A raw, poetic scholar in the purest form, Kojey Radical has teased his debut full-length LP like one would a soap opera cliff-hanger. Radical’s latest work reads like an exploration of the Black British experience in musical form.
Oscillating somewhere between socially conscious brainstorms and bravado-filled outbursts, Radical feels more musically liberated than ever before. Unshackled from genre-bound conformity, Radical laces his rap gems with elements of gospel, party rap and silk-woven R&B.
Radical isn’t on his lonesome here, either—the 29-year-old spitter assembles an array of welcome (and in some cases surprising) guests. Knucks, Wretch 32, Kelis, Shakka, Masego, Shaé Universe, Ego Ella May, Rexx Life Raj, Lex Amor, Tiana Major9 and Cashh; assume the role of co-pilots across Radical’s sprawling debut. With more cameos than a Marvel movie, the 15-track ensemble could’ve come across as bloated. Fortunately, Radical makes it work with his musical sorcery.
Let's be clear: there are no duds on ‘Reason To Smile’. The only detractor you can levy against the project is some tracks overshadow others. Despite this, the sequencing and structure on the album is nothing short of a creative spectacle. A favourite that comes to mind is the album closer, ‘Gangsta’. Produced by Ed Thomas, Jay Weathers, KZ and Swindle, Radical utilises golden jazz horns to build a triumphant tribute piece to his mother. Conversely, the second track, ‘Together’ sounds like a long-lost collaboration between Bootsy Collins and DJ Quik. The song oozes with the right kind of nostalgia, almost as if Radical is taking a trip around his parent's record collection.
In concept, ‘Nappy’ is a great track. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a little to be desired. With a racial think-piece attaching itself to the hook, it’s a rare eye-roll-inducing moment from Radical. – Leading single ‘Payback’ is the sibling to ‘Together’ in essence, bringing the funkiness to the album. This time, Radical taps frequent collaborator Knucks for assistance on ‘Payback’. Both MCs create a suave, 70s-inspired rap banger, armed with a rotating wheel of charisma and lyrical potency.
‘Fubu’ arguably embodies one of the project’s core themes – Black excellence. Borrowing its title from the 1990s, Black-owned streetwear brand of the same name, the track is a love letter to Black power and resilience. Nothing short of empowering.
‘Reason To Smile’ is well and truly an album from a renaissance man. From its diverse subset of themes to its genre-hopping, the album really feels like it was years in the making. Somehow the neo-soul-leaning cuts (‘Anywhere’) complement the heavier-set tracks (‘Pusher Man: BWI’) with genius levels of curation.
Words: Niall Smith
Dig This? Dig Deeper: Knucks, Wretch 32, Lex Amor
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