For the Culture: On Kojaque and Luka Palm

Are Kojaque and Luka Palm the most happening pair of so-and-sos to hit Ireland since Derek Davis and Thelma Mansfield? In all seriousness, hip-hop is getting louder and prouder as the voice of young Ireland continues to be severely stifled elsewhere. What now for the generation whose formative years were debilitated by economic turmoil? What about the kids coming of age in an era where so many cultural spaces are being wiped out, neighbourhoods are being gentrified, and decent domiciles for reasonable prices are the stuff of lore?

Art remains an impactful form of protest but for those eager to get a message across quickly, films and books are costly, time-consuming and require acceptance from industry gatekeepers. Rap music, on the other hand, is more immediate form of opposition. Upload a song to Soundcloud and the message is out there. Make it bang and the audience can wild out to the words.

Kojaque has made his name as one of Dublin’s premier rap artists and, if there was any justice in this town, he’d be known as one of our most trenchant contemporary writers too. In an increasingly crowded arena, the kid from Cabra took a giant leap out of the pack with last year’s Deli Daydreams, a concept album that captured the life of a Dublin deli worker hustling to get by, run down by the daily grind, jaded by everything around him. “Give tax breaks to smarmy fuckers in the grey suits/ Leave me starving tryna find a source of income,” Kojaque raps on “White Noise”. There is a precision to his lyrics, which bottle working-class frustration in a manner that cuts to the bone.

I’m particularly keen on “Politicksis”. With its tinkly piano riff and soulful hook, the song is the closest thing the album has to a potential breakout hit, and still Kojaque’s deli worker lays out the scourge of poverty: “If I can’t afford to eat, I’ll just afford to be hungry/ Most weeks can’t afford the cost it is to have money.” Then, he passes the mic to Luka Palm, his fellow Soft Boy Records soldier, whose whispering flow takes the whole thing home with his tale from the “same city, raised different”, confirming the pair as a duo with all the chemistry of Mobb Deep’s Havoc and Prodigy or The X-Files’s Mulder and Scully.

Kojaque and Luka share headline billing on the recently dropped joint project Green Diesel. The album begins with the 70-second intro “Flight 208” and the same kind of surly beat that featured on Deli Daydreams. It’s a bit of a red herring as the pair primarily find unlikely influence in the boastful sounds of 1990s bling-bling rap, slinking neo soul and contemporary R&B – the kind of stylistic palette that made labels like Bad Boy such a stable for hits. The whole thing sounds familiar yet fresh, raw and funky.

Can I just shock you? I actually prefer Green Diesel to Deli Daydreams. Spitting over instrumentals that really pop, Kojaque and Palm eschew heavier themes for tracks about girls and stuff. It’s fun, it’s young, it’s music for late-night dance floors and early morning come-downs. The likelihood is that you won’t hear as many people champion the importance of Green Diesel but there’s personality seeping out of the pores of these jams. The tight bunch of knuckleheads that make up Soft Boy Records records these songs for the culture. This is what the Dublin we so desperately want to protect sounds like.

Kojaque is the one with star quality, but Luka Palm has a low-key flow that percolates like a lava lamp. His abilities were identifiable as early as 2015, when as a teenager he dropped “Pink Lady”, a mellow groove that drew from the same sources as a young Rejjie Snow – DOOM, Earl Sweatshirt. Now, Palm’s style synthesises perfectly with that of Soft Boy’s co-founder, Kojaque. The two rappers are cut from the same cloth, capable of entering each other’s orbit without sounding out of place.

Green Diesel confirms it. The glimmering synths of “Date Night”, a Kean Kavanagh-produced tune that’s been around a while now, pop and click like an old Jay-Z album cut. “Chew Toy” is a dead-on recreation of a classic Neptunes beat. On “Airbnb”, Kojaque and Luka drink champagne and Grey Goose and cut into cod fillets. The album is short at 21 minutes, but with the two rappers passing the mic like a hot potato, the brevity feels appropriate.

No experiment here is unsuccessful. Take “Paris, Texas”, a sultry baby-making cut that sees Kojaque get freaky like Jodeci. The synths squelch seductively, the climate so thick as Luka raps about a 3am rendezvous that you can feel the atmosphere of salaciousness swarming all around.

On Deli Daydreams, Kojaque told us what we needed to hear. On Green Diesel, Kojaque and Luka give us what we need. What we always need. Deli workers dance and screw too, you know.

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Dean Van Nguyen: Dean Van Nguyen is a cultural critic and music journalist for The Irish Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily and Wax Poetics, among others. As well as pop culture, he writes about identity, youth, race relations and Dublin.

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