Review: Kojey Radical, ‘Reason to Smile’

On his debut album, Kojey Radical brings heart, spirit and ambitious blends to challenge traditions of UK hip hop.

Kojey Radical has been patiently waiting for his moment. Since the mid-2010s, singles and EPs have sprawled his career amongst signing to Asylum Records and opening up for Pusha T on tour. With alternative rap artists finally being embraced in the UK, there’s no better time to make a true introduction than now.

Reason to Smile puts the pieces in place to form high ceilings, establishing the intention to impress listeners with its musical ambition.

For the most part, Reason to Smile enters neo-rap territory. There’s jazz, soul and funk incorporated across the production. It’s therefore a familiar road in hip hop in general, but not within UK hip hop; revolutionary and necessary for the local bubble, and awfully familiar for listeners of the grander scheme. Despite this, Kojey works hard to curate the sound; you can’t knock his efforts to raise the bar.

Across the album, Kojey explores family, heritage, responsibility, and the celebration of life. He looks at the world through rose-tinted glass, translating the passion into his writing. The writing can be on the nose like on “Nappy”, or reach the right potential in moments like “Pusher Man”. The latter is where Reason to Smile feels the most momentous, striking you with pure assertion. It accepts the invitation to be the centrepiece, delivering until its jazzy second half which feels reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered.

The album’s peak arrives in the final four-track stretch, where Kojey Radical gets a firm grip on his hooks and ideas. “Beautiful” with Shakka and Wretch 32 strips the flavours back to superb effect, focused in its light production and making the most of each performance. “Anywhere” with Ego Ella May could’ve found itself on a Daniel Caesar album, while “Solo” creates vital purpose to Kojey’s words; this is where he finally bridges a personal connection with the listener.

The strong finish suggests Reason to Smile may be overproduced in its early stages (and Kojey’s hoarse voice can be an acquired taste), but it still circles back to intention. Kojey Radical knows what he wants to create, and the level he’s aspiring to reach is clear as day. There’s plenty reason to enjoy his music, and even more reason to want Kojey Radical to win.

7 / 10

Best tracks: “Beautiful”, “Gangsta”, “Solo”, “Pusher Man: BWI”, “Born”