The air of optimism around Kojey Radical these days translates on stage. Since Reason to Smile dropped last March, it’s provided him with plenty more reasons for smiling – none more so than his most recent BRITs nod – and throughout his performance on Friday night, his pearly whites were on display.
Early on in the set, Kojey made reference to the Best New Artist nomination, pinching himself at the official recognition, joking that it might even get taken away. While the internal disbelief at formal recognition is understandable, especially for an artist so outspoken and confrontational, it’s strange to think of Kojey in the conversation of emerging artists. There’s nothing overnight about his success. It’s easy to forget that Reason to Smile was his official debut album, given the rich, impressive catalogue already behind him.
Which is likely why Friday felt like such a celebration. It was the fruits of long labour and joyous as a result. There was, however, also an important undercurrent – part of BRITs week, the night was also benefiting the charity War Child.
This serious element felt fitting. Kojey Radical is a serious bloke who makes serious music and takes himself seriously. The smiling Kojey is a marked difference to the stern-faced man who asked, back in 2016, “Would you mind if I took a second to vent?”, knowing full well that his words were much more than impassioned vents and that they would be heard, regardless of permission being granted.
In a way, the subject matter that has shaped Kojey’s career makes the present sanguinity surprising. Conventional thought would suggest his political outrage as incompatible with the radiant, almost tranquil artist now on display. What’s arguably most impressive is that Kojey has maintained his honest, confrontational, shamelessly ambitious stance, while reaching this more transcendent realm. For one could not fault his commitment or intensity, even if the result is more palatable to mainstream sensibilities. It will be interesting to see where Kojey goes next and the reception that gets, but that’s conjecture and a question for another time.
In the present, there’s plenty to enjoy. The setlist was dominated by songs from Reason to Smile, although some old favourites were on display – ‘Water’, in particular, succeeded in getting the audience going early. From then on, Kojey’s energy was relentless. Having already covered every square inch of the XOYO stage, Kojey clambered over to a ledge in front of the DJ booth and rapped while almost standing atop the baying crowd. By that point shirtless – having shed a green suede duster, silk shirt and white mesh tank top during his set – it was a powerful sight.
The encore was inevitable. Barely had he finished the final song was the crowd asking for more. He told us, also back on 2016’s ‘Kwame Nkrumah’: “My delusions of grandeur are far bigger than your assumptions”. I’m not sure how far or high they stretch, but on nights like Friday, he’s surely beginning to recognise some.