Spoken word artist and musician Kojey Radical tells EDWIN GILSON about the influences behind his dynamic work before headlining Lyrix Organix.

AT THE end of the video for Kojey Radical’s single Gallons, he holds his four-year old nephew in his arms. The young boy, in turn, holds a piece of cardboard with the words “My life matters” written on it.

It’s a powerful image, immediately bringing to mind the activist movement Black Lives Matter as well as raising questions about Radical’s concerns for the future. When he looks ahead to the life of his nephew, what does he think? “The people that are awake band together, but there is a general consensus that ideas of nationalism and patriarchal identity are coming to the fore.”

This gives you a hint of Radical’s personality; while he says his music is informed mostly by personal experience – “I always say it’s 82 per cent autobiographical” – he possesses a sharp social conscience. The East Londoner, who was first published in year five (a poem about monsters), graduated in illustration before merging his poetry and music into a potent cocktail.

Themes of class and race run through all of his work. Talking about the inspiration behind Gallons, for example, Radical said: “It’s how I feel every time I see my brothers get stopped and searched or when I hear about another person of colour amount to nothing more than a commemorative hashtag.”

Radical’s early ventures in performance art were, he admits, sometimes difficult for the public to digest. “I came out strong, with my face painted black, doing contemporary dance to rap music,” he says. The choreography of Gallons, where Radical dances in grimy London spots, is evidence of this background.

“On paper that kind of thing might not make much sense to some people and I can’t blame them for that. But if you spoke to me about my ideas and influences it would all make sense.”

His merging of genres – and mediums – very much fits the ethos of this year’s Brighton Festival, where interdisciplinary art rules. He is a worthy headliner of spoken word Lyrix Organix, which also features Solomon OB, Laurie Ogden and Toby Thompson, who was described as “the future” by guest director Kate Tempest.

Radical insists his poetry can still be enjoyed without music behind it but when he heard his lyrics over an acoustic guitar for the first time something clicked. “In poetry readings, a lot of the time there is a silence in the room that stops it being engaging,” he says. “I haven’t looked to anyone as an inspiration in music and tried to follow them, I just liked the sound of my voice over guitar. I’ve carried on writing and exploring from there.”

That exploration has been as much inwards, in relation to his own life and experiences, as outward-reaching. Radical laughs when he says he feels like “everyone makes my messages about the rest of the world, but sometimes it’s just personal”. In the case of Gallons, the main motivation was, “how do I give a young man in my family a positive example to live by and look up to”.

Having grown up in a family of mostly women, Radical feels a responsibility towards his nephew, just as his brother did towards him. “When I look at my nephew he seems so innocent and I don’t want to corrupt him by telling him what’s going on the world. I hope that one day he looks back at the video and thinks his uncle was trying to tell him to believe in something and stand up for it.”

He adds that isn’t “trying to promote Black Lives Matter, or profit off Black Lives Matter, but I can use my art to suggest it. I’m a young man, figuring things out as I go. I know my focus is good”. As with so many of the best counter-cultural musicians and artists, Radical has a rebellious, anti-authoritarian and single-minded streak.

As a teenager growing up in the grip of materialism, he “got tired of being told what to do, what to think and what to feel”. Looking back now at his older writing, he says he can tell he was “very lost” at the time. “I got tired of lying, pretending everything was cool and expressing myself was gay. I got tired of thinking gay was something bad.”

For this intriguing artist, who so ably blends the personal, the political and the poetical, that journey of discovery has been very fruitful indeed.

Lyrix Organix, The Spire, Eastern Road, Brighton, Tuesday, May 23, 7.30pm, £15