Touching Base with Krept and Konan

“There’s a lot of pressure and then being in the mind to write bars is a next ting because you’re…

It’s been a couple of years since record breaking rap duo Krept and Konan have released a full length project; but that doesn’t mean they’ve been twiddling their thumbs. Since their dual-released mixtapes ‘7 Days and 7 Nights’ dropped, the two have celebrated a year since the grand opening of Crepes and Cones, a TV show on BBC Three and collaboration with Rapman to produce a short film called ‘Ban Drill’. Through baring many fruits of labour, their journey has also come with a fair share of tribulations and losses close to home. On the eve of their sophomore album ‘Revenge Is Sweet’, I sat down with the South Londoners to discuss their new album, their evolution and their award nominated TV show ‘The Rap Game UK’ among other topics. This is Krept and Konan as you’ve never seen them before.

On yet another gloomy Monday morning, it wouldn’t have been farfetched to suggest that the weather reflected Krept’s mood. The 29-year-old was caught up in an unfortunate incident at Radio 1Xtra Live in Birmingham that saw him robbed and sliced at the same event. It is testament to his character that he and Konan still agreed to this interview on such short notice. And as I sat on the bus that took me to my destination, I saw my interviewees on a pair of LED screens in my local Morley’s – very appropriate given that Krept’s ‘Morley’s Freestyle’ dropped the Friday before. I wondered if this was a marketing ploy by his label Virgin EMI, but those thoughts quickly faded away as I looked over my questions for Krept and Konan. “We’re really in the future now rudeboi!” Konan’s face gleamed as we laugh at that tidbit of information. But you’ll find out more about that later.

Our photographer for the day is Jordan, a local lad also hailing from the Thornton Heath area. This might seem like insignificant news to share, but it was around this time last year that Jordan and I were in Alexandra Palace, watching the mandem rock the crowd as they made history by selling out the 156-year-old venue (a whole year after the tape dropped  – as told by Krept). We worked together on a review for that same headliner, and it felt as though conducting this interview was life coming full circle. As we made our way through the NME building, I encountered the two laughing with their stylist as they greeted us warmly. Konan was his usual bubbly self as Krept surveyed the meeting room gingerly, still feeling the effects of what had transpired a few days before. “I’m alright bro, thank you.” Krept spoke softly as we shared our knife scars and prepared to dig into ‘Revenge Is Sweet’.

‘Revenge Is Sweet’ making up 13 tracks, is noticeably darker in tone than the projects that precede it. Whereas ‘7 Days’ was more rap driven and ‘7 Nights’ appealed more to the fairer sex, the new album does well to refine elements from both projects, with content that does better to balance the rough with the smooth. With features that range from D-Block Europe, WizKid and Tory Lanez to Stormzy and Krept’s late cousin Cadet, this album is stacked but the features are purposeful yet authentic at the same time. I comment on the sinister feel of the album cover and ask if this was done deliberately with Halloween on the horizon. Konan offers to clear that up. “The Halloween thing weren’t even planned – it just so happens to come out the day after Halloween. We said to the graphic designer that the cover had to be dark, cos that’s how we’re coming. The concept grew from there; the creepy suits, sweet shop, the little girl!”

Upon looking at the cover again, the sweet shop is a subtle nod to the album title – which made me wonder about the inspiration for the name as Konan continues. “We wanted to reflect on everything we’ve done and where we’re at in life. Even though we were moving forward, it wasn’t really appreciated.” I ask him if he’s referring to their online detractors. “We was getting a lot of stick on line, little things were happening and we just decided to let the music do the talking. From there – what do we call this soundtrack? We thought payback, vengeance, nah. Then with ‘Revenge Is Sweet’, we felt that that was it.”

On the first listen, you’ll notice that a small fraction of the lyrics on ‘Revenge Is Sweet’ are thinly veiled barbs aimed at their “haters”. As they’re both big on social media – a sign of the times we’re in – I offer the view that it must be frustrating to sift through the hate among the well-wishers. As Krept leaves the room to take an important call, Konan as you’ll discover in this Cover Story, fancies himself as the duo’s spokesman in interviews. To his credit, he offers quick yet well considered answers as we continue to break the ice. “Do you know what it is? You wanna do that [respond to trolls], but they’re always gonna twist the attention in their favour. It’s like an opportunity for them to get on your level – or rather bringing you down to theirs.” Krept apologises and takes a seat as if he never left the conversation. “When I log out of the internet, I just think ‘bro, if you’re doing positive things in your life, you ain’t gonna have time to talk to anyone on the internet’. For me to get affected by someone that spends all their time on the internet looking for reactions, how can I do that?” Their answers to that question suggest growth and discernment; even when I’ve seen them fire back occasionally on their socials.

Speaking of growth, it’s been around two years since ‘7 Days and 7 Nights’ was released and aside from a small number of features, they haven’t put out enough content to gauge real growth. So I address this in my next question as Krept takes another call. “Business calls!” I exclaim before Krept apologises once again. “I feel like with the music we’re always learning and trying out new things. I feel like we get a lot of stick for that because people love you for what they love you for. When you go out of that box it’s like some people love it and some don’t… as an artist I’ve been writing bars since I was 12, so sometimes I feel like the bars thing bores me.”

At 30 years old, Konan has been rapping for well over a decade and is, well known for his rapid flow, cocky demeanour and a plethora of punchlines. Freestyles such as ‘Explanation’ and that SBTV one with Krept, Dubz and Yung Meth were popular at the height of the file sharing era. So to hear Konan tell it like this is interesting yet understandable when you think of recent songs such as ‘Wrongs’ that features Jhené Aiko. “It doesn’t challenge me at times so we’re at the point where we want to hit certain pockets and venture out. We’ve got a range of different styles and tempos now and are in a good space – but there’s room for improvement.”

Whatever your opinions are on this twosome, it’s hard to ignore their origins and transitions in life. They went from running around in Gipset – a gang based in the Gipsy Hill area of South East London – and a stint in prison (Konan) to being legitimate business owners, having celebrated the one year anniversary of the grand opening of Crepes and Cones.  However cocktails and nibbles are far from the only things on their agenda, with other ventures such as their Play Dirty Foundation the duo stay on their toes. “It’s not easy man,” Krept briefly pauses as he reflects on how he and Konan juggle music with their other endeavours. “There’s so much pressure when it comes to music. Like once you get there, you’ve gotta think about staying there. It’s not easy to stay there! Between always being able to deliver, keeping up with everything and friends and family that rely on you. There’s a lot of pressure and then being in the mind to write bars is a next ting because you’re just dealing with life.” It’s important to note that on the album intro, Krept brags about having 50 employees on a line that gives precedent to his words outside the booth. Heavy is the head that wears the crown quite evidently.

Bro, it’s frustrating, the fact that we always have to prove ourselves and show who we are, it’s part of the reason why we’re still here.

Whether you’re a casual listener or an avid fan, it’s easy to forget the heights that these two artists have scaled in the UK music scene; from setting the Guinness World Record for highest charting debut album (The Long Way Home) by an unsigned act; to having two mixtapes (7 Days and 7 Nights) in the Top 10 of the official album charts; and even featuring on a drill track’s remix (AirForce) which led to a Top 20 in the singles chart. Yet there’s a niggling sense that Krept and Konan have to prove themselves. “Bro, it’s frustrating. The fact that we always have to prove ourselves and show who we are, it’s part of the reason why we’re still here. Don’t get me wrong the plan is to go ALL the way. We still don’t feel as though we’ve made it; our manager looks at us like we’re mad but we’re always tryna go bigger. It’s hard when you know you should be celebrated for certain things, but they’re getting downplayed.

Following our earlier discussion, it’s clear to see that the haters discussion irks them a little but their responses draw interesting parallels. “People just blindly follow what they see on the internet. Because of that you can get a handful of people agreeing with you, even when you’re chatting shit. That’s where I feel like our scene suffers. you’ll have the same critics in the US but they know what’s what in terms of numbers. Someone could downplay what Drake is doing, but then say he has the numbers, the records  etc. We don’t clarify our opinions in the UK, it’s just straight criticism.”

Back in August the two – alongside DJ Target – launched a reality talent show aptly titled The Rap Game UK in which seven MC’s competed and collaborated in the hope of being the one to walk away with a record deal (to Play Dirty Records mind). It was recently nominated for a National Television award and deservedly so; it has breathed new life into a glum TV genre and catered to a wide, young demographic. “Doing that was a different experience. As you can see we’ve never done something like that, especially being involved with BBC. The production value was very high in my opinion. It was also very authentic – I don’t know how other shows are but they let us take the lead on certain things such as the script and altering some aspects of the show. I’ve gotta big up the production team on that one.” *SPOILER ALERT* The seven contestants were eventually whittled down to one and the eventual winner Kiico has already locked in with Krept and Konan and they have relished the mentoring aspect of running a label. “We’ve been in the studio with him for the past week and had three sessions so far – catching a vibe in the studio and, giving him advice on some stuff. He’s made 2 or 3 riddims already; he’s just trying to decide which one he likes the most. We’re really tryna mould him and take this mentoring seriously.”

One listen of Krept’s ‘Morley’s Freestyle’ had me wanting a few solo tracks from the duo on the album but that wish would be shot down in flames. They can literally smell the disappointment on me. “*laughs* “Nah no solo tracks on this one. He’s like ahhh cos he knows how we’re coming!” I was unaware that Konan suddenly led the interview but who was I to interject? Krept would elaborate on its conception. “That was written out of boredom really! Because we’re in album mode, I thought to myself that it’s been a while since I’ve freestyled or done anything like that so I wrote that one mad quick. I wanted to get into the spirit of writing for fun. There was no pressure attached to writing ‘Morley’s Freestyle’, so from there I literally searched ‘classic grime beats’ and saw [frequent collaborator] P2J – we’re working with P2J on the album so this makes sense. After getting his permission and stuff sorted, I just did it. The lyric about Morley’s is why it’s called ‘Morley’s Freestyle’ and shooting the video outside Morley’s [Thornton Heath] made sense. And then from there, one of my family members said they could get an advert going on the screens of all the Morley’s and Chicken Cottage shops in the country. That wasn’t even a label thing; that was just out of love and my family wanting to support.”

Going back into album mode, the guys enthuse about the wide range of features, they round off on a few of them in terms of studio habits and a few sound bites stand out. On Wizkid “He’s having a kid so he just hasn’t been around. And cos he’s a vibe man, you’ve just gotta catch him when he’s in the studio”. They’re full of praise for their Lewisham counterparts D-Block Europe and sum up their work rate perfectly “It’s all melody. They don’t write, everything’s about energy with them. They’ve got that Future and Thugga studio presence, they stay in the booth!” With all the stories from making the album, I ask why there was no BTS documentary. “You know what it is? I should have just rolled with a camera at least and filmed it a bit.”

While they’re not quite in praise of the nuance of criticism in the UK, they’re in high praise of the current state of the UK scene and offer an interesting parallel. “We thought that we had a scene in the UK before, we didn’t have a scene. We had a couple grime man and a couple rap man. That’s not a scene, that’s a drink up! You’ve got NSG, J Hus, Bugzy, H, Mist, Giggs, Skeppy, Kano, flipping Ghetts, then you got Russ, Headie One. We’ve got girls now in the scene! Ella Mai, Steff[lon Don], Ms Banks, the girls are killing it right now. It’s mad because the festivals are like link ups now, before you couldn’t get all of us on the line up, There was one of us and now and we can call each other and be like rah, the mandem are on tour.”

‘Broski’ is the most heartfelt number on the album and it’ll resonate with many once you learn the nature of Krept’s best friend’s passing. He speaks on the process of writing that cut and also ‘Letter to Cadet’. “It’s therapeutic just to be able to reminisce and when you’re writing you’re just thinking about all the good stuff that someone has done for you. It’s like an open eulogy. I feel like if you listen to that you might get an insight on Nash’s character and going back to ‘Letter to Cadet’ you can get a feel for the amount of lives that he’s affected positively. That’s what I see when I make music about someone specifically or about a loss that we’ve had.”

Their PR, pops her head through the doorway with a poignant half-smile; the universal prompt that all journalists know to mean “wrap up”. To conclude our lengthy sit-down, I ask Krept and Konan what they want the listeners to take from ‘Revenge Is Sweet’. “I want them to just love the music and get where we’re coming from. See the journey, the frustrations. And if you’re a little hater in the comments then be a hater in the comments! I want them to listen to the music and be like ‘you know what? We might have done these guys a bit dirty. Let’s ease up on the mandem’.” Krept concludes with a silver lining as he tends to his leg “I want people to get inspiration from the album and get perspective on how to deal with negative shit.”

‘Revenge Is Sweet’ is out now on all good digital vendors. The Rap Game UK is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.