If what’s transpired over this past week (and really this past year) proves anything, it is that we as people can no longer rely on our social institutions and infrastructure to provide us with a ready-made platform for self expression; and as a tangible reflection of this reality, the frontiers of artistry have found foundation in places we’ve never seen before. I believe that few artists embody this reality with more clarity than Kojey Radical. With the release of “GALLONS” just 23 days ago, Kojey pens a strong social commentary regarding class and race in the only fashion I know him to—in an unabashedly human voice.
To give some context, I originally intended only to write a spotlight on “GALLONS,” but the manner in which Kojey presents his unique panaché in this video has inspired me to explore a particular motif of his artistry in a broader setting.
When I discovered Kojey’s music two summers ago, what struck me most thoroughly was extent to which his vocal delivery and atmospheric composition remained in-phase with the emotional pulse of his lyrics. I will still attest that “Flaws: A Lament to a Rose” is one of the most harrowing explorations of the interplay between social stigma, insecurity, and trauma within the context of romance that I’ve ever heard. How is Kojey Radical able to consistently deliver this degree of emotional resonance? I posit that the answer lies within the exact synchronicity of motion which embodies his trademark sound.
This idea is especially apparent in the artistic direction and cinematography of “BAMBU”. Virtually every single cut and choreographed motion in the production is synchronized to the hardest hits of the beat, which instantiates an interaction on the listener’s end between three senses concurrently. At the moment of these transitions, your ears will be activated by the hits themselves, your eyes will “see” the hit in the form of a smash cut or a dramatic artifact of choreography, and you will feel this “omniscient” hit in your body (assuming you’re listening through a proper set of speakers). This stratagem of artistic direction pulls me into the song in a way few others can; embodying fully bodied, multifaceted experience. There is a keystone moment around the 2:00 mark of “BAMBU” that showcases this concept swimmingly.
The shot is a ~20 second oner (or one-take) which is stationary on every axis except the X. The horizontal pan shows Kojey, emblazoned in jet-black body paint and attire, moving along a London neighborhood rooftop in an erratic but fluid fashion, as if one was watching a pinball ricochet it’s way down a narrow corridor. This motion is overlaid on the repeated lyric “I ain’t really worried bout nothin’” with, in my opinion, the intention of making a very real statement about the emotional futility of denial when faced with, in this context, ever-mounting social turmoil. This shot succeeds so beautifully because it makes it’s point both in abstract, esoteric facets, and relatable, powerful imagery.
So let’s now pivot to my original inspiration for penning this piece, “GALLONS.”
What sets this track apart from others in my mind is how thoroughly Kojey is able to implement his multi-faceted creative direction in tackling a fairly complex emotional archetype—the interplay of anger, dismay, and solidarity. The main melodic synth of the work is bathed in frequent and wide crescendo. In the verses, this melodic element is prompted by a snare or kick hit, crescendos, and is hard cut by another snare or kick hit. This creates a soundscape that brings the ears to perceive an abstract representation of a repeated sequence. There is incident (the first hit), gradient transition of dismay to anger (the crescendo), and futility (the cutoff hit). The pulse of this phenomenon is tangible, pulling and pushing the body forth-and-back in a repeated motion.
The success of the cinematography in presenting this pulse in-phases with the pulse of the melody is showcases in yet another glorious oner, this time at the beginning of the track. In fact, my aforementioned pinball metaphor applies with even further congruence in this instance, as the shot is literally set in a narrow corridor. The initial imagery displays intended clarity vis a vis the choreography of Kojey’s movement and it’s relationship with the lyrics. But what occurs underneath this comparatively accessible imagery is a single, drawn out representation of the exact emotional crescendo discussed above. As Kojey proceeds down the corridor, the level of anger displayed in each changing image increases on a linear gradient, culminating in a powerfully angry image of middle fingers and a toothy grimace at the peak of the crescendo. This final image ties the lose ends of the changing images that precede it by capping the entire shot as a single crescendo, just as the snare and kick hits do in response to the melody. It presses a varied mix of social motifs into a single, powerful statement.
Kojey Radical’s exploration of motion, in many ways, breaks the confines of how deeply music and cinema can interweave to create a deep and universal emotional impact. The universality of this impact can be attributed to the completeness of Kojey’s approach to expression. This paints a visceral picture that can be best described in one word—human.