UK rapper Kojey Radical and producer Shy FX in London 2019
Kojey Radical (left) and Shy FX, in London (All photos by Jamie Gettings for Noisey)

Kojey Radical and Shy FX on Skanking, Teen Gigs and Their Collab

We had the two talents interview each other, about their origin stories and the story behind Ghetts-featuring track "Bad After We."
April 24, 2019, 9:30am

Call it a meeting of minds. When Kojey Radical and Shy FX ended up in the studio together, they started a conversation about collaboration, work ethic and UK black music that we’re continuing here. “Bad After We,” off Shy FX’s recent Ragammufin SoundTape featured both Kojey and Ghetts on guest verses. And so Kojey and Shy sat down for us in London, talking through their creative processes and the moments in their careers that have made them laugh out loud (or say “nah, no way”). Here they are, in a cross-generational conversation.

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Shy FX: What I will say is, you absolutely smashed it on the track.

Kojey Radical: Thank you. I remember just hearing the “Bad After We” beat and going ‘yup’. Whenever I get like told someone wants to work with me, I always go, ‘what have they heard from me?’ I’m always willing to give what people desire for the record. And so I think what I enjoyed the most about making “Bad After We” is that there wasn’t really a brief like that – you just told me what the vibe was for the project.

Originally I think you said you wanted to play the album with no breaks, to play as a whole just like a tape, so I remember that conversation and thinking ‘whatever this sounds like, it’s gonna be hard.’ And even not knowing Ghetts was gonna be on it was a treat for me. As that session was done I think we both instantly knew… ‘yeah we’re gonna have a bunch of records.’ [They both laugh]. What was the process of making that project, after that session? SFX: For me, there was the whole concept of the tape running from beginning to end. But, the way things flowed, I started putting the sound tape samples in between – it just flowed better. For most of the project, I wanted a lot of stuff to sound like it’d been sampled. And so that’s what takes a lot of time.

KR: Are there samples on it?

SFX: Hmm, on one track there’s an actual sample. There are a couple of replays and whatnot, but for me what takes the time is not making the music but making everything sound like a sample… Recording onto dub play, recording onto tape, sampling it for the AKAI, you know, all the techniques I was using back then.

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KR: Can we take some time to fucking appreciate the technical ability to move a sub like that and keep it riding? It’s virtually impossible half the time – either it’ll swamp the whole tune and you can’t hear the vocals, or nothing is sitting right. That in itself is a process. To me, it’s like you make a hip-hop beat mixed like a jungle tune.

SFX: Yeah, that’s the vibe I wanted. Whether it’s the reggae tunes, or the R&B type tunes, it has to have meat.

KR: When did you start? Like the whole Shy FX thing, when were you like ‘now I’m Shy FX’?

SFX: I was always called shy at school, not because I’m shy but because I’m socially awkward. As for the FX thing, I used to love Das EFX. I originally did a tune with a few people. I was the producer, but there was a guy funding the project… Even though I brought the Shy FX name and everything to the table, Shy FX was a few people for this first release.

KR: Oh right. Cause I know a lot of people say they didn’t even know what you looked like.

SFX: That’s how I love it.

KR: If it was up to me, I’d just not be seen. I would be a civilian Monday to Friday. I’m secretly jealous that all these drill lot. But for you it wasn’t a conscious decision, to not be seen like that?

SFX: Yeah… it’s really cliché but I’m one of those that believes in ‘let the music do the talking’. I’ve got a lot to say via the music; I don’t really communicate well outside of that. I’m surprised we’ve got as far as we have today [he laughs]. That’s why I like this vibe here; you’ll get much more out of me like this.

Shy FX (left) and Kojey Radical in 2019

KR: So from talking to Ghetts, I think what we have in common in terms of writing is, we’ll think about the tune first, because we know we can bar. You have to really clock what’s happening with the tune to know what to add to it. So, there’s no satisfaction with one verse, until you know where the verse sits, or where it’s gonna bang. I think the juxtaposition between our verses is that mine for the headphones. Ghetts’s verse is for the dance. Even when we did the launch party the other day, I was gassed for it – I was standing there like, ‘cut my ting out’ [he laughs]. But I love the synergy in that, man. How do you pick artists to go together?

SFX: I just hear it. I just hear voices. The energy you brought that reminded me of Ghetts ,for one. And, I’m not sure if you’ve heard the whole project, but—

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KR: Yeah, I’ve listened to it about 18,000 times–

SFX: And I’ve loved the way it’s been received. For me it just made sense. Like, to sample Lily Allen on a track with a jungle guy, Stamina: On paper it doesn’t make sense, but in my mind it did.

KR: What about Cara Delevigne [who features on track "Rudeboy Lovesong"], how did that come about? Huh? Wha-how? From the top.

SFX: So we did the tune with Sweetie [Irie] a few months prior. And I knew it had to have a vocal but I couldn’t ‘hear’ the voice at the time. It just so happened I had a session with Cara. So while I was working with her on other stuff, I was hearing her voice and thinking – you know the way [Sweetie’s] voice is really growly and hers is really sweet—

KR: Yeah yeah, they sit together.

SFX: And there was just like the whole idea that no one would expect it. It does sound sick. I like the shades, the balance.

KR: It just made sense. People always ask me like, ‘how did this actually come about? Or how do you work with this person? What makes you do this?’ And I’m like, ‘you know what, sometimes I just wait’. Just wait, wait and then [he clicks his fingers] – it happens. Sometimes you have to just wait for things to align. Let’s go back: When was your first break?

SFX: Depends what you mean by a break. I grew up in the whole shebeen vibe: my grandfather used to own a record shop called Farewells, which is now called Body Music in Tottenham. He was the first person to import reggae music into this country… so I was always brought up within that; I’d wake up and there’d be a release party downstairs, that was the vibe.

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Then… I used to be in a junior reggae sound system, so I started carrying sound boxes and whatnot, to being a selector with a team. Then the whole thing started to happen, which is so hard to explain because of the way things are now, but at that time… I wouldn’t say things were segregated, but blacks did what they did, whites did what they did. Apart from things like ska and a few other bits, it was just different. People still rapped in American accents. It was just a different vibe.

So my first rave was outside of a rave, because I wasn’t old enough to get into the rave, which was at Roller Express and I was 15… and I was just seeing all the laser coming out of this building and hearing all this music. When I made “Nutter,” I wasn’t old enough to get into the party a lot of the time.

Kojey Radical (left) and Shy FX

KR: Raaaah. So wait, so the whole thing starts even before you were old enough to get into the raves. So how did the tunes get out there? Because this is before the internet, you can’t just upload it.

SFX: Nah. Pirate radio… At the time I went on a sound engineering placement: splicing tape, making cups of tea for people. I got sacked because they asked me to clean the toilets and I was like ‘nah you’re taking this a bit too far’ [laughs]. But I made “Original Gangsta,” and went to a distribution company to try to get them to take it on. They said ‘you’re too young’. I went back to the label I got sacked from and asked if they could put it out. Then I got signed, when I was actually too young to sign the contract…

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KR: I’m sure you’ve been offered some crazy weird things. I remember when I first got into music, they were trying to offer me a few grand for three albums.

SFX: Swear? I’m not gonna lie, at that time I signed my publishing for a few grand too… you know… got out of that swiftly [he laughs]. You know what, them days it was part of it.

KR: 100%, especially because the scene was definitely still figuring itself out… It’s still kind of figuring itself out now but there’s means, there’s more avenues. As for me, I started writing poetry when I was in college, I remember Suli Breaks came to my college and he performed. It was the first time I’d seen a poet capture a room, and I thought to myself: ‘[kisses teeth] I can do that’.

SFX: How old were you then?

KR: I was in college, so probably around 16. I used to write funny poems – dumb shit to get laughs because I wanted to get people’s attention. At the time I thought to myself, ‘I’m going through life, and it’s hard to articulate yourself as a young black boy; there’s only certain ways you can do it.’ So I started writing how I actually felt about things in poems. That whole time I was at college I was trying to get on any open mics, and I’d hit them with a heartstrings poems and be like ‘boom I got you’.

Kojey Radical in London in 2019

I went to university to study illustration and I’ve been drawing since I was like five. By the time I got to my final year at uni I kind of got bored of drawing and painting, and having to then tell people what my stuff was about. And in the process of telling them what my paintings and my drawings were about I was basically just kicking in poetry anywhere… you know, to really elaborate on it.

Then I had this idea for a soundtrack. I went into uni and asked ‘if I made you music, would you mark it like art?’ and they said ‘we will, but it’s highly likely you’ll fail because we haven’t got a system in place to mark music like that’. And I responded ‘well, sound installations would count towards art’ and he goes like ‘yeah, installation’s art’ and I said ‘well mark it just like that then’.

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So I went to the studio – I’d never really been in one, first on a session with Jay Prince, when we made “The Garden Party.” After that I got in with KZ, who has produced for me since pretty much then. We made “Preacher Preacher.” And I was getting into the swing of it and it ended up being Dear Daisy, which was based on a book I was writing for uni. So you see how creatively, I go like ‘right, I’m blocked here I’m going there… I’m blocked here I’m going there’. So, if I couldn’t figure out what to draw, I’d go write something, if I can’t think of what to write I’ll go take a picture, if I can’t think of a picture, I’ll film something.

I handed in Daisy – my final year project – finished uni, then forgot about it. Then my friend calls me and tells me he’s dropped Dear Daisy. And these are the early internet days where the seeds are spreading themselves out. The resurgence of grime is starting to happen but you’ve got this kid who’s just doing poetry over this really thought-out instrumentation. Turns out I got a First, finished in the top six of my university. And then I went into music… so from the beginning, even up until now, I’ve just been figuring it out, I’ve never had a blueprint.

SFX: You’ve done it, though. Even just the way you approached “Bad After We.” It was so quick… I’ve never seen anyone with as much energy, barring as quickly as you did. You’d just said that you had a break and you were getting back to barring again, and I was like what?! Just the way you dealt with it, I was like ‘what – this is you warming up?’ Do you get butterflies when you hear something you connect with?

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KR: Yeah, definitely. Because I can see it. It’s the live show, everyone’s running forward; you can feel it, you can breathe it in. And you run out there, you spit the first four bars… And that’s why reload culture in the UK is so spiritual, because it’s like… it’s too intense! Like in your chest, you build up, you’ve lost your mind, and if someone don’t put off the track you’re gonna punch someone in the face. There’s a billion tunes that will forever sit on your hard drive, my hard drive, that no one will ever see. Because the energy and the feelings ain’t there. I like when people have a mission – like when I come in the studios and it’s ‘I’m doing this’, and I’ll be like ‘cool, I’ll do it with you.’ So what are you looking forward to the most?

SFX: I do this thing called Culture – anything that’s under that, then I’m gassed.

KR: When’s the next Culture?

SFX: I can’t say quite yet… but there’s a few things happening at the end of the year. And there’s a few festivals we’re doing that are not quite what you’d expect. I can’t really go into it but it’s gonna be good. See, I come from the jungle parties… and there it was always a skank. What attracted me apart from black, white, all nationalities get together and what not, I just like the young guys, the older guys, man dancing with girls, people whining.

KR: Yeah yeah yeah, people getting to know each other.

SFX: Now it’s hands in the air or moshing. And there’s no dancing any more. It don’t make no sense to me. They’re either singing or holding their hands or moshing.. and I’m like nah. I think some people have actually forgotten how to dance [they laugh].

KR: I think a lot of people just take too much drugs, so by the time they figure out their brain and their feet, their arms are doing something different. And then the special awareness is gone out of the window [he laughs]. So everyone is just doing crazy stuff on top of each other. That’s my next big hope.. that people start skanking again, and dancing and moving, and not being afraid to move.

Power Plants, Kojey Radical and Hito Steyerl’s installation is on at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 6 May. Kojey’s single "25" and Shy FX’s 'Raggamuffin SoundTape' album are both out now.

You can find Tshepo on Twitter.