Guess You Had To Grow Up Fast: Kojaque Interviewed

In conversation with the Irish trailblazer...

“It’s been mad, very mad but great!” 

Dublin rapper, creator and the visionary behind Soft Boy Records, Kojaque, is smiling as we sit down, getting ready to break down the trials and tribulations that came with the creation of his latest LP ‘Phantom Of The Afters’. He’s been on tour the past few days, hitting Cork, Galway and Kilkenny so far ahead of tonight’s homecoming in Vicar Street.

“It’s funny starting with the Irish leg of the tour first because an Irish crowd is the home crowd and it’s hard to compare to them but it’s been really fun,” he begins when asked how the new music is hitting. “You make the music for you first obviously but it’s a really bizarre feeling to try and explain when people are shouting back lyrics to a song that was released less than three weeks ago but it’s been really good.”

‘Phantom Of The Afters’ is Kojaque’s first album as an independent artist after severing ties with his previous label following the release of debut ‘Town’s Dead’. As well as being recorded and released independently, ‘Phantom Of The Afters’ is the least conceptual projects of his career, a far cry from his debut mixtape, 2018’s ‘Deli Daydreams’, which documented in detail the life of a deli worker in the capital.

“I think concept records were just an itch I had to scratch,” Kojaque admits, “especially with the first two records”.

“When it came to [‘Phantom Of The Afters’], I’d done a concept before and it wasn’t that I was trying to completely divorce myself from that idea but I’d done that before and it’s not fun if you aren’t challenging yourself to try new things and this time it was just about being concise. Often when you’re done recording you try to tie them all together in some way, because otherwise it’s just a collection of songs”.

“I’m still a big fan of the album format as an art piece,” he notes. “It’s like a novel so all the songs are chapters in your book – so if you’ve covered the same thing in two songs there’s no point in having both of them.”

Kojaque wrote 30 songs in total for the album, before cutting the tracklist down to the five crucial components that carried the narrative, adding only what felt like essential tracks from thereon out. By June the album was mastered and ready to go, but they had no artwork, press shots or video to accompany it.

At the same time, Kojaque was invited by Loyle Carner to support him on his tour of Australia and New Zealand, which left two and half weeks to get everything shot and ready when he returned, including his merch and vinyl run. “I was pretty scared about it because when you spend a year and a half on an album you don’t want to feel like the rollout is rushed,” he recalls of the time. “But I’ve got a really good team around me and while it did feel very fast I never felt like we were skipping steps for time”.

Limitations, however frustrating, can at times prove fruitful and so it came to be when he jumped off the plane and ran straight to a video shoot with his friend Biig Piig for their collaboration ‘WOOF’. “It was over summer, so between shows that’s the only time Jess had off, and it was the same the following week for Wiki because he was heading out on tour so we had to fly out to New York and get it all down as quickly as we could. My team knows how important visuals are to me and we managed to get matched up with some really good people to work with. It was a massive gamble but it worked out really well.”

One of the most striking videos of the set is for ‘Cabra Drive’, detailing the alienating effect of returning home after you’ve been away for so long. The video acted as his fan’s introduction to ‘Phantom Of The After’s protagonist Jackie Dandelion. The video jumps between footage of Kojaque, dressing in prosthetics which took almost three hours a day to apply, wandering the streets of his hometown, interacting with locals, being spotted out and about and traipsing across Dalymount Park, hometown of Bohemians F.C.

“It was really fun working with Conor Bradley, he’s a fantastic up-and-coming director and he’s got a very interesting style,” Kojaque smiles. “The idea behind the video is me coming back to Dublin and it having changed and then I’ve changed as well. It’s weird, you heard videos of actors talking about roles and they talk about how a specific set of shoes or a jacket helped them tap into the character and get into their mind, but once I had the make-up on and shit it really didn’t feel like me. It felt very easy to perform around there. You could get in your head about being spotted or recognised but I really didn’t care. I took about three or four taxis that day and not one of the drivers said anything about the make-up, I was just thinking ‘you do know this isn’t what I look like right’?”

The original concept for ‘Jackie Dandelion’ began as a reference to the Fontaines D.C. song ‘Jackie Down The Line’. Before long, Kojaque noticed that a few of the tracks he was writing started to mention Jackie rather than Kojaque, and from there the concept took flight, as he once again created a world for listeners to launch themselves into.

“The make-up is a lot of what the album is about,” he quickly adds. “Feeling othered in a place… moving from Dublin to London and people treating you like a country bumpkin even though I come from a capital city. I wanted to play off that big Irish ‘head-on-you’ caricature, or the English propaganda from the past of the Irish with big neanderthal heads, whilst also tapping into the Celtic tiger with the gold tooth. It’s that braggadocio, the façade.”

He continues: “The first half of the album is very braggadocious, turning up in a big city trying to make your mark but the turning point of the album is ‘Fat Ronaldo’, when that mask gets removed so that had another part to play of why I wanted to distort myself on the cover too”.

Compared to previous albums, ‘Phantom Of The Afters’ is also the Dubliner’s most collaborative project to date, featuring guests vocals from the aforementioned Wiki and Biig Piig, as well as Charlotte Dos Santos, Gotts Street Park and Irish up-and-coming songwriter Sammy Copley. It’s a sign of his growing confidence that he’s willing and able to have people come along for the journey, but it’s also been a very conscious decision to ensure he has the space to create a voice and a sound of his own. “You need to have a bit of a back catalogue to show people that you’re credible prove your credentials before you can start working with other people, especially when you’re independent,” he notes. “Most artists fuck with that ethos. They like having to songs to listen back on rather than just being attracted to the hype.”

Now that the album is out in the world, it’s all about creating a captivating live show to accompany it, something Kojaque is keenly aware of. “It’s a night at the opera,” he smiles, his broad grin beaming as he adds: “I like the idea of having to commit to this thing, to the opera, regardless of how it sells. We’ve got some dates on this tour that have sold like 20 tickets and others that are sold out at 800 but it’s the same show every time. It’s the spectacle. That’s what putting on a show is. It’s not just about speaking the words and thanking the audience. It’s part and parcel of the whole touring life. We’re putting on an opera”.

Later that night, Kojaque delivers the goods to a rapturous Vicar Street. Later in the week, video emerges of his hiding behind a door for forty minutes, in full Dandelion get-up, as the crowds flocked in to watch. When the night kicked off, he appeared, as though by magic, rapping unnervingly like an animatronic. More proof, if ever needed, that he’s a performer at heart, and with the success that’s following ‘Phantom Of The Afters’, he’s raising his game with every step.

‘Phantom Of The Afters’ is out now. Catch Kojaque at Islington Assembly Hall, London on December 1st.

Words: Cailean Coffey
Photography: Rich Gilligan // @richgilligan

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