Authenticity is seen as intrinsic to a rapper’s reputation; it’s paramount that trappers trap, that MCs who publicise pimping turn tricks, that verbose nerd-rappers reread encyclopedias to spot inconsistencies in syntax and gorge on obscure anime series. In all its boastfulness, bashfulness and its schizophrenia, at its core, hip-hop is your everyday man’s genre.
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 regular 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. There lies a deep appreciation of soulful Dilla sample-flips and wavy electro-synths but most importantly, an innate ability to craft incisive tracks.
It’s not some rehashed rhymes or played-out hip-hop tropes strewn for playlist consumption, it’s a cohesive mixtape project. DELI DAYDREAMS is no 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-dialogue of a disillusioned deli worker. A stand-out self-produced track, KOJAQUE lays bare his soul through stream-of-consciousness bars.
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. His rugged accent is seen as a green-light for Gardai to act questionably. “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, it’s 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 spit, 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 and soul-inflected beatscapes. He snuffs his nose at pittances (“I work nine-to-five/Spend my wage in a bookies/Cos if I can’t afford a home/I just afford to be lucky”). The flows are scattershot and deliberate – he’s as capable at going bar-for-bar with your favourite lyricist and as adept at painting a picture 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 endearing colloquialisms, sardonic tales of debauchery, earworm melodies and a piercingly honest MC, this is Ireland’s best rap export since Rejjie Snow’s Rejovich EP.
A deli counter is almost as familiar as rain to an Irish person but KOJAQUE begs you to look beneath the deli-apron and connect. Mundanity is what defines us all – every day, each week. In DELI DAYDREAMS, KOJAQUE has reimagined our inner-complexities and harnessed them into one sharp, reflective project full of personality and bite.