A few years ago, Ireland and hip-hop would have seemed an unlikely fusion. Yet as ‘Kojaque’ (alias of Irish rapper Kevin Smith) took to the stage at Headrow House on the last night of his ‘Baby I’m a Shitbag Tour’, he looked far from out of place. Buttressed by both the commercial success of fellow Irish MCs and by his own stature as one of the forerunners of the burgeoning Dublin music scene, his headline show was simply a reflection of just how far he’s come in recent years.
Alongside his pals in co-owned label ‘Soft Boy Records’, Smith prides himself on a light-hearted and communitive approach to making music. Entering the stage accompanied by Kean Kavanagh on the decks behind him he immediately tore into opening track ‘White Noise’. An unapologetically frank offering born out of his frustration and angst as a modern-day Dubliner, this initially seemed to set a different tone for the night. It takes guts to produce a Hip-Hop track without a drum beat behind it, yet never mind to begin a set with one. Built upon layers of strings and soft piano I couldn’t help but stand in awe over his grasp of an audience so early into a set – especially when such an absence is a rarity in this style.
Nevertheless, the wittiness and relaxing nature that pervades his discography quickly became apparent after the candid introduction. Smith looked completely at ease when flaunting his way through an abundance of tunes from his 2017 ep ‘Deli Daydreams’, an ode to Boom Bap infused Hip Hop which inspired him in his earlier days. His debuting of new music was also met with considerable levels of energy from the crowd, something which once again affirmed my own credence that he is one of the most exciting artists around today.
If anyone wasn’t already impressed by the energy surrounding the venue the insertion of Luka Palm certainly would have sufficed. Having recently released a joint mixtape together, the dynamic between the two brought a vigour and vitality I haven’t seen in a live set for a long time. Stomping through a multitude of tracks including the ever mesmerising ‘Date Night’, Palm’s raw husky delivery was definitely an able match beside Kojaque’s distinct presence on stage.
Nearing the end of set Smith jokingly drew attention to the minor flaws such an intimate venue offered. Rebuffing any notion of an offstage return after the set being that the door to their dressing room was ‘right next to the stage’, he instead opted to simply stay on the stage for his ‘encore’. This encore that wasn’t really an ‘encore’ easily became my highlight of the night when his biggest track to date ‘Eviction Notice’ crackled through the speakers. Accompanied by the evocative vocals of Kavanagh who swapped his decks for a microphone, Smith poured his heart out over a tender series of piano chords and subtle brushing drums. A considerable deviation from his usual sound, it was like nothing else heard in his set - and the night was all the richer for it.
After watching Kojaque live or simply just listening to his music, its clear as both an artist and performer he is far from boring. Despite a slightly shorter set due to Palm’s illness on the night, the assortment of sounds and moods evoked was simply astounding. With such a versatile discography and electrically charged live set I can only presume that on his return to Leeds in the future, he’ll have been promoted to Headrow’s bigger brother.
Photos Courtesy of: Kit Gillman