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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 3 June, 2020

Everything you need to know about Kojaque, the Irish rapper on NME's list of essential artists for 2019

The 23-year-old rapper is making a name for himself abroad.

YESTERDAY AFTERNOON, BRITISH music mag NME released this year’s edition of The NME 100, listing off 100 new artists that they expect to do very big things in the coming year. 

There were a handful of Irish acts on the list, including Limerick trio Whenyoung (who have been described as The Cranberries doing indie pop), and Dublin’s dearly loved post-punk lads Fontaines D.C., as well as another up-and-coming Dublin band called The Murder Capital (who NME say sound like ten pints and a shouting match down the local). 

As well as all of those excellent bands, there’s also Kojaque, a young Irish artist who unexpectedly made his way onto the list. There’s no doubt that he has the talent to be on the list, but a decade ago, you’d find it hard to believe that Ireland would be exporting rap music to the UK and far, far beyond. Kojaque’s been on our radar for quite some time now, and he’s just going from strength to strength. 

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New merch out tomorrow, stay in school I guess? 🚨

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Kojaque (whose real name is Kevin Smith) hails from Cabra, but he’s heading stateside for SXSW in Texas this year. He’s been steadily building up his following since 2015, when he released the music video for his song Midnight Flower, in which he holds his breath under water for three minutes straight as he raps along and tries to swallow tablets, while growing increasingly uncomfortable due to oxygen deprivation. 

Along with this music video, Kojaque issued a warning that this isn’t something that should be imitated or recreated at home.

This is a performance piece, don’t try to do this at home. I had people on standby with me, it’s by no means safe. Enjoy the music. 

It might sound like a silly stunt if you haven’t seen the video yet, but the end result is pretty captivating. It’s hard to watch the video from beginning to end without forgetting to take a breath yourself. 

Source: KOJAQUE/YouTube

The video for Midnight Flower isn’t the only visual masterpiece Kojaque has given us over the years, which is unsurprising, considering that he graduated from DIT with a BA in Fine Art. In 2017, Smith’s graduate exhibition Love in Technicolour won the RHA School Graduate Studio Award.

This covered the cost of a year’s studio rent, as well as allowing the 23-year-old rapper and artist access to the RHA School courses and masterclasses and other professional artists. If we wanted to talk about Kojaque’s short film Love in Technicolour alone, we’d be here all day, so you can read a bit more about it here if you so wish.

As a result Kojaque’s latest music video for his tune Date Night with Luka Palm is also pretty mesmerising. 

Source: KOJAQUE/YouTube

But really, that could be said for every music video the Cabra native has released since Midnight Flower. And it’s not just the visuals that make Kojaque such an interesting artist, either.

On the 23rd of February 2018, Kojaque released his first album, entitled Deli Daydreams, which demonstrates this young man’s unique talent for storytelling. Over the course of eight songs, Kojaque chronicles a week in the life of a Deli worker, who, in his own words, “contemplates love, life and loneliness in the lead up to the annual work Christmas party. The project is a vignette of working life in Dublin, mundanity, madness and escapism.”

There’s recurring references and characters (like Susan from the office), which we see develop poignantly and humorously from track 1 to 8, over the course of about 25 minutes. 

While there’s plenty of evidence that Kojaque is a creative, competent and capable young artist on his own, what might be most interesting about him is how he fits in to Ireland’s wider music scene.

Kojaque runs a record label called Soft Boy Records alongside musician and singer-songwriter Kean Kavanagh and rapper Luka Palm (as well as a couple of other artists you might have seen on festival lineups in 2019, like Dublin producer and vocalist Wastefellow). Soft Boy isn’t just a name, but also a kind of characteristic spirit behind all of the work the artists on the label release. In a recent profile of Kojaque from Golden Plec, they wrote: 

A common thread throughout his music thus far is the fragility of modern masculinity (the label is called Soft Boy, after all). Escaping the trappings of ego, Smith says, has led him to imbue his character with discomfort over how men chose to pent up – and dangerously release – inner turmoil. He intends to use such conceits to escape his own identity, his own version of himself. 

When one of the lads from Soft Boy Records gets a stage, they all do. Kojaque was joined by Luka Palm and Kean Kavanagh at his Metropolis gig in autumn 2018, and when he took to the stage for his first headliner in Dublin’s Academy, he brought all the boys along too. Together, the young men made brilliant use of the reasonably small stage, utilising it as best they could with a deli counter for Kean Kavanagh to perform behind for the duration of Kojaque’s set and a deli worker’s costume for Kojaque himself.

There were even some stools for the pair of them to sit on and sip some red wine together when they slowed the set down with the song Eviction Notice, a tender song about longing and resignation that could not have been written by someone who was reluctant to embrace the soft side of masculinity.

Source: KOJAQUE/YouTube

On the modest stage of The Academy in Dublin, Kojaque, Kean Kavanagh and Luka Palm pulled out surprise after surprise for the audience at the sold out gig. From the stage design, to the onstage costume changes, to the introduction of brass instruments in their performance, they put on a very unique show. If that’s what they can do with The Academy, imagine what these lads will be able to do when they get the bigger stages that they deserve.

There’s no doubt that NME are correct in their prediction that Kojaque is one of the artists currently at the helm of “redefining Ireland’s music scene”, and if you can’t tell, we’re really excited to see what lies ahead for him. If you haven’t listened to Kojaque yet, it’s high time you started. 

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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