Kojey Radical Reason To Smile Asylum/Atlantic
For almost a decade, Kojey Radical has been a mainstay of the conscious UK rap scene for his socio-political musings from a perspective of a first generation British Ghanaian. Now, with the release of his much anticipated debut album, Reason to Smile, the multidisciplinary artist has space to explore difficult topics with the thoughtful flair he’s become known for.
He somewhat succeeds. Reason to Smile certainly explores the far-reaching vicissitudes of modern Black British life. His mother’s voice is weaved throughout the album (as well as featured on the cover artwork, alongside his partner and young son), offering a generous glimpse into the value he places on family. Single Gangsta, a celebration of Black strength, has mainstream appeal without losing Radical’s signature grit. On Nappy, he considers Black self-image and featurism over a lilting trap beat: “Maybe my hair is too nappy/ My lips too big.” The Knucks-assisted Payback forays into Roc Nation brunch capitalism (“until we multiply Black wealth, fuck a statue”) atop punchy, funk-laden production that calls back to N.E.R.D.’s early-00s heyday.
But while these observations are completely warranted, they’re presented as overused metaphors for valid concerns. For an artist so apt at pushing lyrical boundaries, you can’t help but feel Radical has the range to explore these avenues with a more dynamic approach. Still, on the whole, Reason to Smile largely accomplishes its agenda: a bold and progressive exploration of Blackness that circumvents the trope that commercial Black music can’t be complex and earnest.