British rap duo Krept and Konan are on the brink of something big. As their debut single is played on UK radio for the first time, Chanelle Tourish sits down with the pair to talk fame and the release of their new album.
‘We always believed that we’d make it in music,’ says Krept.
UK rap duo Casyo ‘Krept’ Johnson and Karl ‘Konan’ Wilson are sitting in their suite at Atlantis The Palm, hours after touching down in the emirate. Surprisingly, the 25-year-olds are in good spirits despite flying economy on a seven-hour flight from London – not quite the A-list lifestyle yet. Both appear exhausted but that doesn’t stop them promoting their debut single, ‘Freak of the Week’, featuring American artist Jeremih on social media – we’re told that it’s about to be played on UK national radio for the first time. ‘I feel like we’re just going up the stairs. We’ve had a lot of moments, we just want to keep having them,’ says Konan. Throughout our interview, the pair listen live, waiting in quiet anticipation, and we sense that we are witnessing one of their ‘moments’.
Having won two MOBO Awards –for Best Newcomer in 2013 and Best Hip-Hop Act in 2014 – the young artists don’t seem to have let the taste of fame go to their heads. ‘We flew on a private jet once to LA,’ says Krept. ‘It was mad. We had McDonald’s on there and everything.’ Konan excitedly interrupts. ‘Yeah, that was crazy. We had our own customs. Usually when you go to America, they’re like, [mimics an American accent] “Hi sir, what are you doing here?” But on a private jet, they’re like, “Welcome to America”’.
In the UAE to perform tracks from their debut album, The Long Way Home – which is due to be released Monday July 6 – the friends who have been working together for eight years say they’ve still got a long way to go. ‘We have so much more to achieve,’ Konan says. ‘It wasn’t easy when we first came up. There was always some sort of hurdle we had to get over. People would say we wouldn’t work as a duo. When we put out our first cover in 2011 of Jay Z’s and Kanye West’s ‘Otis’, we had like three million views on YouTube. That was unheard of back then.’
The Long Way Home is one of the most anticipated albums of the year, having already gone to number two on pre-sales on iTunes in the week of its pre-release. It features chart-topping artists including Ed Sheeran, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, Emeli Sandé and fellow British rapper Skepta. ‘I feel like it has universal appeal. It isn’t the typical sound you’d expect from a UK artist. We have a lot of storytelling on there, we touch on a lot of subjects,’ Krept says.
The pair aren’t afraid to open up to their fans. Tracks such as ‘Roses’ with Scottish artist Emeli Sandé reflects on Konan seeing his cousin being sent overseas to war. Other songs tell of Krept’s experience of dealing with a friend’s death – ‘It’s like therapy,’ he says. ‘We’re all human. People think musicians don’t go through trials and tribulations but we do. Music is a good way to let everyone know you’re human.’
Growing up in South London, the pair met through mutual friends, bonding over their love of rap and grime music. As independent artists, they attracted millions of followers through a series of mixtapes released via YouTube. In 2013, the industry came calling and the rappers signed to Virgin EMI Records. ‘Social media is a big part of why we’re here today. We kind of mastered that tool,’ says Konan. ‘We have 100 percent creative control. We’ve done so well independently that we didn’t want to fix something that wasn’t broken,’ adds Krept.
Since then, the pair have gained prominence, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kim Kardashian West and Kanye. In February, the duo were part of Kanye West’s crew for his performance at the Brit Awards in London. And while the Thornton Heath-born pair are well-behaved throughout our encounter (a tip Kanye should remember – who can forget the 2009 Taylor Swift MTV fiasco) they do cite the American rapper as an influence. ‘He’s a million percent misunderstood. I think he plays on it, though. At the Brits he was really humble and cool. He’s very creative and he does so much that people don’t know about. I feel like he gets frustrated because he doesn’t get the respect for it,’ Konan says.
And it seems that West might just be rubbing off on Krept and Konan, who aren’t letting industry heavyweights dictate terms to them. ‘Every idea you see is our idea. There are a lot of sharks in the industry who will try and take advantage of you if you don’t know what you’re doing,’ says Krept. ‘Yeah, there are a lot of dream sellers. I think because we’re from the streets, we had to learn the hard way. Coming up as rappers isn’t as easy as, say, a pop singer. You have to know what you’re doing,’ adds Konan.
With festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading and Wireless on the agenda this summer and their album about to drop, we think Krept and Konan are doing just fine.
The Long Way Home is out Mon July 6, available for download on iTunes. www.kreptxkonan.com.