Authenticity is seen as intrinsic to a rapper’s reputation; it’s paramount to listeners and cultural gatekeepers that trappers trap, that MCs who publicise pimping turn tricks, that verbose nerdcore rappers reread encyclopedias to spot inconsistencies in syntax and gorge on obscure anime series.
In all of its boastfulness, bashfulness and its schizophrenia, at its core, rap music is mostly representative of the human spirit. Kevin Smith’s Kojaque project is a revitalising homespun cocktail of all that is seductive about rap authenticity.
In ‘Deli Daydreams’ – a tape detailing the life and tribulations of a weary-eyed deli worker across a week – he’s delivered not the “Emerald Isle’s answer to the Chronic”, but this small island’s greatest, most heartfelt, collection of hip-hop tracks to date.
A co-founder of self-professed “faux-label” Soft Boy Records, the DIY ethos is abundantly clear; produced entirely in-house between Kojaque and Cork-based jar jar jnr. Therein lies a deep appreciation of soulful Dilla sample-flips and wavy electro-synths, but most importantly, an innate ability to craft transportive audio vignettes of modern city life.
‘Deli Daydreams’ is not some rehashed rhymes or played-out hip-hop tropes strewn for playlist consumption, but a cohesive mixtape project. Nor is it an overreaching, self-indulgent concept album, either.
White Noise starts the eight track project somberly. Percussion-less, with just a droning organ, melancholic keys and a cinematic violin, it’s the fed-up, inner-monologues of a disillusioned deli worker. A stand-out self-produced track, Kojaque, a conduit for the character, lays bare his soul through stream-of-conscious bars that grow increasingly vexed as each distinct realisation of reality rises.
Not absorbed entirely by deli duties, Kojaque flicks through the headlines from the newspapers in a nearby aisle, he’s as outwardly aware as he is introspective. A rugged, prickly accent is seen as a green-light for Gardai to practice social profiling. “Just one more knacker up off the streets/That’s what they say, right?” He’s later angry at the impunity with which white-collar criminals freely roam (“Smarmy fuckers in the grey suits”).
If White Noise is the debilitating, mind-numbing wait for freedom, Last Pint is the drug-fuelled intermission to claustrophobic monotony. Sharp-tongued and plainspoken, its an anthem for the lost souls at an afters.
The killer hook (“Fuck me like you hate me/Aw baby that’s a hook/Love me like you made me/As of lately I’ve been shook”) floats atop a woozy, indelible guitar strum courtesy of collaborator James Smith.
He’s “half-cut” but details the eye-catching ‘afters’ scenario languidly; referencing Mark Renton levels of hallucination (“I’m gonna pass up on a pill/I’m seeing babies on the ceiling”) and the morbid shadows of strung-out partygoers ears-glued to Pink Floyd (“The kitchen’s looking grim/It’s just the speaker playing sad tunes/Middle-aged woman lovebuzzin’/In the hash fumes”).
Love and Braggadocio is cocktail lounge jazz-rap. Instead of fanciful mixed-liquors for upper-class socialites, however, its greasy sausage rolls for the ravenous working-class. The deli’s shop is eerily quiet as Kojaque’s idle mind wanders; posturing his self-worth, he appears abject, but remains defiant.
Kojaque can rhyme and narrate, without question, but he never relinquishes crafting mature, well-rounded sounds in favour of channelling his inner Aesop Rock. His North-Dublin drawl and acerbic wit shine as his flow meanders between buttery saxophones. The flows are both scattershot and deliberate – he’s as capable at going bar-for-bar with your favourite lyricist as he is at casting vignettes as vivid as your favourite rap-narrator.
He again sounds riled on Politicsis, versing with typically wry humour. “Misinformation’s been rife in my city/So we erect the murals/Let art paint the heart of the grittier mouth/Still scream up the ra when we never stepped foot out the south.” Lead-single Bubby’s Cream is the project’s most romantically inclined cut, he navigates heartbreak from within the confines of his workspace. “But me and you were never more than a daydream,” he muses.
The jocular shop intercom-lude Attention All Customers and outro Safest Memory tie the surrounding tracks together. Rich in endearingly close colloquialisms, sardonic tales of debauchery and earworm melodies, this piercingly honest MC is Ireland’s best rap export since Rejjie Snow.
A deli counter is almost as familiar as rain to an Irish person, but Kojaque begs you to look beneath the apron and connect. Mundanity is what defines us all every day, each week, in skyline-punctuating office buildings behind desks, in coffee shops, behind tills. In ‘Deli Daydreams’, Kojaque has reimagined our concealed, inner-complexities and harnessed them into one sharp, reflective project full of personality and bite.
A version of this review first appeared on State.ie