A Decade In, Krept & Konan Have Proved Their Worth

Words + Photography: Jesse Bernard

‘We move’ is no doubt the mantra of UK Black Twitter in 2019, but it’s also come to exemplify just how Krept & Konan have had to approach the year (and the last ten). Although their Gipset days feel like a lifetime ago, the famed rap duo’s 2011 freestyle over Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis”—which earned them five million views in the first five days—signalled the rise of their sharp trajectory.

The story begins several years prior when they first met in 2005 and, often, when they get a chance to sit down and think, they can’t believe that they’ve made it this far. “Sometimes I wish I could give people my eyes so they could see the journey from our point of view,” says Konan, when I meet him and Krept in Central London. “It’s been crazy: the ups and downs, even dealing with the lowest points such as losing friends and family. Suddenly, you’re all over the radio, everyone’s talking about you, winning a MOBO and all of the stuff that comes with it. But it’s been sick—I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.”

Krept & Konan’s second studio album, Revenge Is Sweet, takes a much more contemplative direction but no doubt a family affair, featuring the former’s late cousin, Cadet, and a sample of Konan’s father, Delroy Wilson, who recorded for renowned reggae labels such as Studio One, Trojan Records and Coxsone. Perhaps that’s why they feel particularly buoyed by the release of this project: it’s much bigger than them and represents the musical influence both families have had on popular music in Britain.

When we connect on a Monday afternoon, with autumn’s crisp seeping through every crevice, Krept & Konan are in good spirits. But it’s been a tumultuous two years, to say the least. We often measure success through our own wins and losses but what the stats fail to show is what happens in between, life isn’t that binary. Taking stock of the highs and lows has allowed the pair to realise what’s been gained, and what’s been lost. “You’re always trying to get to the next and to the next, that you don’t always get the chance to enjoy the moment,” says Konan. “I feel like it’s a gift and a curse. There’s gonna be one day when we’re sitting down with our grandkids telling them the memories of what happened.”

It’s been nearly nine months since Cadet, Krept’s cousin and the duo’s longtime collaborator, passed away in a car crash. They’re doing their best to process the grief that comes with losing a friend and loved one; they admit that they have bad days, but the one constant has been the bond between them that has carried them through some of the toughest times in their adult lives. There’s the armour they wear every day to protect themselves, but Krept & Konan have dealt with grief by working through it, quite literally. “We just move,” admits Konan. “To be honest, we probably should speak to someone professionally, but I feel like the way I deal with things is to distract myself with ambition and the end goal. It’s a very male thing to do, and I don’t think it’s good to do that, but the music is a way for me to deal with these things. Talking has helped a lot, with friends and family.”

It’s not as though their approach to music changed as such, but—as Konan adds—they feel a renewed sense of purpose. “We’ve always tried to go the distance and leave a legacy, but he was a part of the story; Cadet had his legacy to leave and now that he’s passed, we’ve got to keep it going for him. As long as we’re still here, his name’s still gonna be there. The same journey but it has to happen now.”

“When I got stabbed, that support system helped me a lot! Friends and family came to visit, and I live far.”—Krept

They know all too well what it’s like dealing with the complexities of being hypervisible, and it was a particularly poignant, heartfelt touch drafting in Ramz to provide a skit on his own recent struggles with mental health on “Before It’s Too Late”, dedicated to their friend Nash, who passed away to suicide last year. Krept explains, “It’s about how we’re feeling right now and everything we’ve been going through. We thought it’d be particularly special having Ramz do the skit about mental health, especially as we lost a friend to suicide. It was important for him to do that as well. Music is music—everyone’s got the competition, but put that all aside and we’ve really got to focus on our mental health. It meant a lot to end the album on that note.”

The skit may have sounded sombre, but it’s reflective of the care that both Krept and Konan have shown their peers in the face of what is often unwarranted criticism and vindictiveness. Kindness shouldn’t be reserved for just those we revere, and everything they’ve had to deal with this year has been reflective of the precarious nature of black life, whether famous or otherwise.

“When I got stabbed,” says Krept, “that support system helped me a lot! Friends and family came to visit, and I live far. It’s just those little things where people check up on you and genuinely care, that gives you strength. And then we have each other; no matter what we go through, we want the same for each other.” Konan echoes that sentiment: “It’s definitely helped that there’s two of us, because we’re able to go through these scenarios together. I don’t know how it must feel dealing with music by yourself and then life in general. We’re never alone.”

Although Jay-Z and Kanye West’s relationship has always primarily been about business, the recent strain on their friendship has stemmed from boundaries being crossed and a lack of trust—hence why we’re not likely see Watch The Throne 2 anytime soon. “I think the only thing that’s changed in the time we’ve known each other is that we’ve both grown mentally,” adds Krept. “What we would’ve deemed as important before, we don’t necessarily think that now, and that’s why Krept & Konan still exists because we’ve constantly grown. We’ve got trust and a lot of people can’t trust the people they work with, or are close with.”

The friendship they share runs deep and it’s on display for all of us to see. There’s no one without the other, and now, more than ever, they’ve had to lean on each other. Krept & Konan have found strength in each other’s company, and while they may not always agree on the smaller things, the trust they’ve built over the years has brought them this far, where so many other duos have failed to reach. “We’ve been on the same level since we met,” says Konan, “and that’s why it’s always worked. We’re both loyal people and we both have the same end goal. We’re different people, but our mindset has made us the same. At the end of the day, the bigger picture is something we never lose sight of.”

Food and hospitality tend to be a common investment for artists and entertainers, and Krept & Konan didn’t just want a piece of the pie—they wanted the whole share. Crepes & Cones, the duo’s restaurant which opened in Croydon last year, probably wouldn’t have worked five years ago. Not due to any shortcomings on their part, but through building a solid foundation of friendship over the past fifteen years, it’s made it easier for them to understand one another. Besides, it could be said that the restaurant is indicative of the legacy they’ve created for themselves in South London.

“It’s mad,” says Krept. “Imagine having to work two 9-5s in the same hours, that’s the best way to describe what it’s like running and owning a restaurant. In music, you give people the product and that’s where it ends, but with restaurants, there are so many cogs in it that make it work. Beyond making the customer happy, you’ve got to ensure staff are happy, suppliers are happy and things are working as they should be.” Konan explains that they feel “added pressure because everyone knows we’re behind it, so if something goes wrong, people feel more compelled to say something. People do criticise it more because it’s us.”

“We don’t even do the most... We’re just doing our thing, really. We don’t get onto anyone.”—Konan

Konan has one idea as to why they receive an untold level of criticism compared to their peers: “Maybe because we’re the middle child—we’re not Wiley or Skepta, or Stormzy or Dave, the beginning of the new-gen. We’ve been here for so long... A lot of people didn’t think we’d be here, so they’re still looking for a reason to get rid of us. We’re still here, though.” Even when Krept was stabbed recently, rumours were circling surrounding his supposed death, highlighting once again the toxic vindictiveness of online chatter. Konan goes onto add: “We don’t even do the most... We’re just doing our thing, really. We don’t get onto anyone but I think a lot of it comes from the days on Twitter where people used to cuss each other endlessly. A lot of that sentiment has stuck.”

Thinking back to the early days of Twitter—which can best be described as a virtual Gotham city where anyone could get it, where Corn Sundays felt akin to Bane’s anarchic state—Krept & Konan weren’t above getting roasted. However, this was before the BET Awards and charting albums; few could predict that the duo would arrive at this point in their career. They’re both aware that they’re not above the pressure they face, and on Revenge Is Sweet’s title track, they respond in kind, with the type of flexing that comes with the territory: “They want clout more than money and it confuses me, and the part that’s jarring is that they’re using me / So if I do say something or don’t say something, still lose-lose for me.”

Despite the levels of criticism they receive, Krept and Konan are two of the few elders that have spoken out against the criminalisation of drill music, which led to them hosting a talk alongside Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott at the House of Commons earlier this year. It could be argued that not many established artists are willing to risk the backlash that’d come with supporting the cause, even if some of them were on the receiving end of such surveillance. “It’s a touchy subject and no one don’t really wanna put themselves in the spotlight like that,” says Konan, “but we’ve been through this situation before. We can only speak on what we know. We’re from the roads and that life, and the music is what got us out. Our content wasn’t fairies and unicorns—until this day it’s not, but you can see what this music can do for people. We were heavy in it, but now that’s all a thing of the past. We’re thinking about the next businesses. These guys are shooting music videos, arranging sessions, putting stuff on YouTube and Spotify, so they’re consciously being businessmen already but you’re gonna try and stop that? It doesn’t make sense. One hit can change your life and you’re not even on the ends anymore.”

The noise is just that: noise. To have lasted over a decade in the scene is no small feat—many have come and gone, but for Krept & Konan, they’ve continued to rise against the odds. They’re not too successful to forget the days of homelessness and doing road, but at the same time, it’s a chapter in a story that has yet to end. They’re not the first artists from Gipsy Hill/Thornton Heath to thrive but they are the only Krept & Konan and it’s all in the fam. “There’s bare legacies in this ting, especially with my dad,” Konan says with pride. “I’ve got to keep that name going. I’ve got to keep the music going for my dad, and now Cadet, so I feel like we’ve gotta take on these responsibilities. It’s our job now to keep those names alive.”

Posted on November 21, 2019