The Hoxton rapper was speaking to NME from the London launch event for the prize yesterday (Wednesday July 27), where his acclaimed debut album ‘Reason To Smile‘ was named as one of the Albums Of The Year alongside records by the likes of Sam Fender, Self Esteem, Nova Twins, Harry Styles, Little Simz and more.
Before we started talking about music, we put it to the rapper in his mint green suit that he might well have been the best-dressed person at the launch.
“That’s a fact,” he replied. “I will not debate that, I will not argue that, that is a clean, clean fact! It’s minty! Shout out to my brother [legendary designer] Paul Smith! I’ve got a great relationship with him. We met up yesterday, he showed me some options, and we knocked it out of the park.”
The London star then told NME how he had ultimately been left humbled by the nomination.
“To be honest, people have seen me on camera before and found me to be quite boisterous and rambunctious,” he admitted. “Today I’m trembly, giggly and nervous. There’s a little thug tear that wants to drop every two seconds and I keep pushing it back in. Ultimately, I’m very grateful and very happy.
“It’s something that I’ve manifested since I was a teen, for a very long time. Fans of mine have always recognised that it’s going to be in my journey. To be here feels good and lets you know that all that walking wasn’t in vain. Taking the long road was worth it.”
Asked what it was about his album that made such a strong connection with music fans and landed him a place among the shortlisted records, he replied: “Consistency in caring about good music, and what’s going to bring UK hip-hop to the next level here – without having to leave, without having to go to America and do all that stuff. There are so many of us. I’ve got a lot of peers that care about the same thing. Just to be able to represent that is incredible to me.”
He then explained how the lyrics and themes of the record really speak to the public experience of recent times.
“Life is a bit hard! It’s a bit difficult,” he said. “You can’t play the game on easy, bro. You’ve got to expert level and lose and get up then lose and get up. Eventually you’re going to beat that game.”
‘Reason To Smile’ is a record loaded with guests – featuring collaborations with the likes of Kelis, Knucks, Wretch 32, Shakka and Shaé Universe. The rapper told us that the ability to make a connection is essential when looking for a collaborator.
“[I’m looking for] people I can be honest with – not just honest in a sense of, ‘Oh, I like your verse’, but if we’re writing real music then I have to be unafraid to be vulnerable in front of you,” he said. “My features are with people who I can speak to, have a real conversation with, I can open up to and ultimately get the best music out of it.”
With celebrations ongoing for ‘Reason To Smile’, Kojey said that he was taking his time before going into the studio to work on his next album.
“I finish one piece of work then I’m immediately like ‘Next one, next one, next one!’ In the back of my mind with my past projects, I didn’t expect to be recognised for them,” he admitted. “Now I want to enjoy the work and make sure that whatever comes next is even better. I’ll be in my sophomore stage next and that’s the scary one that everyone hates. We’ll see how that goes.”
Watch our full interview above, where the rapper also tells us who he’s tipping to win the prize. The Mercury Prize will reveal the winner at a ceremony on September 8 at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith.
Kojey Radical will be heading out for a number of UK headline shows this winter. Visit here for tickets and more information.