- 23 Feb 23
On this day five years ago, Dublin rapper Kojaque injected a bold new energy into Irish hip-hop with the release of his lauded concept tape, Deli Daydreams – which would go on to earn a Choice Music Prize nomination for Album of the Year. To celebrate, we're revisiting a classic interview...
Originally published in Hot Press in 2018...
Experimentation is central to hip-hop. This aspect of the genre has recently brought several seriously talented artists into the spotlight on the Dublin music scene – including Kojaque, a self-declared product of the city, who has been independently creating his own content for the last number of years. Back in February, the Cabra rapper released his first project, Deli Daydreams, through his label, Soft Boy Records. It’s a body of work that depicts a week in the life of a deli worker, in the run-up to the annual Christmas party.
Juxtaposed with this seemingly mundane tale, Deli Daydreams is a smooth, soulful affair, featuring soft jazz-influenced beats that delicately accompany Kojaque’s natural Dublin accent, as he raps lines like: “Sorry Susan, though the offer is appealing/ I’ma pass up on a pill. I’m seeing babies on the ceiling”.
“I liked the humorous aspect of it – the fact that it isn’t very glamorous," he tells me. "It’s a bit grim, and it’s a bit grimy. I originally started off three of the songs which would have been 'Politicksis', 'Bubby’s Cream' and 'Love and Braggadocio'. Those tracks go back a long time – like two years ago, I’d say. I know that the hairnet reference in 'Braggadocio' was purely because I had long hair. There was no concept around it then. But I realised it would tie the rest of the tracks together, and made them less loose. So it led to writing the rest of the tracks, like 'Eviction Notice', and trying to add little things in.”
'Eviction Notice' was the last song completed, too. Calling on friend and fellow-record label owner Kean Kavanagh, they recorded the vocals on a microphone sandwiched between two wardrobe doors, with a duvet stuffed in the back of it.
“Probably a crap way to record audio!" Kojaque laughs. "I’d never thought to ask him to sing on anything. He got off work at five, and came round to my house, and he recorded it before he went off to his Christmas party – which is kind of apt in terms of the concept!”
It's clear Kojaque favours creating an overarching concept in his work, inspired by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and De La Sol.
“It encourages repeat listens – and there is stuff about artistry that is strategic," he notes. “With Deli, you start in the middle of the story, then you track back, then you track forward. And they’re tied in with the interludes. So it’ll make you listen back and hear new things each time. I do fully believe that there is artist intention – but once you release something to the world, it’s not yours anymore. So I don’t think you should ever worry too much about what the artist meant. Figure out your own meaning – that’s the fun of it anyway. So much art can just be so fucking elitist. And purposefully jarring. But I’m not too into that, not at the moment anyway. Maybe further down in my career.”
Regrading future plans, Kojaque reveals that he doesn’t want to stick solely to music. He’s delved into his love of video performance before, with his first release, 'Midnight Flower'. The accompanying video features Kojaque holding his breath underwater, spitting out lyrics and playing with props. The original video for 'Midnight Flower' was a huge hit online – and it even bagged him a gig in London right before his career took off in Ireland.
“I got this email from a French couple who had seen it on a French blog," he says. "And I think they assumed that I was this big, legitimate artist. They started inquiring about fees, and I was like 'Shit, they wanna pay me – this is unreal.' They paid for my flights and my friend’s flights who DJed for me, and gave us accommodation. I got £40 on the day. And my friend had never even DJed for me before that.”
There are a lot of names mentioned throughout our conversation – friends, siblings, and people who’ve helped him out by loaning audio equipment, or recording and mixing for Deli. Included among them are his fellow Soft Boy Records co-founders.
“It’s the three of us who started it – Kean Kavanagh, Steve Byrne and me," he explains. "We’ve indoctrinated a lot of different people along the way, but we all have our expertise in different areas – it very much is a collective effort. Everything is passed between the three of us, but we include our 'outside' friends too, so we don’t get too much tunnel vision.
“The label itself is starting to gain a lot of traction too out in public. It’s funny seeing people walking around wearing the merchandise. It was just something that we had wanted to do for ages. I don’t pay too much attention to social media if I can, in terms of numbers and all that shit. It freaks you out – and it’s not an accurate representation of life. You can also get bigheaded and down on yourself, if you’re pitting too much of your own self-worth on how many likes you get on a video. Anything like that is a recipe to destroy yourself. I kinda forget that the stuff is popular. So to see people walking around and wearing it... that’s odd.”
Does that popularity add more pressure?
“It’s nice to get reassurance. Though, I do think it’s a good idea to separate yourself from any work that you do. It’s just too easy to pit your value as a person on what you make. And if you end up making some stinkers, then you end up thinking you’re shit. In terms of your general mental health, it’s better to separate yourself from that. It’s also great that the Deli tracks have been received well, 'cos I like listening to them myself. It’s been a while since I’ve made some music that I’m really happy to sit down and listen to.
"I don’t think we’re ever taught to be proud of what we do," he continues. "Pride is not something that comes as easily to a lot of Irish people. I think collectively to be 'proud to be Irish' is something that we understand. But in terms of individual pride, self-esteem is low. It can be tough sometimes in Ireland. People are a bit unforgiving about where you’re from, or where you were born, or who you grew up with, or where you grew up."
‘White Noise’, a spoken-word track that opens Deli, delves into that dark side of Irish society:
“Sovereign state; they'd rather see my mother bleed out than build a clinic/ You leave abortions to the backstreets/ If we need it we’re gonna get it/ Fuck the handouts/ Give tax breaks to smarmy fuckers in the grey suits/ Leave me starving trying to find a source of income”
However, he reveals that he tries not to focus his music too intensely "on politics, because politics changes daily."
"My politics change – and so do yours and everyone else's," he says. "I think I have more artistic freedom if I’m not aligned with any one particular ideology. But that was a track I wanted to make. And I made it and I’m happy with it.”
To mark the anniversary of Deli Daydreams, Soft Boy Records have announced a limited edition coloured vinyl release, including a poster and lyric sheet insert.
They'll also be hosting a free event in Hen's Teeth, Dublin on April 22, for Record Store Day. Pick up your tickets here.
View this post on Instagram