As 2018 is coming to a end, music journalists and critics across the world will be whipping out their Spotify History to write up their ‘Top 10’ lists, pitting albums of the past twelve months against each other for a chance to claim the ‘Best Album of 2018’ gong. Irish music has been blessed this year, with a number of stand out releases from Irish artists spanning the length of the year. We’ve seen Delerentos release their fifth album, Rejjie Snow and Wyvern Lingo release their highly-anticipated debuts and the likes of Kodaline, Gavin James and The Script return to the spotlight. While each and every one of these releases are impressive, they are all set to be overshadowed by a project that took Irish music, and Irish rap, by storm upon its release. Kojaque’s ‘Deli Daydreams’ was the kick Irish music, and Irish hip-hop in particular, needed.
Kojaque, a Dublin-born rapper, first came to people’s attention in 2014 when he cropped up producing beats on SoundCloud. Since then, he’s released EP’s, singles, and projects, launched his own independent record label and crafted some of the most mesmerizing music videos Ireland has produced, including the brand new video for his latest track ‘Date Night’, which is a collaboration with Softboy Records labelmate Luka Palm. The University Express got an opportunity to sit down with Kojaque to discuss his musical beginnings, Softboy Records and influence Cork, and UCC, had on his newest project.
How important was music in your life when you were growing up?
I would have gotten a lot of music off sh*t that would be on my family computer. My older brothers would download and put them on to my USB or Ipod at the time. Yeah it was unreal. I’d listen to a lot indie rock, like the Mystery Jets, Chris Blair, and the likes.
When did hip hop start to become your genre of choice?
I think at about 15-16 I just started getting real into it and I started kind of exclusively listening to it. I started writing when I was like going on 16 but, like, the writing wasn’t substantial until I was like 19.
What did you listen to early, was it all Kanye West, 50 Cent?
I knew Kanye West from the hits and the stuff you’d hear in the club, but I didn’t listen to much of 50. I only started listening to 50 recently, he’s a really good rapper. But it would have been a lot of Odd Future,MF Doom, Biggie.
You started releasing instrumentals on Soundcloud in around 2014, how long were you learning to create music and to produce music before you started releasing it?
That stuff is me learning and putting out stuff simultaneously, so you know I’d make something and think ‘Well that sounds good, I better put it up online!’, I hadn’t a clue. I got a midi keyboard when I was like 17 maybe so I started kinda producing then and putting stuff out
You released your first rap song ‘Midnight Flower’ which came out a year later. You mentioned you’re embarrassed about rapping in a Dublin accent, why do you think that was?
I hadn’t really heard anyone rapping in a Dublin accent before, nothing mainstream anyway, it was all kind of underground. I guess I hadn’t heard anyone else do it, so I guess it was a lack of self confidence
The video for the track came out relatively soon after and it went viral, it garnered you a lot of attention, and a lot of press. What was it like being in the middle of that media snowstorm?
It was a little bit overwhelming. I guess there was a lot of articles written about it, but it was more about the fact that it was viral over the sensational aspect of what was going on in the video, rather than anyone trying to critically assess the art or the performance. So in one sense it was cool, but I don’t think anyone was paying attention to it for the right reasons or reasons that I would have liked them to pay attention. So you know, it was good and bad
Was that something that annoyed you at the time?
Well yeah, I mean you always want your art to be taken seriously. You want people to kind of put merit behind stuff, but I mean it’s hard to tread that line between something that’s interesting and what will be taken seriously.
What’s your songwriting process? Do you write a poem and fit it around the music or the instrumentals, or is it more cohesive?
It depends, I kind of take each song as they come, but the writing is inspired by stuff I’m listening to. Like if I was listening to something emotive or feels inspirational it’s almost like a competitive nature in me. I’m kind of like, ‘Okay, can I do that, how can I write that’ and start writing straight away. Rap is kind of interesting because it’s kind of like open verse, you can write and then put that over whatever instrumental you feel. And that’s interesting too because that’s the emotive part of it, so you can change the entire mood of a track depending on what instrumental you put beneath it.
Creating A Label: The ‘Softboy’ Story
So, you have you’re label ‘Soft Boy’. When did the idea of setting up a label first come about?
Probably around 2015. I set it up with my mate Kean [Kavanagh] and then another boy, Steve, got involved. We all have different aspects of the label that we take care of, I would tend to do more of the visual aspects of our output, Ste handles our merch and our web design, and Kean handles the administration stuff- he’s really good at that. And we all love music stuff, so the music comes in through us first, whether people send us demos, or we go out and try seek the music out and bring it back. And if it’s good and we like the people who make it, that’s usually how we decide who’s on the label.
Was it difficult making the label a reality?
We’ve never really had an idea on how a label is run or how it should be run. It was just the case of, ‘Listen, we have access to this open platform that we can put music up, it’s gonna be put up anyway so why not pretend we have a label?’. And then start to run it that way. So it’s always been that we kind of take it as it comes, and then it’s good cause you’re kind of learning on the job. So as things pick you up you kind of learn new sh*t and you learn what to do, what not to do. And you learn what works in terms of rolling out a project, who to work with and who not to work with; venues, vinyl’s and stuff like that.
What’s been the biggest difficulty you’ve faced so far?
Hm… I guess the management aspect of stuff is difficult. It’s a lot of work just getting back to the emails that come into your inbox all the time. And as things pick up, that work load just increases, and not only do you have to worry about your own musical output and your own art, you then have a roster of like nine other people all equally worried about their work and you have to try and give everybody equal attention, no favouritism or anything like that. Time management is a difficult one and staying on top of the workload. It’s hard work to make sh*t look easy. That’s been difficult
You’ve recently released your first project, ‘Deli Daydreams’, on Softboy, tell me a little bit about the songwriting process.
Yeah, the song process is…hmmm…well…yeah, I’ve tried to write songs in the moment, really just thinking about what’s happening as I’m writing it and kind of address songs individually. Then once they’re written and you kind of have them done, I tend to go back and re-listen to them and think about how they work contextually or how they work in a kind of body of work. So yeah, it’s kind of like jigsaw pieces and you’re trying to find the ones that fit.
Were you expecting the level of success or attention it received?
I don’t know if I was expecting it, but I was hoping for it you know? From the beginning, this has been something that I’ve wanted to be able to do full-time and the amount of care and attention that goes into making it work- I want to dedicate myself to that, and make money of it, of course. So yeah, I think that whole business model of the ‘tortured artist’, I think it’s a kind of romantic idea, but I think it’s really sh*t business model. So, it’s nice to be able to do what you love and get paid for it.
There are credits to Jar Jar Jr, and I know Gaptoof is on the label- both former and present UCC students. What are they like to work and collaborate with?
Two very elusive characters, difficult to get on a song. They can be difficult to get a beat off of but they are lovely, absolute gentlemen, they couldn’t be nicer and they make fu**ing beautiful music as well. I think they’re two kind of real purists in terms of their music, for them it’s the music first, so that’s probably why it can be difficult to get tracks off them sometimes because they’re perfectionists. But you know, that’s why they sound so good, so you can’t really fault them for that.
Just Keep Looking Forward
Are you looking forward to coming back to Cork on December 5th?
YES. Cork is a f**king amazing city. The people are so receptive to music, it’s a really good audience. You know sometimes you get an audience that are rowdy and don’t really give a fuck who’s onstage, they just want to get pissed with their mates. And the you get audiences that don’t engage and are difficult to get to engage, you know they kind of stand back with a firm upper lip and aren’t giving you much, but I feel that Cork is a lovely mix because people are super receptive and have a lot of respect for the music as well, so yeah I like to play there.
Final question, what’s next for Kojaque and Soft Boy?
It’s a very plentiful time for Soft Boy. We’ve got Luka Palm working on a project, Kean’s working on a project, Gaptoof’s working on a project, I’m working on new music. So, we’re just strategizing at this stage, thinking about our rollout for 2019, but there’s a lot of beautiful music to come. It’s a good time, Soft season is upon us!
Kojaque plays Cyprus Avenue on Wednesday 5th December. Tickets are sold out.