Krept & Konan discuss moving from grime to hip hop, releasing their debut album and collaborating with YG, Wiz Khalifa and Jeremih.
Featuring appearances from Rick Ross, YG, Wiz Khalifa and Jeremih, Krept & Konan's recently-released debut album isn't exactly what you'd expect from a pair of UK rappers. The Long Way Home has proven huge for the duo, breaking sales records in their home country and attracting the attention of first time listeners stateside. But unlike the other major crossover success from their country this year, Skepta (who also happens to guest on their album), Krept & Konan's music bears very few similarities to grime, the electronic-influenced strain of rap music that's historically been the UK's biggest contribution to global hip hop. Instead, they rap over booming trap beats, West Coast ratchet, and everything in between, proving themselves to be versatile artists with wide musical palates.
While on a quick press run to NYC, Krept & Konan sat down with us to discuss their origins, new album and big-name collabs. As a bonus, they clue us in to some UK slang.
HNHH: Did you grow up listening to more British or American music?
Krept: Both. There’s the UK genres garage and grime, that’s what we grew up listening to. When we got into music, we started off doing grime, but because with our raps, we want people to be able to listen to it, and grime’s really a double speed version of rapping. So we were like 'No, we really need to rap so people will know what we’re saying'— that’s what really got us into rap. But we also grew up listening to Biggie, Puffy and Ma$e, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Lil Wayne…
Konan:G-Unit, R&B, stuff like that.
Krept: And obviously, we’re from a Caribbean/Jamaican background, so we grew up listening to dancehall, reggae. That was what my parents used to listen to.
HNHH: So it all kind of just meshed together?
Krept: Yeah, we make what we like, what we listen to.
HNHH: Before you guys, do you remember anyone making really American-influenced rap in the UK?
Konan: Not really. People attempted it, but it never really sat well— it never really sounded authentic enough.
Krept: There’s loads of rappers in the UK, but I feel like luckily, we’re at the forefront of it. It seems like people are catching on and taking it a bit more seriously.
HNHH: Yeah, it definitely seems like more Americans are listening to British rap, whether it’s grime or more traditional hip hop.
Konan: Yeah, grime’s got sounds you’d hear in like dubstep. It’s around 140 bpm— all of it’s around that tempo, so that’s kind of like our culture. It’s what everyone grew up listening to. And rap is more about flow, about songs, melody and stuff, whereas grime’s about lyrics, bars and who’s got the best one-liners or freestyles. That’s what we did coming up, so we kind of translated that into rap. We carry on doing freestyles, but that was the style that suited us more, what we connected with.
HNHH: So you started getting more attention in the UK once you moved away from the more grime-style stuff?
Krept: Yeah, we did. We’re known for our lyrics and our clever metaphors. We did that in grime and it used to go over everyone’s heads because it’s double time, so everyone used to just pick up the basic lines and be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s it.’ But we’re saying so many things and we’re like, ‘they keep missing the lines!’ So when we started rapping slower and giving people the lyrics and the freestyles, they was like, ‘Yo, they’re saying something!’ So what’s kind of got us recognized, and then everyone started taking to us for our lyrics, and we started doing a lot of storytelling. That’s what got us to where we are today.
HNHH: That sounds similar to the battle rap scene in the US— it’s more guys trying to one-up each other with their bars. Lots of people get started in that and then move onto other things. But I’m also curious about the production side of things, was it hard to seek out people who were making slower beats?
Konan: Not really. We have a producer who we’ve been working with for the longest, Adotskitz, and he produced on our first mixtape, which still had a lot of grime stuff. He kind of just grew with us as well, and then we met another producer called ADP, and another called Levi [Lennox]... But yeah, we’d all just bump heads and that was our squad, we call them the A Team-- they know what we like. We kind of just tell them like, ‘Yo, I want it to be like this, I want this kind of thing.’ And it goes hand-in-hand with engineers— I might just say ‘I want it to sound like it’s around you,' and a lot of people won’t know what I’m talking about, but they seem to get what I’m talking about. We just found a team that we worked with and learned how each other worked, and just clicked.
HNHH: Do you notice a difference in your fanbases between the UK and the US?
Krept: It’s weird, because we’re not here [in the US], we don’t realize that people know us. Until like, we came out this time and yesterday we were doing an interview somewhere, and someone started saying, ‘Yo Krept and Konan, I love your mixtapes man!’ It’s weird, because we get that all in the UK, but we seem to get a lot of love from anyone in America who listens to us. They’ll show us love like, 'Ahhh, when you coming out to America to tour?’ But as far as the fans, I can’t really tell the difference. We’ve got so much more to do in America before we can tell. But when we meet people, everyone seems to respect what we’re doing.
HNHH: So I take it you’re not in the country for long this time?
Krept: Just a week. But we’re going to try to be out here a bit more, to connect with the people, producers, other artists out here. Just try to make it happen and keep building.
HNHH: Skepta gave you guys a big co-sign early on. How did that impact your careers?
Krept: Yeah, Skepta came up through the grime era, so he’s really old school. He was doing a tour, and we had never done any shows at this time— we literally used to freestyle in the street, the music really wasn’t going the greatest at the time. There was a situation that happened with Konan, because he was involved in the street side of things, where people tried to come to his house and kill him and shot his mom, killed his stepdad. And that was kind of like the moment where we were like ‘Are we gonna do that, or are we gonna do the music?’
Krept: Yeah, and during that period, Skepta asked us to come and tour with him, and he didn’t really realize what was going on— Konan was homeless, the police took his clothes, they took everything— nobody really knew what was going on. He was like, ‘I want you guys to come on tour,' and when we went, that’s kind of when we realized that there’s so much more. It was our first time experiencing live shows and the real music world, because we were just used to putting freestyles on YouTube. That’s when we became close with Skepta, and ever since, we’ve been like family with him. That’s where it started.
HNHH: With Skepta and you guys, why do you think the UK rap and grime scenes are being more noticed by Americans? Guys like Dizzee Rascal and Wiley were doing it early 2000s, and nobody here was really listening to it.
Konan: I think it’s the social networks, man. I feel like they’ve made the world very small and very accessible— you can just tap in anything, and anything will come up. So you might stumble across the UK scene, or see that the cultures are very similar and it’s not that far apart. I know a lot of people used to think it was just butlers and queens in England, but now I feel like the internet’s made it so you can actually see that there’s a lot of shit going on. It’s exciting, because we all speak the same language, but it’s different at the same time. That’s why I feel like it’s being more embraced and a lot of us are starting to comes over to the states now and make a presence and know that we’re doing our thing over on our side of town. So link up man.
HNHH: Yeah, there’s definitely a new set of lingo to learn with UK rap. I saw your recent Hot 97 interview...
Krept & Konan: (laugh)
HNHH: You were explaining what “sending” for someone means— they seemed to enjoy that... I was also wondering how your collaborations with US artists on your album came about. Would you attribute that to social media as well?
Konan: That stemmed from the mixtape, when we did a remix [of "Don't Waste My Time"] with Chinx— R.I.P.— and French [Montana]. French put that on Coke Boys 4 and he put Lil Durk on it, and then I feel like that was bubbling in the states, and we were doing our thing, it was also bubbling on our side, so that kind of helped us gain more presence.
Konan: Then we come over here for the BET Awards and start meeting people while also making noise on our side So yeah, I feel like it all just came hand-in-hand. That’s how it kind of led to us getting the features with Wiz and YG.
HNHH: Were you ever in the studio with those guys, or did they send you their verses?
Krept: We were in the studio with Ross, we were in the studio with Jeremih, but Wiz and YG sent in their verses. The good thing about that was there was a relationship before that, it’s just the fact that we weren’t in the same country, so we couldn’t make it happen. But how it came about was Wiz heard “Don’t Waste My TIme” and said he liked the record. We saw him at Wireless Festival in the UK, he said ‘Come to my dressing room.’ He said, ‘What you guys working on?’ We said the album and he was like, ‘Can I get on there?’ And we was like ‘Yeah, of course you can get on the album!’ Then he said ‘Yeah just hit me up, send me some stuff. I’m leaving tomorrow.’ We connected and sent him a song, and he was messing with it. With YG, he was on after us at a festival in the UK, and he saw us kill it, ‘cause they were watching. And YG was like, ‘Why did they put me on after y’all? You guys killed that.’ And so we kind of built the relationship from that and we became cool. He sent over his verse, but he came back over to the UK to shoot the video, as did Wiz. So obviously we didn’t do the song in the studio together, but the relationship was there.
HNHH: Yeah, the video with Wiz was crazy.
Konan: We had fun man, we had fun.
HNHH: Over here, “Freak Of The Week” is starting to take off, so I was wondering what the response to that from your female fans has been?
Konan: Oh, the girls love it man. It was for them, you know? To get bendy to.
Krept: They get bendy!
Konan: Yeah, they get bendy. We’re winning on that side of things. We just dropped the remix with Beenie Man and Popcaan, and then we dropped another remix with WizKid and Davido, so we’ve got like a Caribbean and an African one— girls from all over getting bendy. It’s crazy.
Krept: Yeah, that was the aim of it. We were like, ‘Yeah, this one is for the girls.’ We were in the studio with Jeremih, he was like, ‘Yo, this one’s gonna get to the ladies!’
HNHH: You get Jeremih on the song, it’s pretty much guaranteed that ladies will love it.
Krept: Yeah, Jeremih’s crazy talented, man. But that’s really where it took off in the UK. It’s a hit record out there, it’s on all the stations, it’s nearly on ten million views, and that’s really just based off blowing up in the UK. It’s been in the top ten for weeks. It’s done it’s bit in the UK, and obviously it’s been picked up well over here— everyone that’s come across the record over here likes it— so that’s when Def Jam came and said, ‘Yo, this song has potential to be big out here as well.’ So they got behind it, then after hearing the album, got behind us as an entity. So yeah, just going to keep building, and hopefully that one can get the American girls bendy as well.
HNHH: Or at least teach them what ‘bendy’ means.
Krept: Yeah, it’s just winding up your waist, getting down, twerking… whatever you need to do when that song comes on.
HNHH: Word. Well guys, anything else you’d like to add?
Krept: Yeah, obviously if you don’t know about us, the album’s available now in the states. It’s called The Long Way Home, we’ve got YG, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, Ed Sheeran, Skepta, Emeli Sande. So yeah, that’s out, it’s gotten a crazy response. It’s the highest-selling hip hop UK album ever, we just broke a record in the UK. We’re just trying to translate that over here. Hopefully the people like it.