By Una Connolly
Seeing Dublin-based rapper Kojaque (aka Kevin Smith) and golden-voiced Kean Kavanagh, who provides us with some beautiful soft soul singing on Kojaque’s records, perform in the packed basement of a pub, it certainly has the feel of just two mates from down the road hanging out. But it is palpable that this is the start of something more for the Dublin boys. Fusing rap, jazz samples, thought-provoking and bitingly poetic lyrics and ambitious, visually stunning accompanying videos, Kojaque has brought a new genre of hip-hop to Ireland. Stopping by in Newcastle on their UK/Ireland tour, which they describe as “delightful, despite a few fuck-ups”, Kevin and Kean chat to us about the increasing number of brown envelopes after the success of Kojaque’s album ‘Deli Daydreams’, making music in their ma’s gaff and the future of Irish hip hop.
So, there are a lot of things happening right now with you – a million streams on Spotify on your song ‘Eviction Notice’, YouTube Music is promoting you with billboards in LA… it all seems to be going pretty well?
Kojaque: Yeah, it’s all just brown envelopes. More or less paying a lot of people off in bribes… Nah, it’s going good. It’s class. We have our own label which is sick because it is all independent, meaning you have complete ownership and creative control and that’s really fun. It feels amazing to see our music be received well and I’m having a good time.
Your label ‘Soft Boy Records’ seems more than just a label, perhaps also a friendship collective – a little family of soft boys?
Kojaque: Haha, it is a family. A beautiful collection of artists. We managed to snatch up some amazing artists before anyone else found them. I think they are the best musicians in the world and I just love making music with them. It’s also sick when you have people on your label that are better than you at making music. You can learn from them. I have a competitive nature in me, I love when someone sends me some beats but then I always feel like I need to make something better after listening to them.
What’s the inspiration behind the name Soft Boy? It’s being interpreted as being a type of protest against toxic masculinity…
Kojaque: It’s just a funny name – it’s fucking gas. That’s it really on our part. Everyone else is going ‘Wow you are combating toxic masculinity!’ That is also good I guess, but the name just makes us giggle.
Kean: I think any grand statement we are trying to make is just the music itself as opposed to a wider agenda. A label has to have a name and this is a good name.
This is a good name! Talking about Ireland, how do you think living in Dublin has influenced your music? It feels like Dublin has its own distinct music scene.
Kojaque: It is distinct. The artistry is pretty unique. But I also don’t think there is a music infrastructure in Ireland. For us it was necessary to be DIY because there wasn’t anywhere else we could turn and ask for help. We had to learn from YouTube, look at other artists in other countries and then figure it out ourselves. For me, that DIY nature is the biggest influence.
Kean: Also, Dublin is obviously a small place so you are just bumping into the same people all the time. Hopefully that keeps you grounded. It also makes for a good music scene in terms of supporting each other, which is also the ethos we wanted to create with Soft Boy – artists helping each other and sharing their different talents.
For us it was necessary to be DIY because there wasn’t anywhere else we could turn and ask for help.
Yeah, I feel that you have been part of creating a culture where it is not necessary to leave Ireland anymore to make good music.
Kojaque: I mean it would be handier if it was easier to live in Dublin. At the moment it is difficult to live and do music full time. It would be great if the city wouldn’t cripple you financially. I don’t want to but I am still living at home, which is shit. There is an unbelievable bedrock of talent in Dublin that all have to live in their ma’s gaff – fuck off! So the only benefit I see to moving away would be an affordable cost of living, as opposed to moving away for something I need to make my music.
Kean: People are realising that you can make such good music with such limited means. The sign of a good album is not necessary the studio quality – we are past that now. As long as it is good music, you can distribute it on the internet and get it out there. You don’t have to be in one place anywhere in the world – you can be in your bedroom at home and end up making the album of the year.
Speaking of album of the year, what’s next for you? You just released a song and video called ‘Flu Shot’. Is there a new album coming?
Kojaque: I’m working on new material – a joint EP with Luka Palm and an album at the same time. I think I’d like to move away for a change of scenery and allow myself to live for a bit and experience new things to write about before starting to make music again,
Kean: In the words of Willy Wonka: “There is no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going…”
Kojaque plays the Pussy Parlure @ Glastonbury Festival, Sunday 30th June, 22:00. His latest single, ‘Flu Shot’, is available to buy, download and stream from all services.
Image Credits: Anthony O’Connor