Mercury Prize 2022 nominee Kojey Radical on why ‘the UK makes the best black music in the world’

Kojey Radical is on a high after receiving a nod for his debut studio album Reason to Smile  (Handout)
Kojey Radical is on a high after receiving a nod for his debut studio album Reason to Smile (Handout)

Kojey Radical insists that the UK makes the best music in the world and that the diverse, recently announced Mercury Prize shortlist is not only testament to this, it’s crucial for the next generation of music makers.

The 29-year-old East London rapper – real name Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah – is on an absolute high after receiving a nod for his debut studio album Reason to Smile.

The coveted award is given to the best album released in the UK by a British or Irish act. Previous winners have included Dave, PJ Harvey and Arctic Monkeys.

Speaking to press including the Standard at the launch event in London, he said: “I personally feel like in terms of music in the UK – in terms of black music in the UK, hip-hop, alternative hip-hop, or whatever people want to call it, we make the best in the world. I believe that whole heartedly and will say that with my dying breath.

“It’s nice for it to be actively recognised and celebrated because that’s the only way that we’re going to get more from the next generation and get them to try harder and get them to do better because we can all actively complain about how everything sounds the same, but if you celebrate the same, you’re gonna get more of the same.

“You have to look elsewhere; you have to understand what’s really going on and where the inspiration lies.

“I have so many of my peers on this list and in general, on the album, around me that have been nominated in the past years that are great examples of exactly what I’m talking about.”

While he has his fingers crossed that he will be named the winner at a special live show at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith on September 8, he says he will also be rooting for the women who make up seven of this year’s 12 nominees.

Those women include the likes of Little Simz, Joy Crookes, Nova Twins, Gwenno and Self Esteem.

He explained: “I have had the pleasure of knowing a lot of the people nominated from when we was all really young. Like, I first met Little Simz when she was 12. Joy Crookes I remember I was in her music video right at the beginning of her career – the video’s not even on YouTube no more! But like, just being in Elephant and Castle running about with Joy just being kids getting up to no good, you know what I mean? To now be here and celebrating that together is amazing.

“[If I don’t win] I’d love to see one of the women win. I feel like that represents something really, really massive and a shift in what’s going on in UK music.”

Reflecting on making the album which critics have hailed as “era defining” and “on the verge on rap greatness,” Kojey admits he had to dig deep.

He said: “Even the process of writing the album there wasn’t a lot of writing. It was me going into the booth and speaking, feeling and saying and repeating until I got that emotion out.

“It was probably one of the most – even though I’d say all of the projects have been - honest. I try not to fabricate anything, but through the process of storytelling you create a gap between you and the story whereas through this it felt quite raw and when I was done I was like ‘people really know a lot about me now!’ But it has to be that way for it to be truly great music.”

Asked which song was the most challenging to create, he singled out Gangsta.

“What was interesting about Gangsta was it was originally a song I was writing about my relationship with my dad and I was really struggling to write that record.

“I think I must have slept on it and woke up the next day and I was like ‘ah!’ - instead of trying to write about that when it kind of existed, write about something that was consistent. That was the presence of my mother - the advice, the love, from the moment I came out of her.

“From that day it has been so consistent that the song just came, so the hardest part was actually realising I should write about what’s real, what is here right now and even writing about being a dad and all of those kind of things was something I’m still processing. Articulating them was hard because it makes it real, you know.”

Asked how his mum felt about being immortalised in the track, he laughed: “I think she made it her ring tone!”