[INTERVIEW] THE RETURN OF K KOKE
Kevin Georgiou aka K Koke is a diamond in the rough. A man once in a position UK rappers could only dream of. Gritty storytelling and raw ability took K Koke from the streets of Stonebridge to the very top of the UK rap food-chain, becoming the first UK rapper to be signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2010.
With his ‘Fire In the Booth’ accruing over 11 million views on youtube, long-term success was all but guaranteed for him, only for this to be stunted by his arrest and subsequent remand on bail for attempted murder 3 months after being signed.
I was intrigued to hear more about a man who had seen it all: the fame, the recognition, the industry, and all the issues that came with it — through his lens. His talent, success and undeniable cult following is a testament to the quality of his music, re-introduce a man who had seen it all and come back stronger than ever before.
Furthermore, it was important to see the effect of those experiences on his music, perception, and aspirations within the industry. In terms of the man behind the music, I would hope this interview would serve as an insightful reintroduction to K Koke’s return to music, leaving no stone unturned.
K Koke was a victim of his own circumstance. A man whose rare gift for constructing gritty lyrics about the life on the streets in a way people could relate to and enjoy. But the same thing he would be widely known and respected for would be the same thing that caused his fall from grace — his realness. This was something that, through those who we worked with and music he made, he wouldn’t settle on.
K Koke was way before his time. As he mentions, his music fits more than it did back then in today’s industry, where there is a place for the likes of Giggs and other pioneers of UK gangster rap and hip hop can be commercially successful in their genre.
Who is K Koke?
K Koke is a half-Cypriot, half-Irish rapper from North-West London, Stonebridge born and raised — NW10.
You grew up in Stonebridge, but as an artist, you’ve probably been asked the same question every time. So I have a slightly different question. What’s the best and worst thing about Stonebridge?
I think the best thing growing up in Stonebridge was what I learned as a kid — the things I learned growing up made me streetwise to what adult life was about. The worse thing? That would probably be Stonebridge in general and everything it comes with: the gangs, the violence, the drugs. Growing up around that didn’t automatically set us up for a great future.
What was your first introduction to music?
Back in the day, my mum would love listening to music, even just cleaning up around the house; that’s where I think I took it all in from an early age.
What would she play?
House music, even down to UB40 and stuff like that. When we were about 14 or 15, my mum bought us decks and I and my brother would be in the yard mixing. We’d have the whole estate in there just mixing all day; I’d say that was my first proper introduction to music. I didn’t even think I wanted to do music then, it was just fun to mix and DJ as a hobby.
How did you meet Squingy and Lefty and how did USG Entertainment come about?
Squingy and Lefty grew up on my estate [in Stonebridge] and they were older than me, so they would hang around with my older cousins and uncles, so I’ve known them my whole life. We then started Suspect Entertainment together, but really it was Squingy and Lefty and I just hopped on. I was more on the street side of things, but them man crossed me over [Chuckles].
What effect did the shooting of your younger brother have on you in terms of your perspective and outlook on the world?
To be fair, the day my brother got shot was probably the day I changed most. I also got shot at with him, I just didn’t hit but I reckon that day completely changed me. After that, I said to myself, ‘Fuck it, anything is anything. I’d rather shoot than be shot’.
You signed to Roc Nation 2 days before Christmas 2010. Explain the feeling of being the first UK rapper to have achieved this.
Bro I was in amazement! Back then, [I] couldn’t have ever expected that rapping would even make it this far, let alone someone like Jay-Z coming over to England to sign me. It was a major thing for me, and obviously opened up a lot of doors for me and the UK industry in general.
Would you say it was more the lack of creative freedom (for example the lack of promotion with the track ‘lay down your weapons’) or personal issues you at the time that contributed most to the departure from the label?
To be fair bro, it was definitely a mixture of both. I mean, if I really, really didn’t want to do a track, I didn’t have to do the song, but they made me believe the song was the right choice. I wasn’t particularly feeling the song, but when you have those people are telling you that, ’this is the one’ you’re most likely going to go with what they say. But it was also personal issues — there was a lot of stuff going on that they simply couldn’t help me with. At the same time, I couldn’t understand how I was now signed with a major label and they had me doing the same things I was doing when I was unsigned, like, ‘what is this even about?’. So yeah, a mix of different things, plus the [police] wouldn’t leave me alone and I just became more trouble than I was worth. The label didn’t have an artist like me so they didn’t know what to do with me. Like ‘how do we market this guy?’ because TV and radio don’t want to take him, so many factors.
For my perspective, for a label who what they were getting themselves, given your popularity and background, why do you think that was?
For a label like Roc Nation they came from the states, and because they weren’t based here, my signing was a joint venture that included Sony, RCA and Roc Nation. This isn’t America though, it’s different and it was even more different when it came to rap in 2010 — my type of lyrics wasn’t getting played on the radio yet. It was unheard of.
Explain the effect prison had on you.
I had been to prison before that incident, but nothing as long [as those 7 months], but that timing, in particular, was crucial. Three months after I had been signed I was sitting in jail on remand for attempted murder. I was either looking at a 15 [year sentence], or I could be cleared of the charges, so yeah, a mad experience.
It was unfortunate that your personal life got in the way of not only your musical career but also your love for music. How did you fall in love with music once again?
[Sigh] I don’t even know, but once you fall in love with something, you don’t fall out of love with it. And I didn’t fall out of love with making music, I feel out of love with what came with music. You feel me? Being under a constant magnifying glass set me back. Even to the way people around me behaved; one minute no one really cares, then all of sudden you have this potential and everyone wants to jump all over you. Then it goes sour and everyone jumps off again. Going through that, you look around and think to yourself, ‘Is this all worth it? I’m not even getting paid for this but I’m famous’, to the point where I began to doubt whether I wanted it. I know I have said before that I lost love for the music, but it was never the music.
Did you ever anticipate that the industry would be that way?
Bro to be fair, I’m a mentally strong person, but the things I went through would generally fuck with anybody’s head. All I could do at that time was to just experience it, and I wasn’t prepared for half of what was going on. When it went sour, I literally took a step back and assessed everything around me before having to build myself back up.
You seem to keep a close-knit group when it comes to the people you work with. Do you prefer to work with artists you know personally or are you open to working with anyone?
I’m open to working with anyone making good music and people who genuinely wwantto work with me. Other than that, I’m not just going to jump on the bandwagon of anyone whose popular, I don’t work like that. But if someone wants to work with me, I’m happy to work with them.
Through all your trials and tribulations, what advice would you give to a younger K Koke?
Don’t stop and keep going. Which is exactly what I’m doing right now.
So much has happened to you over the last 8 years… where do you see yourself in the next 8 years?
Boy! In the next 8 years, I should be chilling in a beach house somewhere drinking two cocktails with my missus and kids… That’s the plan.
As one of the pioneers of UK gangster rap, how do you feel music has changed from when you were first signed, and how do you position your music in today’s culture?
Right now, gangster rap and hip hop are the norm, it’s more mainstream from the days I began rapping so I feel like I probably fit in more here than I did then. I was a rapping about my lifestyle, there were people like me, but it wasn’t industry-ready or mainstream, neither was it getting played on the radio. Apart from the likes of Giggs, there wasn’t really much man from the road, doing road, talking road — and getting places with it.
What can we expect from the release of ‘FFF Prison’ at the end of this month?
FFF is based in prison, but musically I can’t say it’s the norm right now but it was music about how I felt at a certain time. Some of the lyrics I wrote in prison, some I wrote afterward, but it’s all about my experience. Some of the songs don’t even directly have anything to do with prison, but it was all around that time and fits the sound of the EP. So you can expect storytelling and heartfelt lyrics from this EP.
Would you say this is the ‘deepest’ EP to date?
I generally have deep songs on all of my projects and that’s what Koke does; no matter what, you’re definitely going to hear a song that’s going to make you feel a certain emotion. As a short EP, you can expect the same feel. But as I said, I have many deep songs!
We have the 30th March to look forward to, but what else can fans expect from K Koke?
Yes, ‘Fighting for freedom’ [FFF Prison] is out on the 30th, and I also have an album dropping in the summer with a couple features to look forward to and we’ll see wa gwarn. I also have a couple more videos to shoot from Pure Koke Volume 4 that I didn’t quite get to release yet which has some big songs that some people have overlooked. So more videos, music, albums and projects for sure.
So, now for some quick-fire questions.
Morning or night?
UK rap or UK grime?
Favourite Cypriot dish.
A film that best describes you.
The Krays, let’s go with that.
Most embarrassing moment you can remember.
Ah man! I dropped off the stage in Cambridge
Like, completely off the stage?
Yeah, completely. I was turnt so I jumped straight up and continued performing like nothing happened! [Laughs]
Did anyone see?
Name 3 artists you’d love to work with.
Giggs, Ed Sheeran and probably Drake.
What keeps you awake at night?
My thoughts. And stress [Laughs]
That was the answer I envisioned when I wrote that question.
Favourite song right now.
You’ve invited Giggs to your house for dinner. What’s on the menu?
I know you’ve always wanted to work with him so may want to impress him.
Well, I wouldn’t cook, but I’d probably get someone to cook us up a steak.
What does it feel like to be K Koke?
Stress and hard work. It’s not easy being K Koke.
Any last words?
Big up and love to everyone who has been supporting me still to this day. This is for all of you because, without you lot, I wouldn’t be done this. Big up all fans and supporters… BAM BAM BAM.
FFF Prison drops Friday 30th March. Pre-order here.
Check out the visuals of one single from the EP, ‘On Remand’ featuring Dappy here.