Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
A deep, gravel-esque voice full of emotion that sometimes becomes a growl, beats inherent with a genuine rawness, and lyrics that will affect any open-minded listener? You’re right, it’s Kojey Radical.
Radical played his first headline show in 2016, and since then has come on in leaps and bounds, being nominated for two MOBO’s last November. In God’s Body follows on from 2016’s 23Winters, and 2014’s Dear Daisy: Opium. The 24-year-old Hoxton-bred artist sits on the area where spoken word meets rap. It’s a contentious area, and little can be done to define where one genre ends and the other begins. Some may argue rhymescheme, or tempo, or cadence, or even context. I’d argue it isn’t as clear cut as that. Radical’s latest release, his first full length album, In God’s Body, does more work to blur the lines between these two worlds. This may dishearten spoken-word or rap purists, but in the eyes of a music fan, Radical has created something truly grand.
On first listening, this album seems like a reflection of Kojey himself. It’s introspection, riffing on questions about youth, race, fame, emotion, and gentrification. The first track is Utopia, a track made up of sly guitar licks that find precedence in between the almost guttural rapping of Radical. The chorus is supplied by the falsetto vocals of Collard, the first collaboration of an album filled with collaborations.
The third track Mood features popular grime artist Ghetts. It is one of the more classic hip-hop songs from the album, but also displays the emblematic staccato kick drums and deep staggered bass. It’s one of the more aggressively self-promoting songs of the album, but while it displays the classic ‘big-up’ found in a lot of rap, there are intricate links drawn between this position of power Radical has made for himself, his identity as a black man, and the affect on his own emotional health. Radical raps:
Either way I’m here forever
In Gods Body I’m him
Baptised brown liquor
And wrapped in Brown skin
Peep the pigment, draped
In my new rags, speak
Your hands in air like
Critically he is mentioning, rather symbolically, the act of self-approval, materialism, the creation of both a implied and real-life fiction through his rap career, and, rather darkly, compares throwing your hands in the air in the throes of a gig’s ecstasy to those purportedly resisting arrest, “stop resisting”, which of course at this time is quite a poignant simile to invoke.
Throughout In God’s Body we are given reference to the fragility of a black man, or more specifically, Radical’s own fragility. In the fifth track Super Human, collaborator Obongjayar sings “I can’t save you and myself/ I’m no super human”. It’s possibly the saddest-sounding song on the album, a melancholic piano plays melodies as Radical sings. Suddenly, the music ends and we are subjected to a few seconds silence, and the the voice of Michaela Coel (The creator of award-winning comedy series Chewing Gum) is heard, reading a piece of spoken word poetry written by Radical himself.
Politics, love, manhood and sexuality I discovered like a blind lamb in the hands of a unfamiliar shepherd,
With coloured pigmentation you must accept that your historically pivotal leaders will more than likely be killed,
With darker pigmentation you become an example of exoticism under a western microscope
With these lines we question whether Radical is talking about himself, or about a universal black body. It is more than likely the latter, yet interesting that he mentions ‘manhood’ within the initial mix of discovered ideas. It’s short, but incredibly poignant, serving to give a little breathing space within the middle of the album. I spoke about the blurred lines between rap and poetry before, but this piece is certainly spoken word, but a more subdued and reticent kind than what mainstream spoken word aficionados or writers will endorse. I for one prefer it. It’s essentially prose. It is rare to see what could be called a rap album use such a caesura within the middle of the project, but it is something that breaks this album out of the conventional rap epithet. Alternative rap? Art rap? Poetic rap? It resists definition.
I guess we’d call any song after this the second half of the album, which a little more uptempo than previous tracks, but still harnesses the poignancy which his lyrical ability is able to bestow upon us. Radical once said “Because my writing process comes from poetry, I scrutinize my lyrics a little more… I’m sitting there going over that one lyric to make sure that it sits in my written discography. I want all my lyrics to be able to read like a book.” This definitely comes across, even in the more danceable numbers like Windows feat. Miloh Smith, Dynamite feat. Tamera Foster, Poté, or 700 Pennies feat. Shae, which feature electronic melodics, specifically in the workings of the latter track, whose chorus composition reminds me of the minimalist beatmaking of XXYYXX, or the production of the FKA Twigs’ music.
“Rapping a lot of the time just comes down to what rhymes next, and if you get too comfortable in that pattern you can start to lose the truth in what you’re writing, and the truth is the most important part.” states Radical. In God’s Body displays this conscious decision to, while using rap and the more classic elements of hip-hop, be able to notice their possible limitations and break away from them. This album displays characteristics from grime, hip-hop, trap, jazz, and minimalist electronica. It shows the work of a man who is not simply a rapper, he is an artist in the most broad sense, dabbling in music, writing, and visual art. I am of the opinion that it takes many voices to make a message, and Radical is doing this ever so poignantly.
The album ends on Dystopia: In God’s Body, a minute long piece of spoken word read ever so well again by Michaela Coel. It’s almost a summation of an album concerned with social, existential, and political identity, with Coel softly speaking:
I hope my outcries of political frustration once sounded like the final note in a symphony of tears
I hope my laments of affection are met with open hearts, and not scorn
i read comments from kings and queens who view me with admiration and i wonder if they know they are royalty
i wonder if they know they are speaking to a mere peasant with a pen
In these spoken word pieces I wondered if they were too real and emotional for Radical to speak himself, and so he sits somewhere quietly in the dark watching someone else read them for him, like some mythical director of a play never acknowledging his own work. Suddenly, right at the end, Kojey Radical takes over the speaking, as if he is in the process of finding the courage to preach out loud what it is so easy to write down.
Credit: Kojey Radical