Kojey Radical: Reason to Smile review – an era-defining Black British work

Hip-hop, neo-soul, jazz and rich storytelling work as one on the east London rapper’s long-awaited debut album

It has taken Kojey Radical almost a decade to release his debut album. His EPs, including 2019’s Cashmere Tears, have proved the east London’s musician’s ability to take on heady subjects such as depression and God. His socially minded, genre-warping approach has made him an unpredictable maverick in British hip-hop, known for his experimentation – perhaps due to his start in fashion and spoken-word.

Still, for someone who prefers the title of artist over rapper, he sure does spit with the bloodthirstiness of someone trying to out-bar his peers. Payback, which features an effortlessly sharp verse from rapper Knucks, feels like a winner’s anthem. “Dark on both sides. The dress code black,” he brags about his Blackness with the same pride as he raps about riches. “I made a mill before lunch,” he boasts on Pressure.

The softer moments are some of this album’s best. Born’s dancehall beat shimmers, while Silk, featuring Masego’s syrupy vocals, is nothing short of intoxicating. “I feel like silk. Smooth. Sexy. Handsome”: a pep talk for Black men to croon in the mirror. Reason to Smile brings to mind Ms Dynamite’s 2002 Mercury-winning A Little Deeper : era-defining works that blend hip-hop with neo-soul and jazz, and storytelling that paints the Black British experience with the finest of brushes.

Watch the video for Payback ft. Knucks by Kojey Radical.


Kadish Morris

The GuardianTramp

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