Kojey Radical

Kojey Radical on Youth Music Awards 2023: 'The well of talent is endless'

The London artist on judging this year's Lyricist Award, the importance of storytelling and always being 'available to the opportunity'.

Sam Moore
  • By Sam Harteam Moore
  • 16 Oct 2023
  • min read

'I'm a little bit jealous, you know? I feel like if I'd had the Youth Music Awards to strive for when I was coming up, I think I would've done better!’ Kojey Radical laughs while telling M about the importance of celebrating young music creators. ‘I think it's a really exciting thing that's happening, and I'm happy that it's continued to grow so that people can continuously strive for it.'

Kojey is speaking to M ahead of the fourth annual Youth Music Awards, which will take place at Troxy in London on Wednesday (18 October). Run by the eponymous music charity, the awards seek to champion artists, entrepreneurs and grassroots leaders in the industry who have either directly benefited from the NextGen Fund or taken part in a Youth Music-funded project since January 2018.

This year’s awards have seen Youth Music enlist a host of esteemed guest judges, with the Mercury Prize-nominated Kojey sitting on the judging panel for the PRS for Music-sponsored Lyricist Award. Honouring ‘outstanding' lyrics in an original track by an artist or group involved in a Youth Music-funded project, Kojey says he was impressed by the wealth of talent he had to judge this year.

‘I feel like I'm quite switched on, but there were people I'd never heard of [entering their music] and that's so exciting,’ he says. ‘It reminds you that the well of talent is endless. I think if we can discover these gems early, then there's no telling what kind of potential they might have.'

This year’s category features three rising artists (pictured below) who all have a powerful lyrical story to tell. J4 is nominated for his track Little Bro, a hard-hitting work that explores facing up to the real consequences of your actions, while Qazi & Qazi’s song Forward was inspired by a documentary the duo watched about a recently orphaned child from a war-torn country. TL’s Time Will Tell rounds off the nominees, telling the moving and tragic story of the murder of one of his best friends.

Speaking about the impressive calibre of this year’s nominees, Kojey says: 'I think what's interesting about it is how vastly different they all are. It just goes to show that lyricism isn't necessarily always about how many syllables you can fit in a sentence, or how complicated a word you can conjure. It’s actually about how well you can communicate your emotion, your story, your intention and perspective. I think the nominees do that in their own way, and that was both the most exciting and hardest thing about judging this category. You want to pick your favourite, but then you have to be subjective and look exactly at what good songwriting is.'

While joking that the young age of the nominees made him ‘feel ancient’, Kojey adds of his own experience: ‘I think back to when I was 21, which is probably when I felt like I had the most to say. As a young person, you think that there aren’t many people willing to listen to you. You have all these thoughts and feelings that you bottle up, so you need to find an expressive medium for that to come out — and then it just pours out. The only thing that's shocking about [this year’s] nominees being so young is the maturity of the content.'

J4, Qazi & Qazi, TL

As an acclaimed lyricist himself, Kojey knows how integral storytelling can be to the art of songwriting. 'It's everything and nothing at the same time,’ he observes. ‘Sometimes you can pour your heart out into the most complicated verse ever, and the line that sticks with people is the simplest. I think it's about finding that balance of when to draw back and just say what you mean rather than perform or decorate what you mean. Just say it!'

With well over a decade of songwriting experience under his belt, the London artist’s creative process has understandably evolved over the years. 'I used to be a heavy writer: I'd sit in my house and write pages and pages of lyrics, hoping they would fit into whatever song I was making,’ Kojey tells M. ‘I then met more songwriters and lyricists, people who I respect, and there wasn't a pen, a paper or a phone in sight. Instead, you'd go into the booth and just speak. I took that very seriously. Obviously it's a skill to just be able to write from the top of your head, but I think it's less about that and more about developing the skill of telling your truth: walking in there and being honest with how you're feeling and what the song is going to convey. Finding that was probably the most difficult process, but one that I got comfortable with working on the last album.'

That record, 2022’s Reason To Smile, earmarked Kojey as one of UK hip hop’s top talents and, understandably, he’s keen to build on that momentum with his next project. 'I've recently spent some time away from music, getting in my acting bag in TV and comedy. But I'm over it now: I want to go back and make another album,’ he declares. ‘I feel like we've allowed too much to slip through the cracks and the balance needs to be restored, so I gotta go back to the studio and pull something together.'

While 2023 hasn’t seen much solo material from Kojey, he can look back on this year as one that featured dynamic collaborations with the likes of SHY FX, KAMILLE and Blanco. 'You’ve got to be available to the opportunity,’ he says about stepping into the studio with these artists. ‘I can't ever put my ego in place of the music, as music's always going to be bigger than me: same with the song and the art. So by showing up and actually trying to contribute to all of these moments in music, it's an opportunity. I've always lived with the understanding that you've got to grab these opportunities with both hands.'

Returning to this week’s Youth Music Awards, Kojey is hopeful that the young creators who will be celebrated at the ceremony will then be ‘allowed to grow’ organically after the event.

'I think it's about allowing young artists to grow and not making them feel like their success has to be [achieved] overnight,’ Kojey continues. ‘They can win this award today and maybe not win the next award for seven years. That’s not a reflection of the type of career they might have, it's a reflection of how long they’re given to develop. The more you allow someone to develop, the more poignant their work becomes. I want people to be able to [make] their own way and really become their best selves.'

You can find out more information about the Youth Music Awards 2023 by heading here.