When you think of the UK’s grime scene, artists like Skepta, Dizzee Rascal, and Wiley immediately come to mind, but it’s hip-hop duo Krept and Konan international music lovers should be looking out for.
The 25-year-olds got their start in the grime scene (a hip-hop sub-genre structured around double-time rhythm) as young teens looking to escape the death and violence plaguing their South London neighborhoods. But it wasn’t until Konan, born Karl Wilson, was ambushed by rival gang members outside of his South London home in 2011, that the longtime friends made a conscious decision to liberate themselves from their destructive lifestyle.
The “Freak of The Week” rappers stopped by GlobalGrind’s office to discuss rising above gang culture, overcoming the death of Konan’s stepfather, and how they’ve become the highest-selling hip-hop act in UK history.
Krept and Konan’s debut LP The Long Way Home is currently available on iTunes. Check out our exclusive interview with Krept and Konan below.
GlobalGrind: The Long Way Home…tell me about the album. How did you connect with all these U.S. artists? I know some of the relationships were organic, but did the label set up any collabs?
Konan: None of them were. Basically, when they come over to the UK, they kind of get our presence. We’ll be in the same shows as them…that’s how the YG collab happened. He was on after us at this festival in the UK and he was like, ‘Why did they put us after you guys?’ He was like, ‘We need to make a song happen.’ We played him a song and he was like, ‘Yeah, I mess with this.’ We had a show, Rick Ross was performing and so were we. We killed that show. DJ Semtex gave Rick Ross our stuff and Rick Ross was like, ‘They make stuff like this in the UK?’ And we got in the studio the next day.
How did this journey begin? When did you start rapping?
Konan: Together? I say 2004 or 2003. Before that, I wrote my first rap when I was like 11, like 2001. We started off doing grime, but because of our wordplay it went over a lot of people’s heads, so that’s how we started gravitating to the rap.
What part of London did you guys grow up in?
Krept: South London.
Are you guys Jamaican?
Krept and Konan: Yeah.
Growing up in London and being Jamaican, did you listen to a lot of dancehall or reggae?
Konan: Growing up in London, we listened to a lot of American hip-hop, dancehall, and reggae. My dad was in a reggae band when I was growing up too. I also listened to a lot of Ma$e and P. Diddy, 50 Cent, SWV – a mix of everything.
Who are some of your favorite rappers?
Krept: Eminem is one of my favorite rappers. I became a fan of Eminem through 8 Mile. Biggie, I love Biggie. I used to love Missy Elliott as well.
Konan: I remember I had Will Smith’s Wild Wild West on CD. (laughs).
Culturally, what do you think is the biggest difference between American and UK hip-hop?
Konan: I say the accent really. America is years ahead of us in terms of it becoming pop culture. In London, it’s still niche.
Krept: They don’t have hip-hop stations in the UK.
Konan: We come here and there’s rap in the stores. It’s not big like it is here [America]. We’re still fighting for it to become accepted on mainstream radio. We were the first street rap group to get our song on mainstream radio. We had the highest charting UK rap album ever.
How does that feel?
Krept: It’s great, because we’re leading something that can be massive. We’re at the forefront of it. It’s a good feeling. Everyone in the UK is supporting us.
Do you feel like you’re making history?
Krept and Konan: Definitely.
Krept: Especially when our local papers has headlines like “Krept and Konan are making history.”
You guys grew up in a rough area of London, right?
Krept and Konan: Yeah.
You were in a gang together?
Krept and Konan: Yeah.
How did you guys get out of gang life?
Konan: In 2011, I was going into my house and two guys ran up on me. Long story short, I ran into my house, they ran after me. I ran into my mom’s room, closed the door, and they kicked down the door. Shot through the door and shot my mom. My stepdad ran out after them and they shot my stepdad dead. I was leaning against a wardrobe and I pulled out my gun like, ‘Where is he?’ They left. My mom went downstairs and was screaming my stepdad’s name and he was just dead on the floor. She was just screaming. The neighbors tried to resuscitate him. And that was a time when the police…
Krept: The police took his house.
Konan: Yeah, the police took our house and I was homeless for six months. I had the same clothes on for like three months. That was the point when I was like, ‘What am I doing right now?’
How do you move on from that? Your mom was shot and your stepdad was killed because of your lifestyle.
Konan: It was the music. I got taken away to the police station and she [mom] came to see me and told me that he [stepdad] was dead. When he went to the hospital, we didn’t know if he was dead yet, and I just broke down because it was my fault. I couldn’t let it break me. My friends are from the streets, so my friends were like, ‘We have to go get whoever did this.’ And I was like, ‘If we do that, we can’t do the music. This is all I got left.’ One of my other friends was like, ‘Fuck the music,’ but Krept was like, ‘Well, it’s up to you.’ It was a turning point that day. If I was going to go negative, it was only going to breed negative. So, I just got lost in the music.
Aren’t you glad you chose the music?
Konan: Yeah. (laughs).
How old were you all when you joined a gang?
Konan: It’s like an area thing. So you grow up in it. He’s [Krept] from another area of South London, but we became friends because our gangs teamed up and became allies.
Krept: Everyone around you is doing it. Every area.
Konan: Every area there’s a gang. It’s not as heavy now, but it used to be really bad when we were growing up.
How do you guys see yourself growing in the American market? We’re pretty picky and pretentious when it comes to music artists.
Krept: The UK is like that too.
Konan: Our culture is really into grime, so if you do anything outside of that they’ll say “you’re selling out.” For example, people say our “Freak Of The Week” video is too glossy.
Konan: Everybody in our scene and culture has been anti-label. People will say ‘Awww, man, the label is changing you.’ They’re stuck in their ways, but we’re staying true to who we are and everybody’s rooting for us.
PHOTO CREDIT: Def Jam