KREPT & KONAN: RECIPE TO SUCCESS
INTERVIEW & WORDS: TOM EVEREST
“Spit it for me, bro,” shouts Konan, with a slight crack in his voice which outlines his genuine excitement in response to the question. I’ve just asked Krept and Konan what is the greatest lyric each other has ever written.
“Krept has so many,” he adds. “I’d say the most legendary one and I’m saying legendary is the Otis line. Say it again for me Krept, it’s been so long bro. The Otis one, bro, it’s gone out of my head…” Krept replies with the nonchalance of a man who knows he has an archive – an arsenal – of hard-hitting lyrics which he can comfortably recite any time he cares to. Over the buzz of an inter-connecting three-way phone call, just days after our full digital cover shoot with the pair in Hoxton, East London, Krept punches back. “Money on my brain 24/7, Got 1 sik 8 like 24 7s, Get a calculator out and go back to the last sentence.” Konan joins in as soon as the familiarity of Krept’s delivery helps him connect the dots in his own head. “There you go, that’s the one! There’s so many others, though, I even remember the first time you said that,” Konan adds.
Everyone knows the feeling. The first time you hear a song or listen to an album there is often a moment where it catches you off-guard. A moment that rewards an immediate wheel-up or a lyric which makes you stop, think, reconsider. On November 1st, when Krept and Konan dropped their second studio album – Revenge is Sweet – that precise moment came a lot quicker than I had anticipated. 10 seconds in. That was it. Krept’s intro to GOAT Level began: “Don’t compare me to these rappers, please stop all the noise.” It wasn’t a shock for the severity of the lyrics, or even the sentiment. As, let’s be honest, Krept’s roll call of bars reads a whole lot stronger than that intro. But, what it did do was set the tone for the rest of the album. It was a warning shot to anyone whoever doubted them. Or anyone who forgot what impact the pair have made on UK culture. Everyone is a big fish until the sharks come out.
“It felt like the perfect time to deliver the message of what we’ve experienced,” explains Krept in his trademark gravelly tone. “We’re always just trying to prove people wrong and we do it in the reflection of success.” It’s the same predatory instinct which has propelled the duo through the last decade. In 2010, Krept and Konan started out swimming against the tide, trying to make a wave at a time where there was no real current for them to exploit. So, they did it all themselves. The duo hit 2010 hard and released their second official mixtape later the same year – Tsunami – featuring the likes of Ghetts, Giggs and Scorcher. It was a tape notorious for the number of illegal downloads it clocked. The tide was rising.
A year later, they released a cover of Jay Z and Kanye West’s ‘Otis’ – the track which features Konan’s favourite Krept lyric – and it reached five million views in its first days of being uploaded to YouTube. However, with legalities against the rights of the sample, the video was removed from the duo’s profile. It didn’t matter, the momentum had been gained. In 2013, their debut mixtape became the highest-charting UK release by an unsigned act. They won a MOBO and a BET Award. Then, in 2017, their 7 Days 7 Nights mixtape made them the first act to ever have two mixtapes simultaneously enter the UK album chart in the top 10.
Last year, they opened their own restaurant, the dessert spot Crepes and Cones, while this year they broke even more new ground with the launch of The Rap Game on BBC 3. Away from that, their ongoing commitment to a life which is bigger than music continued with charity work through the Positive Direction Foundation — which is described as “an after school program to engage, encourage and inspire creativity in young people.” They’ve also used their platform to shine a light on the negative side-effects of the moral panic-led crackdown on drill music, by attending parliament to speak on that issue too. “We don’t come from rich backgrounds so for us we feel like we have an opportunity to break the cycle and perhaps act as an inspiration to some,” reflects Konan. “Our parents did the first steps for getting us to this country and setting us up and now I feel like we have to run with the baton until you reach the finish line.”
So, when Revenge is Sweet arrived early in November, it made a statement. A big one. It offered a less than subtle reminder of what they bring to the game. “Rapping ten years straight no breaks there is levels. We are fucking presidential. Where the fuck are your credentials?” It’s not them taking direct shots, it’s not them looking for sympathy or props either. It’s not said with an inflated sense of arrogance or an air of entitlement. Quite the opposite. They’re fully inclusive. As Krept and Konan invited out a whole host of names – Stefflon Don, Stormzy, NSG and Michael Dapaah – to join them on stage at their sold out show at the O2 Arena just last month. The new album has also ensured that Krept and Konan have entered that rarefied stratosphere of UK artists whose combination of momentous moments, charting success and life work resonates beyyond the realms of music. They’re now more than just musicians, they are spokesmen for positive change.
To track the undeniable rise of Krept and Konan and to mark a milestone year of mixed proportions, we sat down with the South London duo to find out what has made their ascent to the top of UK music so special and how, most importantly, they’ve done it together.
"We don't come prom rich backgrounds so for us we feel like we have an opportunity to break the cycle and perhaps act as an, inspiration to come people too."
There’s only one place to start; the album cover. Which is, undoubtedly, one of the finest of the decade. How quickly did the album cover come into existence after the narrative of Revenge is Sweet was locked down?
Konan: It wasn’t massively overthought or overproduced. The whole idea came from the name and the album itself. When we’re talking about Revenge is Sweet, that’s just how we’re feeling at the time, so the simple thought was how could we nail that message in a visual? The whole shop, it’s not just a sweet shop. It’s an entire new world; it’s a nightmare horror shop that hides all these stories. It’s very dark. I used to watch this programme called The League of Gentleman and there was a shop that everyone would go to. Every time anyone went in the shop the woman who worked there would always say, ‘ah, are you lot cool?’ and if they wasn’t, she’d kill them (laughs). So, basically, it was that kind of theme; that as soon as you enter the shop you’ve got to be with us, if not then you’re not leaving the shop. That is the Revenge is Sweet narrative and that’s been our thought-process for a while now.
How hard is it to keep something that incredible and something you’re so proud of under wraps while you’re working on it?
Konan: It’s hard, you know (laughs.) When we do something sick, we’re always wanting to share it. We do send little bits and ideas to the people who we actually fuck with – the in-house people – our group of friends, we have this tight group and we always just put things in there to get people's feedback.
So, why was now the perfect time to deliver the Revenge is Sweet message to the world?
Krept: The reason why we chose that message was mainly because we’re experiencing it all right now. It’s as simple as that. We’ve had to have previous success, albums and mixtapes to get to a point where we feel the way we feel. I don’t feel like we could have done this at the start because there was no fire or this feeling of people bringing us down because we hadn’t even got anywhere to be brought down from.
So, it felt like the perfect time to deliver the message of what we’ve experienced. Now, even if people try to bring us down, we’re always just trying to prove people wrong. We do it in the reflection of success. I know a lot of people in our industry who go through similar situations, so we felt even stronger at this time to say it because they are not only trying to bring us down, they’re trying to bring us all down. It happens to a lot of us. This is our way of switching it around, to be successful and to keep doing what we’re doing.
Is that the biggest misconception of being Krept and Konan? That people don’t see the shots that are fired your way or people don’t see the pressure you’re under to level up…
Krept: 100%. You always see artists say ‘we’re humans as well, we’ve got feelings’ and I don’t think people take that seriously. I think sometimes people think artists are not human and they don’t go through anything and so they can say anything they want and it won’t affect you. They think everything is perfect. A lot of people assume if you have money then you must be doing alright. But, that can’t be further from the case. Life isn’t all about money, as we all know. There’s so many other things which come to life. Personal issues; relationships; death, friendships, love, marriage – whatever. People go through so many important things that go way beyond finance and money. People kind of forget that.
Do you think that the most beautiful part of your job is the fact that you’re able to turn heartbreak, pain and suffering into a cathartic moment for yourself but also something that gives life to a lot of other people?
Krept: 100%, I mean 100%. A lot of people come and tell us how much the music means to them and how much it helps them get through. If we couldn’t help people in that way then what’s the point? For us, it’s not just about making music. It’s not just about making music for clubs and turning up. It’s about things that everyday people go through. Yeah, the other songs are great. When you’re performing, you’ve got shows, you’re in the club and it’s lit, things get turned – that’s great. But there’s something bigger for us, there always has.
It’s great when you get messages from people saying you’ve helped them get through something or you saved their life. It’s special. If you let people know that you’re there for them and your music can help them in life then that goes so much further and a much longer way. Especially, losing a close friend in shocking accident, being able to help people to not go through our friend went through.
What I think is really special about you two is your emotional intelligence. The vividness in which you recite stories, memories and characters in your music is special. Have you always had that ability?
Konan: I feel like it’s just because we’re telling our truth. You can’t fake that. You can’t shape that. So, when we’re expressing certain feelings or relaying stories it comes from man’s heart, it comes from the soul. It’s so real because it’s flowing through the pen from my heart and soul. That’s for real. I feel like that’s why if you stay true to your art and you stay true to your story, then that is what’s going to show no matter what you’re doing. Whether you’re making music, writing, acting, doing poetry; if you’re speaking your truth then that’s always going to resonate on some level.
2019 has been a year of mixed emotions for you, but what’s been the biggest thing which you have learned?
Krept: The biggest thing that we’ve learned? (Pause) I don’t know. I wouldn’t say there is one single that I could even say. It’s a tough question. Above all else, I think the main thing is that good music will last. That you don’t need to rush, if the music hits it will hit no matter when you deliver it. Everyone feels that you can always be putting out new music, always be doing new things but we’ve learned that when you put out good honest music it rises above all the nonsense and all the chatting. Good music will always win in the end.
Let’s take it back. The second mixtape – Tsunami – was known for the amount of illegal downloads it clocked. Do you ever miss those times, or do you still have that limitless mindset in what you do today?
Krept: I feel like just making this album our mindset changed in general. Not just in terms of music but in terms of life. Do you know what I mean? Our whole mindset has changed into not just being artists but to learn to be businessmen, to learn to prioritise certain things, to be on top of certain subjects. Our whole mindset has changed. When we put out that mixtape there wasn’t much thought to anything: we just did things. Now, when we’re putting out music, we want to touch people in a real way. We want to talk about real things that we’re really going through. We’ve always done that, of course. Looking back to the first mixtape with My Story but when it comes to making an album we’re more aware of how important it is to actually put this stuff out. I think that’s the major way in which our mindset has changed, is the fact that we’re now completely aware of the message we’re putting out there. And how. I think that, you know, thinking about how lines and our music can affect people.
Even in lines when we say, ‘fuck pressure from the net, just work hard’. We know how pressured people are nowadays from the internet and it’s just about really thinking about what words and messages you put across in your music when you’re saying things. I think that’s been a big part of our growth in terms of the content and what we’re saying in our lyrics. I think tracks like Broski, you can’t plan that, it’s just life. That’s a period of time we went through and you can’t make up that stuff on the spot. It’s how you share that.
In everything you do now – the album, the shows, talking in Parliament or opening restaurants – how much do you consider legacy?
Konan: Yeah, you have to. We don’t come from rich backgrounds so for us we feel like we have an opportunity to break the cycle and perhaps act as an inspiration to some people too. My Pops was a singer but unfortunately he passed away before he got to do all what he wanted to do. So, I feel like it’s in me. When I went to see my sister for the first time when I was like 24 she told me that on Dad’s deathbed he was saying we have to keep the music alive. She said, ‘I can’t do music, so it will have to be you.’ They are words I always consider, they keep replaying in my mind; to keep it going. We both have to keep it going for ourselves, our future kids, our grandkids our great grandkids. Our parents did the first steps for getting us to this country and setting us up and now I feel like we have to run with the baton until we reach the finish line.
Let’s talk about the football-inspired lyrics in the album, how did they come about?
Konan: To be honest with you, I don’t know. Look at Bellerin, yeah, we just know him. When we’re making lyrics he just came to mind and I said and thought ‘yeah, that’s hard’. It stuck. When you think about the lyric and how it fits and flows, I was just like yeah, let’s give him a shoutout. It’s as easy as that.
Do the footballers ever reach out to you after you’ve dropped their names in your bars?
Konan: Usually, more time when you shout-out someone out they always react or send you a little message saying, ‘ah, hard.’ But, I haven’t spoken to Bellerin in a minute, when I see him next though I hope he says something.
What would you say is the hardest bar each other has written?
Krept: It’s hard to say the hardest, you know, because there are so many. But, I’d say my favourite is ‘My dad died 45, guess I’m the son of a gun.’
Konan: Krept has so many! I’d say the most legendary one – I’m saying legendary. The Otis line. Say it again for me Krept, it’s been so long bro. The Otis one – bro, it’s gone out of my head…
Krept: ‘Money on my brain 24/7, Got 1 sik 8 like 24 7s, Get a calculator out and go back to the last sentence.’
Konan: There you go, that’s the one! There’s so many, though.
You’re both United fans; how did that relationship with the club grow?
Konan: It was back in the day, primary school days, and it was mainly because of David Beckham. Back then for everyone it was either Man United or Arsenal so it was an easy choice.
Krept: I got into it because by Godfather gave me a United shirt when I was a kid. So, I just started supporting United. He was the reason behind it all.
If you could have one United player from past or present to feature in your next video who would it be and why?
Konan: Beckham. All day. 100%. GOAT.
Krept: He’s the GOAT, ain’t he. I feel it’s just self-explanatory why. You know what I mean? If we had to explain why, we’d be here for days, reeling off different accolades. He’s the GOAT. It just doesn’t get better than him.