can be known for. With all the space for his vocal to run loose, Kojey casually moves between flow patterns demonstrating a confidence on the mic that feels fresh and immovable.
‘I, pay the million dues before I saw the million views
I saw labels doing rounds on a million crews
That’s 360 them numbers just look shifty
That glitter don’t turn gold, them diamonds just look pretty
I ain’t impressed, I’ve got enough to be stressed over
Your wave micro I treat rappers like left-overs’
Summed up in these bars is something like Kojey’s central thesis. He doesn’t trust labels, he isn’t lured by fame and its trinkets and he’s a hard emcee to impress. Paired with the emotive and simple production, this is where we find Kojey at his most intimate and pressing. He ends the song placing advice from his peers notably Wretch 32 (Colour Purple) alongside advice from his mum:
‘Mama told me that I’m blessed boy they don’t deserve you’
With an album surely on the horizon, we have to hope we’ve done enough to elicit another release from one of the most promising and hard to categorize emcees in the UK since Roots Manuva. With his hands in visual culture and fashion, with his penchant for the conceptual told often through a multi-medium expression, whatever Kojey drops will stake a claim for his place.