© Aniefiok Ekpoudom 2019, All Rights Reserved
Meet the crowd at Kojey Radical’s sold out show.
All images courtesy of Mabdulle.
This article originally appeared on SBTV.
It was a night they would not forget in a hurry. Nor did they want to. January 28th, 2016 they had gathered to see Kojey Radical bleed his heart at the Oslo in Hackney, an intimate 350 hundred capacity venue built into the skeleton of an abandoned train station ticket office. At around 7.30 in the evening, before the main event had teed off, before 808ink and Bobii Lewis had charmed the crowd, and before Lily Mercer had played soulful reggae in the intervals, scores braved bitter winter outside in the pub garden.
Among them was Kojey, who waded across a hectic main road and settled by a bench, for a second forgetting that he would be headlining his own show in less than an hour. He began hugging and chatting with friends and was a face full of smiles and laughs, fixing a helpless friend with a spare ticket, then photobombing a small group taking pictures. Then, for a moment, he was serious. “Ready to do this,” he said to nobody in particular, quietly. “Ready to work.”
“Very grounded guy,” says Harrison a few minutes later. Harrison was tall with skulking dreds and had worked with Kojey on his first project a few years back. He had traveled to tonight’s show with his friend Chris, who himself had traveled from the outskirts of Cambridge. “I think seeing people do what they actually like doing is fucking inspiring,” said Chris. “I don’t know him personally but you get that feeling that he’s doing what he wants to be doing.”
Many in attendance that night knew Kojey in some capacity, and many didn’t know him at all, but, knitted together like awkward blocks of Lego, they watched on, bristling and singing, as he poured his soul on stage. He talked about his father and then sang about his mother. That night, like always, he lived his truth, and in some cases his truth was also a truth of their own. And so, when in one segment he spoke of a bank account sometimes left in ruins from the costs of dream chasing, they applauded and screamed.
Because this was not just Kojey’s story, this was their own story, too. Many lives in the crowd echoed his own. The collective struggle of creatives attempting to crack glass ceilings and barge into industries that were perhaps not set up for them, making use of the internet and whatever tools at their behest, hoping to eventually change the lives of those around them and the culture they were helping to build.
“It’s dope to see him on stage, selling out Hackney where we’re from.” says Ayo, a poet himself. He’s standing with Suli Breaks and both are leaning on the guardrails by the buzzing main road. They have known Kojey since his college days, when he would borrow Suli’s camera to shoot his early videos and play them his early work.
“Whenever you see growth in anyone, it inspires you, it proves that anything is a possibility,” Suli says. He smiles like a proud uncle, and then thinks briefly about what he himself will take away from the night. “I think it’s a powerful component for any artist, to be unique to yourself,” he says before chuckling again. “Let me go home, write some shit, scrub out some shit and then rewrite some shit.”
Poets, writers, photographers, directors, DJ’s; Kojey had united them all under the Hackney winter night like he were the ‘King Beyond the Wall.’ From every industry they had come, stumbling across his work online or through a friend and then internalising their story as his own. “I swear down, Kojey is just having a mad effect on me,” says Sharon.
She works at the Southbank Centre and is sitting at a bench with her friend Rohan. “I can just resonate and identify with what he says. And he’s humble as well,” she says. “I’ve seen him at Covent Garden and he’s going to be doing stuff at Southbank Centre as well, so I’m just following him round wherever he goes in London…And he’s also very honest. Just honest. And not in an overbearing, overzealous way. We’ve been saying the whole time, ‘real recognise real.’ Everyone here recognises that he’s the realest.”
As a poet, Rohan draws motivation from Kojey’s journey, “It’s an inspiration to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about similar things and he’s done it, he’s just doing it. It’s amazing.”
“Bambu, that’s the first thing I came in to contact with Kojey. I was in America at the time and I was like ‘this is coming out of England? This is coming out of ends?!’ It’s art in its more pure form.”
That night Kojey lived his truth aggressively. “Can I speak to ’em?!” he growled at one point, beating his chest and prowling the stage. “Speaakkkkk!” came the return. Then, draped in all white, he raged against the machine and encouraged all to ignore the barriers and borders he described as the ‘towers of society.’
“Seeing him live, he puts it out there,” says Alpha. “We give it back, then he gives it back, and then we give it back and then it just becomes a climax. It’s very easy to join a wave but it’s another thing to make your own.” An hour earlier Alpha was huddled in the corner of the smoking area with a group of his friends. They run a live event called the ‘Why Not Network,’ and Kojey had performed at their most recent event. “He supports us, we support him and we believe in the same vision,” says Sereeta. “He’s just doing him and that’s the most important thing innit? Being yourself. That’s what you’ve got to embrace.”
Chuck, who sits in the middle of the group, and is lanky with a trimmed beard, agrees. Speaking about Kojey he says, “Being yourself is important. That’s what defines you, it’s something very unique when it comes to building that cluster and that following. We are going to spread the fact that he’s sick. His talent speaks for itself, but at the same time we’re speaking for him on the outside.”
For Kojey there would be other shows, in bigger venues with fiercer crowds, there would be plaques and albums and awards, but for him and the generation of young Britain in attendance, there would never be another night like that one. Stood sternly, his slim figure cast in dark blue blinking lights, he cracks a smile and grips the microphone. He has reached an interlude in new piece ‘Kwame Nkrumah.’ His live band clatter on behind him, gently coasting to the drop, before he speaks.
“They look at me like the winner now,” he thunders. “Because I had a dream and I chased it.”
Then shortly after, when the show was over and they had smiled for pictures, and laughed and smoked cigarettes and finished off their drinks, they made their way home; piling into cabs and cars, running for the train and climbing onto brightly lit double deckers. Ready to prepare for the next morning when they would wake up inspired and chase their dreams like Kojey had chased his.