For anyone with even a vague interest in Ireland’s music scene, the idea of Kojaque as “one to watch” might seem a little anachronistic at this point. The 26-year-old Dublin rapper and film-maker has been on the rise these past few years with his blazing, thoughtful work, released via Soft Boy Records, a label he co-founded with friend and fellow artist Kean Kavanagh.
Last month, Kojaque, real name Kevin Smith, released his impressive debut album, Town’s Dead. It finds him narrating the realities of love, sex, grief, masculinity, parties, poor mental health and working-class urban life – not least in a rapidly gentrifying city with a housing crisis. As per the searing title track: “You could try the house share, try rentin’/ Bit of money for the landlord’s pension/ Heads are gonna roll soon, no warning/ This town’s not dead it’s just dormant.”
Set on New Year’s Eve, the album ruminates on a love triangle and channels the frantic energy of Slowthai or Yeezus-era Kanye, delicious boom-bap, the Domino’s-referencing skits of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, MAAD City, velvety soul and even swirling, Auto-Tuned nods to trap. And yet it’s all Kojaque’s own, distinguished by that malleable Dublin voice and his typically wry insights. Town’s Dead crystallises something that’s been clear for a while: Kojaque’s time is now.