Kojaque talks standards, impressing himself and grand ambitions anchored around the release of his debut LP, Town’s Dead.
Town’s Dead. So proclaims the title of Dublin rapper Kojaque’s long awaited debut LP. Crucially though, the Cabra-born, now London-based, rhymesmith has always been more concerned with creating his own universes, rather than anything as parochial as mere towns – even if the parish in question happens to be his beloved home and the namesake of this venerable publication.
Kojaque elbowed his way into the public consciousness with the help of the (quite literally) breathtaking, subaquatic video that accompanied his debut single, Midnight Flower. The clip, a single unbroken shot of the rapper’s face submerged underwater for upwards of two and a half minutes, was posted with a particularly fitting warning/reminder: “Don’t try to do this at home, I had people on standby with me, it is by no means safe. Enjoy the music.” That is to say, as bracing, specific and solitary as Kojaque’s work can sometimes sound, it’s the people with him that make it what it is and you can be sure they are usually doing a whole lot more than simply ‘standing by’. Soft Boy – the label, collective, whatever else you want to call it, helmed by Kojaque and a coterie of longtime friends – have always seemed to operate out of a curious Dublin of their own creation. For the man himself, offering a glimpse of their universe is what music making has always been about. In fact, for Kojaque, his approach to songwriting has always echoed his other passion: film. “It’s the way that you create a world,” he explains. “For me, something is cinematic if you can close your eyes, listen to the words and you can see. You can feel these people…people that you feel like you know – to me, that’s cinematic and that is kind of what I was trying to do. [The music] is a film without pictures.”
“I like the idea of it being kind of a window into someone’s life,” Kojaque continues. “You get this brief snapshot of their life, but you don’t know what happens after the record stops. If you’re curious at the end of it, then that’s a job well done. I want to know more!? What happened these kids?”
By these standards, Town’s Dead is nothing short of a triumph. Detailing a fraught love triangle as it violently unravels across a single fateful New Year’s Eve, Town’s Dead isn’t the rapper’s first foray into the realm of extended narrative. In fact, Kojaque’s lauded debut EP Deli Daydreams ploughed a similar furrow, concerning itself with the life and innermost thoughts of a single deli-counter worker. Considering the allergic reaction the mere utterance of the words ‘concept’ and ‘album’ in too close a proximity can cause for a certain segment of the listening population – one must ask, is there less of a stigma surrounding the ‘concept album’ in hip hop?
“I feel like sometimes people view concept albums as a means to imbue their work with a more significant meaning than it has,” suggests Kojaque following a pause. “It’s like some smart clothes you put on your album because it’s not that deep in the first place. Or the concept is just kind of loose – it’s an afterthought – y’know? Fairly surface level. I don’t know – there are a couple of albums I’m just obsessed with. I fucking say it every interview: Ready To Die, Good Kid MAAD City even A Grand Don’t Come for Free, that sort of thing. I just love the idea of being able to play the record and [it being] just a little universe where you can escape from whatever kind of shit is going on. Especially now, I’m very glad that I made what I made because I know I want to escape from what’s going on and I think a lot of other people do too.”
“Especially now, I’m very glad that I made what I made because I know I want to escape from what’s going on and I think a lot of other people do too.”
The road to Town’s Dead was nothing if not circuitous. For Kojaque and his coterie of collaborators it was a gradual process of honing and refining over the course of nearly six years. As we discuss the connective narrative tissue that binds the record from song to song, the rapper is eager to point out that for every track on the record, there are countless off-cuts that could have been in its place, but “just didn’t really fit the right universe…the original concept I had in mind changed a lot when it actually came to recording, mixing and picking the songs that are going to go on, going to go off. It’s more process based. [The concept] reveals itself to you in the process of making it, rather than having a super clear-cut idea of what you want it to be in your mind and then just making that.”
It’s abundantly clear just how much this stuff means to the man. Even in a moment, and a genre, where a lone captivating single (or perhaps all the more pointedly, a captivating video to accompany said single) can establish an artist with the speed of a like/share, there is something intangibly appealing about the grand artistic statement that is an LP. Or is there? Kojaque explains: “I would love to be more of a single based artist. It would save a lot of headache, but it’s not really what interests me. There is a standard that I have set for myself that’s probably a bit unrealistic, really. But, that’s kind of what I enjoy – it’s that delayed gratification. At the end of the day, I’d be more happy having a gap between records and taking the time and really working on something so that in 10 years’ time when I go back, I’m like yeah it’s all killer no filler, don’t want to skip any of these, they all make sense, they’re all good. Rather than kind of like yeah, fuck it, put some singles out. If the singles do well, then they’re going on the album. If they don’t, they won’t. I mean, I have scratched a considerable itch with the album so I’m looking forward to just making some music because I enjoy making music. Rather than to serve a higher purpose or a larger body of work.”
With Town’s Dead in Kojaque’s rear view and creating for pleasure once again at the top of his itinerary, I wonder where public reaction really factors in as a motivator. Does he think he’d be doing this stuff anyway, even if nobody was paying any attention?
“I try and work for myself. I try and impress myself in terms of what I’m writing,” proffers Kojaque upon reflection. “I’ve gotten it to a level now where I know what I can do; I know I’m fucking good at music and know I’m good at rapping and I’m good at writing. For me, it’s just about the standard I hold myself up to.”
“The thing is, for a long time it was always about trying to impress other people or trying to search for other people’s validation,” he continues. “Then, just through working with myself, I saw [that] was kind of a fruitless labour. You’ve never really impressed enough people, or you’ve never impressed them enough. You can’t expect people to be falling all over you at all times. But fuck it, that’s another thing about hip hop that I like – I like the competitiveness. It’s almost like sport, y’know that way? So fuck it, if I’m going to be doing this, I’m the best to do it and I have to have that mentality, I kind of like that.”
“I’ve gotten it to a level now where I know what I can do; I know I’m fucking good at music and know I’m good at rapping and I’m good at writing. For me, it’s just about the standard I hold myself up to.”
A pinch of hip hop braggadocio is always welcome, no doubt. But it’s not lost on the Cabra man that a little can go a long way on these shores. “I get it, it’s not a typical thing in Irish culture to be like, fucking proud of yourself and to put yourself out there and stuff. I understand why, it’s a small place and if you stick your neck out, it’s easy for it to get chopped. But, y’know what, people aren’t going to be a fan of me if I’m not a fan of me. I like my shit and I’m real proud of what I’ve done. Fuck it, I’m just telling people. I get satisfaction from writing good songs. At the same time, I’m not doing this shit for it to sit on a shelf. I want people to listen to it. So, there is a paradox that exists there, I understand. Doing shit for yourself but wanting people to listen to it. But fuck it, man. I want to be big! I’m coming for Grammy! Let’s do it. It’s going to be me and Hozier smoking hash at the Grammys.”
Town’s Dead is released on June 25 on Soft Boy Records / Different Recordings
words: Danny Wilson
photos: Joshua Heavens Onabowu