The notion of the ‘auteur’ in music has become a rare one these days. What with farmed-out production processes, armies of session players, and litanies of patchwork collaborations, it is becoming more and more scarce to find a record that is the unfiltered expression of a single individual. Yet, with the release of Kojey Radical’s In God’s Body this September, it felt like the spoken word poet and rapper had succeeded in creating a direct imprint of his creative psyche, each track marked with his lyrical insight and gravelly tone.
Accompanying single releases ‘700 Pennies’ and ‘After Winter’ with striking videos of violence, introspection and ecstatic revelation, Radical has shown himself to be more than just a sonic storyteller but a visual one also, and one concerned with personal truths. It is these personal truths that resonate so deeply with Radical’s fans – who refer to him as ‘King’ – and who packed out his Wednesday night headline spot at Village Underground.
Bursting onto the stage with a live accompaniment of drums, keys, guitar, and a DJ, Radical held the crowd’s attention throughout his 90-minute set, alternating between spoken word acapella, trap-influenced beats and sultry R&B hooks. With frantic energy as the prevailing atmosphere, he charged through singalong sections of ‘700 Pennies’, as well as a live rewind for ‘Windows’ featuring a machine gun rattle of toms and the distorted guitar screeches.
This heavy instrumentation belied a clear ‘70s rock influence, one which transitioned less well into the balladry of later numbers like ‘Icarus’ and ‘Afraid Of’. Employing the talents of guest vocalists, including Tamera Foster, Poté, and Collard, the show somewhat lost momentum as Radical’s percussive delivery was pitted against crooning melodic hooks and bright backing.
To his credit though, despite a certain lassitude of momentum, Radical kept the crowd going with his urgent lyricism, panting for breath and towelling himself down between verses, his own movement mirroring that of the shadowy, tensile and twisting torsos displayed on the screen behind him.
The presence of a camera consistently following Radical around the stage somewhat detracted from the illusion of unique performance, yet he still managed to captivate the already-rapt audience with his commanding presence, proving himself to be as much a live talent as a recorded one.