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UD Low Down: Kojey Radical @ The Brixton Academy

Kojey Radical’s hometown headline show bought the Brixton Academy to its knees. Chris Kelly reports…

Photo: Jerusha Rose

For almost a decade now, Kojey Radical has been ascending to greatness before our eyes. Last Thursday evening (November 3rd), he showed us that his ascension had been consummated. Delivering the silkiness of performances that had the sold-out audience at Brixton Academy in the palm of his hands, there’s something special about watching the metamorphosis of an artist as they transcend from good to exceptional. It’s been a long road for Radical. Success has come over time; over the last nine years, he has worked to hone his artistry, each new release surpassing the previous one, to deliver a solid body of genre-blending work that is a documentation of his transformational journey. Kojey’s destination has been an inward one, which is always the longest and hardest journey of them all (or so the quote goes). 

Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah, better known as Kojey Radical, is a pansophical, multidisciplinary, mixed media artist who raps, sings and delivers spoken-word poetry. Incidentally, you can add the best-dressed man in the game to his repertoire; seriously, the guy can dress. Taking his stage name from a comic book protagonist he penned in secondary school, Kojey was born and raised in Hoxton, east London, the son of Ghanaian immigrant parents. The area greatly impacted him, growing up when creativity exploded with young creatives during the late 90s and early Y2K period. These were the days before it became gentrification ground zero. Rents were reasonable enough for creatives to call it home, and pie and mash shops met the bustling sounds of cheap markets stalls as the sound of garage beats blasted through tinny speakers. It was a breeding ground for the young guns of Britain’s creative industries across music, art and fashion. The sound of grime, a derivative from the jungle and garage scene, had started to detonate across the Hackney Borough. The local atmosphere was thick with creative potential and optimism. And for a young Kojey Radical growing up in the middle of this environment, it not only incubated those nascent years, but he has also become the very embodiment of creative powerhouse industries that flourished during that period. 

Photo: Jerusha Rose

Kojey connects the dots between music, creativity and fashion, whilst lyrically questioning and seeking answers around identity, race, religion, class and social justice. The honesty and vulnerability with which he tackles the dark corners of his own mental health and demon wrestling are depths rarely explored in the world of hip-hop. More famed for its egotistical grandstanding and misogynistic lyricism, a welcome refreshment, Amponsah documents his own healing whilst leaving a path lit for others to follow. 

Radical first hit the scene after graduating from the London College of Fashion with a degree in Fashion Illustration in 2014, with his debut EP, Dear Daisy: Opium, his distinctive voice immediately commanding the attention of fans and music critics. Over the next four years, Kojey dropped three more EP’s; 23Winters (2016), In God’s Body (2017) and Cashmere Tears (2019). During this period, he jumped on numerous features, including delivering on the considerable task of matching Ghetts ferocious intensity on the mic on the Shy FX-produced ‘Bad After We‘. He augmented perfection on the criminally underrated ‘Ground Control‘ track, a collaboration with singer-songwriter Collard, the standout track from his Unholy 2019 album. 

Radical’s three albums substantiate his passage as a man and newfound fatherhood. Filled with burning questions and the difficult pilgrimage to answers. There’s a lot to unpack with Amponsah through his vast lyrical pallet, set against an eclectic display of slow-burning hip-hop and neo-soul jazz infusions and gospel-glittered beats and instrumentals. His body of work ultimately emphasises healing, growth and ego death. 

Kojey has been nominated for three MOBOs and a Mercury Prize for his career to date but still is (yet) to walk away with a trophy. Most recently, his Mercury Prize nomination for his recent album output, Reason To Smile. Which was arguably the album of the year, clashed with fellow nominee Little Simz and her outstanding (also arguably the year’s best album) Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert, which took home the prize this year.

I saw Kojey perform for the first time at King Cross’s Lafayette earlier this year, where he gave a sexually charged performance that exuded Prince vibes from his pastel two-piece suit ensemble. I knew then this would be my first and last time seeing him at such close quarters. My silent sigh spoke volumes when the news hit that his much-anticipated headline show at the Roundhouse was cancelled due to the pandemic. With the postponement came a venue change, equally iconic in stature; The Brixton Academy.

Photo: Jerusha Rose

When gig night arrived, and the bright green lights of Brixton’s famous deco dome came into sight, you could feel the excitement vortexing the building. The security checks at the Academy are always a thorough but quick dalliance. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve stepped into this venue, I’m always struck by its size and atmosphere. Any musical act worth its salt has performed on its stage at some point; being billed is always a milestone moment of success and often the stepping point before the call of stadium arenas beckons. There are many things to love about the Academy; the legion of bars, toilet facilities and the sloping floor (especially that sloping floor). The marvellous decoration of the proscenium arch, based on the Rialto bridge in Venice, is a fab way to pass the time whilst you wait for acts to hit the stage. Grabbing a quick drink at the upstairs bar before heading downstairs, the conversation drifts to the usual chat of openers and special guests, but this isn’t a run-of-the-mill artist, and the topic of discussion soon drifts to what his attire will be? Heading down into the darkness of the auditorium, beastly in scale and filled with bodies swaying to warm up, act Sam Wise of hip-hop collective House of Pharaohs. 

British rapper Kojay Radical finally performs his long awaited performance at the Brixton Academy on Nov3rd, 2022. Photography: Ruby LDN

Kojey Radical soon takes to the stage in an immaculate white suit, minus a shirt, greeting the hometown crowd with a “How are we feeling?” It was a long-overdue interaction that most of the audience had waited for since the show was delayed. The intro to ‘Reason to Smile‘ bellows from the belly of the stage, setting the scene for the evening – every face in the building is beaming. Radical is joined on stage by his live band and two insanely mind-blowing backing singers, all dressed in matching black and red plaid matching outfits. During his track ‘Together‘, he addressed the crowd again.

“You like the suit? I tried. It’s a special occasion.” 

The crowd screams and Kojey jokingly rebuffs a marriage proposal from the front row. 

“I’ve been waiting to do this song.” 

The intro strings rain in the symphony of ‘Cashmere Tears‘, and Radical’s gruff vocals archetype the funktacular syncopated bass lines and steady infectious drum grooves. 

Photo: Charlie Sarsfield 
British rapper Kojay Radical finally performs his long awaited performance at the Brixton Academy on Nov3rd, 2022. Photography: Ruby LDN

When the potency of ‘If Only You Knew‘ dropped, and the throaty “If only you knew/I got flesh wounds bigger than you” rasped down the mic, it sounded like he was coming for every MC in the game. 

Touching on gentler moments, Kojey puts mental health centre stage when he speaks candidly about his anxieties and depression. Before heading into ‘Can’t Go Back’, he touchingly reminds anyone in the audience struggling with mental health issues that they aren’t alone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

There was a plethora of air guitars, pirouettes and energetic high kicks throughout the show, which achieved the difficult task of making the Brixton Academy stage look small. Kojey slipped on his best silks, slowed the mood, turned the lights down, and asked us to switch positions with his Prince oozing slow burner ‘Hours’, flexing full falsetto (voice, people, voice). 

Photo: Charlie Sarsfield 

The show was expertly paced, and a host of special guests joined Kojey onstage, including CashhChe LingoLex Armour and his close compadre Kwoil Black, who Kojey asked the crowd to support like they do him. When a nonchalant Knucks horizontally swagged onto the stage for the pair’s funk-laden collaboration ‘Payback‘, there was an outbreak of applause, and the audience recited verses word for word. We were reminded why no one says di*ckhead quite like Knucks

After a high-energy, expertly-paced performance that gave a sense of intimacy amongst the greatness of Brixton Academy, Radical closed the show with ‘Mama Was A Gangster‘, where he paused to announce his queen (mother) was in the audience. 

As the show ended, Amponsah commanded the room to get “low”, and the crowd was happy to follow commands; Kojey Radical (quite literally) brought the Brixton Academy to its knees with his headline show.

Words: Chris Kelly. Chris is a freelance music journalist and feature writer with a focus on emerging and established artists, subcultures, the art world and mental health. Chris has multifaceted expertise as a media and creative specialist working with your favourite brands and helping them to embed themselves within the culture through strategic and entertaining content for brands, businesses and organisations.   

Photography: Jerusha Rose, RUBY LDN & Charlie Sarsfield.

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