In collaboration with
- Words Shakeena Johnson
Renaissance man Kojey Radical on being a mentor for Dr. Martens' 'Tough As You' Campaign, his debut album, 'Reason to Smile' and the importance of Black British voices in music.
Since his musical debut back in 2014, Kojey Radical has been on the strongest path of attainment, earning himself the title of the UK’s leading rap renaissance man by reshaping the modern wave of Black music. Born Kwado Adu Genfi Amponsah of Hoxton, East London, the Ivor-Novello nominated artist has been his own creative director throughout his career; mastering the art of genre-warping, spoken word and rapper, one beat at a time.
After years of being a trailblazer in the spoken word world, he transitioned over to the music side of things, delivering four sublime EPs that explored his artistry in alternative rap and hip-hop. 2022 saw his most important release yet – his debut album titled ‘Reason To Smile’, a project dedicated to the many trials and tribulations in his life, offering fans personal insights into how he became the contemporary man he is today.
Unapologetically putting Blackness at the forefront of his sound, Radical has cemented himself as one of the key forces behind Black creativity in the music scene. Despite his many accolades, which include: premiering visuals in the Tate Britain, three MOBO nominations, and now being the face of Dr. Marten’s new campaign, he’s remained humble, letting his intoxicating talent speak for itself.
Joining the likes of Mahalia and Kelvyn Colt as mentors for Dr. Marten’s latest campaign ‘Tough As You’; the brand’s latest step into the future that is all about empowering progressive creatives and communities whilst shaping music culture sees Kojey and a host of other industry professionals embark on a new chapter of commitment, providing the next generation of artists development opportunities that will help support their creative visions. Providing twelve mentorship opportunities to the youth through funding and support, the mentors will collaboratively work one-to-one alongside the underrepresented artists, sharing their industry expertise to help increase creative opportunities as part of the initiative to support 12 projects over the next 12 months.
To give us more insight into the campaign, we sat down with Kojey to discuss life as a mentor, the release of his debut album ‘Reason to Smile’, the importance of Black British voices in music, and more.
Dr. Martens’ Tough As You campaign is all about pushing forward change in the industry by increasing access to new creative opportunities. How does it feel to be a part of Dr. Marten’s family and what are you looking forward to doing most in your role?
Naturally, it’s an honor to be able to have your presence or influence matter enough that you are able to work within your own community. The most teachable thing for me is learning from them as much as they learn from me. That’s what brings me enjoyment. Being a mentor in this campaign doesn’t feel like work because not only am I connected to this generation but I also understand what this generation is going through.
Your fellow mentees include German-Ghanaian rapper Serious Klein, French artist Luidji and Paris-born singer Claire Laffut. What’s the most exciting part about working alongside your industry peers who are just as passionate as you about making music more accessible for the next generation?
It’s a great opportunity for all of us to give back. Dr. Martens have picked a great selection of people to be a part of the campaign. You’ve got Kelvyn Colt, who has a lot of influence from Germany and a lot of kids look up to him for what he’s done thus far as an artist. Mahalia, who I’ve worked with, is such a gem to be around and I’m excited to see the support we provide be implemented. I also think there’s also definitely room for us all to link up outside of this and do more for the cultural footprint.
From your perspective, not just as a mentor but as a creative, what resources would you like to see provided for the underrepresented youth that will help push creative boundaries and development?
Obviously, the right answer to this question would be more computers, more desks, and so on and so forth but, I think it’s more about getting them continued support. That’s the number one resource that is needed. Providing things for them that don’t just feel like a tick off the box – it’s about actually being a part of these kids’ future jobs and them being about to connect with other people to get opportunities down the line.
You’re going to be mentoring two initiatives from the arts background in your hometown of Hoxton. East London has been the birthplace of independent innovative young Black artists in the world of Grime and Rap for the last 20 years. As a young Black creative that came up in the music scene, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was growth. When you’re born in the ends, sometimes you can feel stuck and the only thing you can think about is ‘how can I escape this?’. I grew up in Hoxton market, waking up to the sound of people setting up their market stalls in the early morning because they have to make their daily bread. If you treat it like that, it removes the fact that it’s special, it just becomes something that is necessary. If you know that you can do something you love forever, and never lose that passion for it, then you’ve cracked the DaVinci code.
Last month saw you release ‘Reason to Smile’ – your debut album that saw you explore a more refined version of you as a renaissance man. What was your biggest challenge making the album?
Fear, because easily, it’s the biggest part of any artist’s psyche, especially when it comes to releasing the album. It can prevent you from reaching your full potential and doing what you’re supposed to do. You have to believe in yourself because one of the hardest parts about being an artist is knowing that it’s very easy to make anything you want, you just have to tune into yourself and find what you need.
What was the main message behind the album?
Wanting to thank all the people who have gone through the same hard times as me and made it out alive. I wanted to make my mum smile and this album gave her a reason to – she worked very hard to make sure that her kids could have something of their own in this life.
You revealed some childhood anecdotes on the album through the art of genre-bending, clashing sounds of hip-hop, neo-soul, and jazz. What’s your secret to experimenting with your style and what keeps you balanced and most grounded when sharing the tale of music?
Not being shut down by anyone or allowing myself to stay in one corner and do what I’m told. I’m not afraid to explore, especially when it comes to making what you love. Superman might have never known he could fly if all he did was shoot lasers out his eyes, and that’s why you have to be open to opportunities and try new things, tap into your abilities for yourself and no one else. If I inspire one artist that then takes that and inspires another artist, that’s a win for me. That’s what keeps me grounded.
You collaborate with some of the UK’s top homegrown artists on ‘Reason To Smile’, including Tiana Major9, Shaé Universe, and Knucks, to sublimely showcase the Black British musical experience. Why was it a necessity for those voices to be on your debut album, given that diversity fosters creativity?
There’s multiple reasons, they’re not only friends to me but they’re family. I love and respect all of them for different reasons, but mainly it’s because I’m not afraid to be vulnerable in front of them. The other reason is that I simply can call up these artists and get them on my album. I can call up Cashh and say, ‘we’re going yard and then studio’, and it’s done, I can do that. I can start my album with the GRAMMY-nominated Tiana Major9, I can call up the award-winning Ego Ella May and have her lay down something sick for me. I can do that, that’s what I’m capable of. All the artists that I have on my album believe in me as much as I believe in myself, and that’s all that matters.
What’s next for you? What do you have coming up for 2022?
Festival season, of course, we’ve got quite a heavy festival season happening. I’m looking forward to that because I’m headlining a series of shows this year. I’m headlining this festival called Naked City, which I’ve been told is the bang bang, and I’m more than ready to hit the stage because I think it’s more about me putting on that show that people expect of me now.
I’ve missed performing. I think people, even audiences are still getting used to the idea of being back at shows, we’re all kind of banded our feet, but I think everybody’s now ready to get back to how things were.