“I feel a lot of pain, I found a lot of peace.” – Kojaque
Nothing lasts. Childhood, creative cycles, intentions, relationships, plans, dispositions, moods, gaffs, direction. Even love. Even home. The mode is transition. In this space between, Kojaque returns with an album that contends with the past, and embarks upon a new future.
Following the landmark projects Deli Daydreams and Town’s Dead, comes Phantom of the Afters. Kojaque’s first two records changed the Irish hiphop landscape forever. Now London-based, Kojaque’s Phantom of the Afters traces the blurred outlines of childhood trauma, depression, grief and love. This is an album that finds comfort and assurance in the acceptance of the self, through shedding what no longer serves. Informed by the pursuit of simplicity, while meditating on heartbreak, home and health, Phantom of the Afters finds Kojaque reflecting on the landmarks of a young life, in all their beauty and complexity.
Beginning with a soundscape of Kojaque departing Dublin for London, and introducing the album’s concept character, Jackie Dandelion, this is a record rooted coming into one’s own authentic identity, as well as a new one of an Irish immigrant in London, grappling with the rejection of fame and status for the sake of it, senses of alienation, missing the clichés of Ireland – the delis, the Guinness the craic, and embarking upon a reconciliation with the self. “I don’t believe there’s any special place you have to go to in order to make art,” Kojaque says, “other than your own head.”
The album’s journey begins with the physical transition to London on Jackie Took the Soup, foregrounding the myth, insult, and reality of “taking the soup”, a potent term in Irish society that plays with themes of national abandonment for personal survival. Larry Bird plunges the listener into self-asserted braggadocio, before reverting to the nostalgic daydream of Cabra Drive, while the heart is bared on Bambi and Woof (featuring Biig Piig). Fat Ronaldo / Covent Gardens marks a turning point not just on the record, but for an artist determined to open up, even if that means breaking down. If vulnerability is power, then Kojaque’s obliteration of performative swagger in exchange for a declaration of fragility, offers not just a life lesson, but a creative path forward towards revelatory authenticity. Of Covent Gardens, Kojaque says, “They say depression is hate turned inwards, and when you harbour hatred, it’s not long before it begins to eat away at you. I think the rage is palpable in that song. When rage subsides, it becomes sadness.”
The soulful Wagyu asserts the intention of this new phase in a simple phrase: “I’d rather be nothing if I couldn’t be myself, that’s being honest.” The ode to anxiety, What If?, is followed by a defiant Citizen Kane’s, which leads to the anthemic love song Peakaboo, before title track Phantom of the Afters eviscerates the counterfeit culture of clout-chasing. “Fame and the pursuit of it leaves people very jaded and detached from reality in my experience,” Kojaque says, “Most of the famous people I’ve met are either incredibly guarded, nervous, anxious people, or psychopaths.The idea of losing who I am in the pursuit of fame isn’t something I’m interested in.” Ending on a note of devastating tenderness with Heaven Shouldn’t Have You, the notes and sentiments of this remarkable and unexpected direction float somewhere above the Irish Sea, in the push and pull of past and present.
Awarded a prestigious Royal Hibernian Academy Award in 2017 for his creative practice, Kojaque came to prominence with the genre-bending concept record Deli Daydreams in 2018, a project that also demonstrated his prowess as a music video director, and was nominated for the Choice Music Prize. Following performances at Glastonbury, Pitchfork Festival Paris, Primavera Sound, and SXSW, he released the album Town’s Dead, also nominated for the Choice Music Prize, in 2021. An album of huge ambition and scale, Town’s Dead solidified his colossally talented and singular vision as one of the most exciting Irish artists of his generation.
Working as an independent artist, with a DIY spirit that spans music videos and short films, collaborations and day parties, as well as co-founding and running the label Soft Boy Records, Kojaque has sold out tours across Ireland, the UK, mainland Europe and North America, as well as celebrated support slots with Lana Del Rey, and an Australian and New Zealand tour with Loyle Carner. Every release has been critically acclaimed, building a dedicated fanbase with crowds connecting not just to his commentary on contemporary society, but also his soul-bearing integrity, with his music spawning fan tattoos, roaring festival crowds, and heaving venues.
With Phantom of the Afters, Kojaque balances the themes and tensions of love, ambition, and internal and external sites of creation. “Love is accepting things for what they are,” he says, “ambition is wanting more than what you have.” This playful, triumphant album, wrestles with emigration, depression, and life as an expression of dreamlike fantasy interrupted by grinding, liberating, and grounding reality, the music opening up to allow for a space for vulnerability to be expressed in a radical manner. “What the record is about,” he says, “is shedding an idea I have of myself and trying to accept me for who I am, warts and all.”
Taking visual inspiration from subverting the bigoted depictions of Irish caricatures in 19th and 20th century Punch Magazine cartoons, and Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, which in turn was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the Phantom of the Opera, Kojaque removes the many distorted masks present within all of these touchstones, and ultimately, his own.
Written and composed at time of personal tumult, upheaval, and literal eviction, the result is a heart-spilling and filling album to savour. This is the mark of an artist in tune with the things that really matter. As the title track asserts: “all I want to be is me”.