Kojaque’s first album, Deli Daydreams, released three years ago, struck a chord among Dublin’s disenchanted youth, unsupported creatives and bohemian hedonists. The rapper entered the skin of a deli worker, spinning an eight-song saga for young people frozen in a hopeless lost weekend by government policy. By focusing on the minutiae of life over showy gestures or philosophical examinations, Deli Daydreams transcended its simple narrative. But the record for sure was short, and so was the equally strong Green Diesel, a 2019 joint project with regular collaborator Luka Palm that channelled 1990s bling-bling rap and contemporary R&B. As often as Kojaque was reaching up and touching greatness, you always got the sense that a grander statement was required to solidify his status.
Is Town’s Dead that album? It’s certainly more ambitious. For a start, it’s twice the length of Deli Daydreams, and Kojaque uses the space to reconcile every one of his influences, inspirations and inclinations. Who else in Dublin city could alchemise lounge jazz, blue-eyed soul, electro-funk, boom-bap, rap-rock and latter day Kanye West into something that makes sense? Town’s Dead ditches the “a week in the life” outline of Deli Daydreams for a more savage trip.
Kojaque is the co-founder of Soft Boy Records, an urban music label that distinguishes itself with lush arrangements. A Soft Boy beat can feel like a rubber band ball of bright colours. Take opening track Heartbreak: Kojaque hits you with a cyclone of wavy synths, thumping drum machine and labelmate Kean Kavanagh’s raspy backing vocals. Some of the best stuff here plays slow and low: Wickid Tongues’ jiggy keyboard chords run cool as a cocktail bar, while Sex N’ Drugs handles those particular pastimes with the touch of a soulful loverman.
So Kojaque can soundtrack a session but, beneath the beats, he’s still an astute observer of a messed-up city. While you felt his deli worker stalking the streets, a hollowed-out ghost exhausted by harsh realities, on Town’s Dead he’s more forceful in putting societal rot under a lens. The title track attacks the housing crisis: flats are being levelled to make way for luxury abodes for the rich; landlords are preying on desperate renters to fatten their pensions. Black Sheep Part 1 follows a small-time drug dealer to voice the tragedy that crooked elites who hurt whole nations will never face the same consequences as low-level criminals. Kojaque’s music is always fun to listen to, but he’s never shy about his intelligence.
Oh, he’s also world-beating rapper – accented, fluid, melodic. It’s the performance that ties together all the disparate ideas and ambitious purpose of Town’s Dead. In the end, Kojaque did what he had to do at this point of his career: he made a great album.