- 25 Jun 21
A ferocious debut from one of Ireland's best.
From the very first bar of his debut album proper, Kojaque’s message is clear: forget everything you think you know about Kojaque. ‘Heartbreak’ kicks off the Cabra rapper’s Town’s Dead by taking a sonic sledgehammer to everything he has been advertised as in his career thus far.
Gone are the delicately textured, silky smooth beats. Gone too is the laissez-faire delivery from 2018’s mixtape, Deli Daydreams. Abrasive, frenetic, urgent, and dare I say angry, the track finds Kojaque careening away from the melancholic and the satirical alike. He experiments with pitched-up vocals, making no apparent effort to please those who were fans of his mixtape – making no apology for his audaciousness either. In anyone else’s hands, this song could be a mess, but Kojaque keeps each element tightly reined, even as he lets himself run wild.
When the then-22 year old released Deli Daydreams, it was lauded for its piercing portrayal of gritty Dublin life, its humour, its conceptual world-building. And there are certainly Easter eggs and hints at a narrative thread throughout Town’s Dead – which charts a love triangle as it falls apart across a New Year's Eve – with brief interludes from characters that recur like they’re in a sitcom. They argue over who will have a gaff party on ‘New Year, Who’s This?’, and like Susan from The Office, Betty and her fella (who’s “got a gun”) get multiple mentions.
But Kojaque’s directionless deli worker character is a puppy dog compared to the Kojaque on Town’s Dead, and this album feels significantly more autobiographical than the 2018 concept tape. Though Deli Daydreams remains relevant and poignant, Kojaque has closed the gap between himself with his persona here. He raps as candidly about his personal life on ‘No Hands’ – the first time he’s written so directly about his father’s suicide – as he does drily about the Dublin housing crisis on the album’s title track.
The injustice of the housing crisis is something he rages against frequently, but nowhere is he more searingly critical than on ‘Town’s Dead’, which features a prominent post-punk sample of Girl Band’s ‘Going Norway’. The blending of these two genres seems obvious once you hear the track: it makes sense that hip-hop and post-punk, both born from counter culture, both having had their moment as Dublin’s definitive genre, would work well together.
Kojaque critiques the cultural wasteland he fears Dublin is becoming and the idea that his friends and other creatives are being unceremoniously ousted from the city (and the country) by an unsympathetic, classist government, spitting cautionary verses like, “You could try the house share, try renting/ bit of money for the landlord’s pension/ Heads are gonna roll soon, no warning/ My town’s not dead, it’s just dormant.”
On ‘Casio’, the sprawling, gospel-tinged penultimate track (with a gorgeous assist from Maverick Sabre), Kojaque begins, “Used to think that I couldn’t rap with an accent/ doing my best trying to mask it.” Reflecting on his beginnings, he seems to sum up his journey, as he sizes up the space between Kojaque the rapper and Kojaque the person.
Swaggering and ferocious, polished and direct, with Town’s Dead, Kojaque has cemented his position as the gatekeeper of Irish hip-hop. But there’s no telling where he’ll go next.