When it comes to the themes in their music, Krept and Konan are often outside the box, bravely and poetically delivering dimensions of life neglected by their rivals. Not many rappers have the guts to display their vulnerabilities without coupling it with some bravado, so these two stand out. In their latest track, “My Story,” they speak of death and pain, and shed tears, taking their listeners back to a moment that changed their lives forever: in 2011, Konan’s stepfather was killed after a gunman stormed into his family’s home. Besides providing a biting commentary on this vivid moment and its aftermath, the South London duo also addresses countless other subjects through their records: gang violence, imprisonment, betrayal and failed relationships. Kanye West has firmly held the mantle of courageous truth-telling after notoriously humiliating George Bush over his handling of Hurricane Katrina, but Krept and Konan may well challenge him for this position.
They are now making a bold declaration that no one can argue with – the name and quality of their new mixtape, Young Kingz. Their first major project in three years sees them living up to all the courage that they have become synonymous with. They are an uncompromising force to be reckoned with. Not only does their music have merit, it deserves your undivided attention and not our say-so. If you ask them where they are situated in British rap, they will declare, “We’re at the top.” Although some may oppose their affirmation, Krept and Konan’s audacious resistance and tenure may well see them in line to become heir to the UK rap throne. The two spoke candidly about their musical friendship, creating illusions through their storytelling, and provided us with some tips on how to write a good diss.
RESPECT: It seems to me the thing that people really appreciates about both you is the way you’ve put so much of your life out there in your records.
Konan: Oh yeah, definitely!
Krept: There’s a lot more to us, but I think that is one of the major things that is noticed about us.
Can you describe how it feels to be in this whirlwind of good fortune that’s currently around you?
Konan: We’re taking it in and thriving off it in order to reach our bigger goals. When you’re working hard you don’t realize it as much. Obviously, it’s doesn’t get to our heads. It just pushes us to work and achieve more.
I’m intrigued by this connection between you. How is it that two rappers from South London have become both artists and best friends?
Konan: We’ve always been friends so being able to make music together now is a real bonus. Like everyone else, we have our little arguments but because we both share the same dreams and goals, we don’t ever allow our egos to get the better of us.
What was the spark that brought you together and how has it continued to keep you together as a unit?
Krept: We grew up as friends. I remember Konan and I both rapping in our area, which was how we all became friends. There were a few of us who used to spit bars together, but at the end of it, Konan and I were the ones left. After that, we did a mixtape together which was meant to have other people on there, but circumstances changed, and it just ended up being me and Konan. We kept it going from there with freestyles, which blew up on the Internet, and after that we did another mixtape for the streets.
When you’re writing a song or in a creative field, does one of you come up with an inspiration or is it kind of a collaborative process?
Konan: It’s a bit of both. The majority of the time when we make a song we might not even be in the same place. When we’re in the studio we just make things up as we go along, but usually when we’re not together we’ll just tell each other what we’ve done. That’s how we work.
Is there ever any competitive element between the both of you when collaborating?
Krept: No, not really. Obviously, we make sure that we go hard equally on anything that we do. Like, for example, if Konan does a hard verse, and I feel mine ain’t up to scratch I’d just change it, or he’d do the same. If one of us sounds good from the start of an opening verse, then it will stay there, we always try to balance it out.
How did you know you were going to become rappers? Was it always on the horizon?
Konan: To be fair, I always knew I wanted to be a musician. Music was always part of my family. My dad was a singer [reggae veteran Delroy Wilson], my mum was his backing singer, and my brothers also sang in a group when they were younger. I did use to try to sing before but obviously that wasn’t meant to be.
Krept: When I was younger, I did not really think I was going to be a musician. I wanted to be a footballer, but after injuring my leg the only thing that I could do next was rap. So I started spitting and ended up being good at it.
What is that “thing” that makes you outshine other artists?
Konan: It’s the fact that there are two of us, and we are both good at what we do. At the same time, we try to keep things exciting. We don’t ever do the same thing over again. We might do an emotional song and after that something about the clubs, or just have fun. We really try to stay ahead of the game with everything we do with our sound and visuals. I reckon that’s why we stand out a bit.
To you, what is the most important aspect of telling a story?
Krept: It’s all about being honest.
Konan: When someone listens to a song, they should be able to close their eyes and paint a picture with your words. It’s important how words are phrased because, for example, if you’re rapping about walking down the street I’ve got to be able to walk down that very same street with you.
In the “My Story” video, Konan, you recount a real-life tragedy that sees you telling a tragic tale about a near death experience, which resulted in the death of your stepfather. It’s unsettling to see. What’s it like for you to see yourself like that?
Konan: It obviously takes me back to that place where it happened. I have seen it so many times, so now it’s just a music video. At the same time, the reality of what happened will always be in the back of my mind. When I watch it I always know it was actually worse than what I’ve put onto the screen. The reconstruction in the video is less of what actually happened.
And, this is upsetting for me to even bring up, but do you now feel a certain amount of heaviness on your shoulders, in regards to making your stepfather proud?
Konan: Yeah — one-hundred percent, man. I feel like if I don’t do the best that I can, then he basically died for no reason. Obviously, he didn’t die in vain, but in that situation, it was either him or me. He went ahead and tried to stop them from coming in and ended up passing instead of me. So now there’s definitely weight on my shoulders for me to achieve as much as I can.
I’m assuming the moment that you both discovered music and gained some success was probably the moment when you realized that all the money and girls in the world cannot heal misery. So my question is – how has your outlook about success shifted over the years in relation to seeking happiness first?
Konan: To be honest – success means nothing when you’re not happy. When it comes to doing music, you’ve got to make sure you’re happy with what you’re doing. There have been times when we’ve done tracks that everyone loves, but deep down, we weren’t happy. One thing we try to do now is make sure that everything we do we are happy – that may include us on a feature or a freestyle. What’s the point of having success without happiness? I’d rather be doing a normal job and be happy with that.
You make reference to religion in “My Story” and in your new video “Don’t Waste My Time”. It’s obviously a familiar subject with everyone, but do you think there’s a connection between music and religion?
Krept: Music has it’s influence and so does religion. I believe that they are connected in someway, and they both have a big influence in the world. Music can affect your emotion and so can religion. When you’re feeling down, you pray and the same goes with finding music that can uplift you. I think they both go hand in hand.
Parts of Young Kingz comprise some of the most vulnerable lyrics you’ve ever made. What provoked you to do that?
Krept: Because we hadn’t done a mixtape in three years, we felt we had to put something out. We spent most of last year just experimenting with different sounds while trying to focus on the mainstream and build relationships in order to take our next step. However, by doing that we kind of lost ourselves and what we were known for doing. This is why we decided to take it back and do what we wanted to do and not worry about the record label or anyone’s approval. We have done this for us and the fans.
You’ve featured a majestic throne and crown on your mixtape cover. What were you trying to say by doing that?
Konan: Young Kingz can be the definition of anything really, like literally anything you interpret it as. The whole point of us calling it that was to let people know – no matter what we’ve gone through – we’re still here. The crown and throne obviously represents royalty, but to make it standout even more, we decide to use a white background to clash with the bright red. I think that’s pretty much how the whole concept came about.
Krept: We’re not basically saying we are young kings – anybody can have that crown. We’re all young kings. We could’ve have worn the crowns on our heads, but instead we wanted everyone to feel like a young king or queen.
Konan: Yeah. We want everyone to share it with us.
Where do you see yourself in the hierarchy of UK music?
Krept: I think as far as the underground, we’re at the top. At the moment, we’re just sitting here waiting to cross over into the other world.
Konan: When it comes to the underground, I don’t think there’s anything that we haven’t done or covered. Now we are thinking about how we are going to prepare to take the next step. We just need to ensure that we make the right moves after the mixtape, but I believe we’re ready for whatever is next.
I was Twitter-stalking you, Konan, and a while ago you tweeted, “Getting a record deal is the easy part. Staying in that deal and meeting expectations is the hard part.” Can you elaborate?
Konan: A lot of people get clouded by being signed by record labels, like, “Yeah. I’ve just got signed.” But even though that person has made it, we’ve realised that getting a deal is not the difficult part, but staying in that deal is probably the hardest thing. As you know – labels spend a lot of money to get their artists into the public eye, and if they’re spending a lot of money that means as an artist you also need to be making lots of money. If they are putting out singles from your album and you’re not meeting expectations, then the likelihood is that you’re going to get dropped. I’ve seen a lot of artists get signed and then dropped. The record deal is not the hard part; it’s staying in that deal and meeting requirements.
You’re both a brand now, how do you approach the marketing of your music?
Krept: [Laughs] We try to make sure that we stick to our routine of releasing music and keeping everybody informed. Whatever we do or release we always build up anticipation with the fans through Twitter. We’ve also worked hard on our Play Dirty brand, so people know when they hear that name, they straightaway think of us.
Konan: The Internet is free [Laughs]. If we can’t get onto TV or radio, we use social media. We recently decided to build our YouTube channel instead of relying on big platforms.
Krept: Yeah. We keep the power over here.
Can you provide any advice on writing a really good diss?
Krept: Try and aim for the thing that’s going to hurt the most.
Konan: [Laughs] I don’t think it should be too personal because someone who may not know who or what you’re talking about – should be able to laugh at what you’re saying. Just take the piss and keep it comical.
When you look back on all the ups and downs of your life we’ve talked about so far, how would you like to be remembered? If you could write the epitaph on your tombstone, what would it say?
Konan: “They inspired and changed things. Young Kings.” [Laughs].
Krept and Konan’s mixtape Young Kingz is out now. For more info, click here.
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