It’s not his first EP or cohesive body of work, but 23 Winters is undoubtedly a statement of intent from 23 year-old wordsmith Kojey Radical. Much like Kate Tempest, he’s a poet that employs beats to reach a wider audience than base spoken word ever could in modern day. Recognition is in the works: he’s got the backing of Radio 6 and Radio 1 Xtra, and is poised for MOBO success.
The structure of 23 Winters isn’t a far cry from that of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, its 10 tracks bound together by bleeding themes and a running narrative. Conversations between Kojey and his father guide 23 Winters, with the topics covering their Ghanaian heritage, love and violence. His father’s words are often hard to make out, but carry warmth and make it clear that this is structured as an art piece, not a string of songs. Besides, Kojey calls his works ‘poems’, although they skirt around the rim of UK hip-hop when the pace quickens and his articulate flow becomes a rough growl. Militant drums rattle around the rat run of dead-end jobs and the crumbling façade of a social state in ‘Rent’s Due’, and ‘Open Hand’ is a venomous lash at profiling and prejudice:”Oh he must be urban if his cadence drops vowels lower than where his trousers sit.”
The duo of ‘Love’s Interlude’ & ‘Love’s Intervention’ exists in a space at the centre of 23 Winters, back in the familiar territory of his hazy lo-fi output before 2015. They’re pleasant in their sun-soaked vignette but too at odds with the anger and frustration that surrounds them, juxtaposing awkwardly rather than providing contrast, though there’s more success when ‘Selfish’ aims for similar ground. These three tracks function as a showcase of Kojey’s capacity for delicacy to newcomers, but it’s difficult for these forays into romantic subject matter to hold attention when his confrontations with injustice are so incendiary. ‘Bambu’ swirls in inky darkness, subverting a trap beat -the mainstay of current hip-hop instrumentation- as a platform for its message. Kojey wrestles with the hooks of several mainstream rap hits, contorting them to form a haunting vision of the exploitation that the black community suffers.
His words are sharp, and his beats are captivating. Really 23 Winters is more than just Kojey’s project; it’s a musical playground for a vanguard of Britain and mainland Europe’s finest up-and-coming producers to stand up and be counted. The strongest contributions come from Lupus Cain which break new ground by pushing tested beat patterns to the limits of their genres, these being ‘Bambu’ and ‘Kwame Nkrumah’, the latter of which is 23 Winters’ finest moment. Named after the leader that wrested Ghana its independence from British rule, it ebbs and flows between Kojey’s musings on a satellite of subjects that predicate his emerging position as a community leader, and a hook that hits as an epic hammer-blow of synths and drums.
Rough around the edges but coming out with fists raised, 23 Winters is a landmark in emerging UK talent and establishes Kojey Radical as a voice worth taking note of.
Listen to 23 Winters below.