It’s been barely a week since Krept was knifed at a concert in Birmingham when he and Konan stroll into NME Towers, seeming surprisingly carefree. The rapper – real name Casyo Johnson – will later admit that the incident could have ended his life, but it’s business as usual as the duo sit down to discuss their second album ‘Revenge Is Sweet’. Krept, specifically, comes decked out in the bejewelled finery that results from – if you’ll excuse us – a life of grime.
As for that record, it has seen the pair picking up a raft of acclaim as they collaborate with the likes of Wizkid, Vybz Cartel and even Stormzy. Far from sticking to their roots, the record sees the pair looking far beyond Thornton Heath, South London, in order to go globetrotting – Afrobeats and Jamaican dancehall are just two of the genres that they explore on their album. “We’ve tapped into the sounds of different fan bases and refined it,” Konan, aka Karl Wilson, says. “We’ve just perfected it and put it into one project. That’s what we’ve been aiming for.”
Perhaps more importantly, the album sees the duo shrugging off any cynicism that might surround a rap duo sometimes passed off as the Ant & Dec of grime. Take the furious title track for instance: it sees the duo calling out the artists who have tried to collaborate with them in a cynical bid to boost their own careers. “I ain’t gonna be the reason why your track sells,” they rap. Is it aimed at anyone in particular?
“When you’re in the spotlight, a lot of people will try and use you for a come-up, so that’s where that line comes from,” Konan explains. “I’m not gonna be the reason why you get into the music game. I’m not gonna give you attention, I’m not gonna entertain it.”
It brings to mind the frequent outbursts of grime gatekeeper Wiley – who recently attracted headlines when he accused Ed Sheeran of being a “clout-chaser” for collaborating with Stormzy on ‘Take Me Back To London’.
“Well, Wiley goes on his rants, every year he goes at someone,” says Konan, diplomatically. “He’s gone at us before, so it’s no surprise to see him go at Ed Sheeran too. [Wiley is] the Godfather of Grime, so he’s always going to have strong opinions about it, if he sees other people doing it.”
Krept, meanwhile, believes that any anger against Ed Sheeran is entirely misplaced. “I don’t see the negative there, and Ed has always been doing songs with people,” he says. “One of the first songs I ever heard him do was with [Dagenham MC] Devlin, from way back! He’s jumped on our album before too. He’s jumped on grime tunes for seven years, so it’s not like he’s just doing it now.”
New album aside, the pair have also been busy proving that they’re going to use their ever-growing platform to spark real social change too. Earlier this year they released ‘Ban Drill’, a short film offering a defiant response to the moral panic around drill music and ongoing legal attempts to stamp down the genre – all of which is couched in thinly-veiled institutional racism.
Far from being a hotbed of criminality, Krept & Konan argue that drill music offers those who make it a chance to escape the lifestyle that it’s been linked to. Tottenham’s Headie One, they say, is an example of the social mobility that talent in drill can facilitate.
It’s a matter that’s close to their hearts as music helped Krept & Konan find their path in life – before finding fame, Konan was jailed for robbing a McDonald’s. Tragically, he watched on as his stepfather was fatally shot in the chest at their family home in 2011. “If they banned drill then Headie wouldn’t be here. If they’re blaming the music, then a lot of us wouldn’t be here – we’ve changed our lives, so it would be bad for us to watch them ban a form of music knowing that it’s how we got off the streets,” Konan tells us.
“Music changed our lives – so it would be bad for us to watch them ban a form of music knowing that it’s how we got off the streets”
It’s no surprise, then, that the genre’s much-maligned reputation can lead to some confusion. They tell of the time when one venue boss thought that violence was a prerequisite of being involved in drill.
“We were at a party the other day and got talking to the guy who owned the building,” they explain. “We got talking about drill and he said ‘What’s that music where they kill each other when they’re making it?’ He didn’t understand what drill was and we had to break it down for him.”
One quick conversation later, they were finally able to get the right message across. “He said ‘I didn’t even know it was an artform, I thought you had to kill people to do the music’. He didn’t understand, but when we broke it down and it changed his mindset. He said, ‘Yeah, anything I can do to help, I’m all for it.’ Step by step, we’re getting there.”
They’re also affecting real industry change too – a recent meeting with YouTube bosses apparently ended with positive results.
“We’re making progress. They want to get involved and see how they can help,” they say. “Every step is us getting closer to the goal of making people see that it’s a way out, instead of a reason why crime is happening. We’re heading in the right direction.”
Then there’s the ongoing success of grime in 2019 too – Stormzy’s Glastonbury headline slot took on extra significance as the duo watched a grime icon from their native South London as he slayed the biggest stage of all. They were included in Stormzy’s roll call as he used the performance to namecheck 65 artists who are changing the game in UK music.
“He’s come from our area, he went to the same school as Krept, so to see someone from our area and our culture do Glastonbury with thousands of people watching – and he brings out Chris Martin – it’s like a dream come true. It shows that there’s no boundaries as to where this can go.”
“He’s there saying certain things that some people in the crowd wouldn’t understand, but we get it and for him to be on that big stage and expressing himself like that is sick man. It should be inspiration for everyone.”
“Glastonbury is a festival you grow up knowing about and to see your peers headlining that is mad,” Konan adds. “It’s inspirational – that would be a dream come true for any artist and it’s moving in the right direction. All that does is help the next artist to headline, and these things are only going to get bigger.”
All considered, there’s no reason why a lofty Glastonbury slot shouldn’t be in Krept & Konan’s sights either – they’ll end 2019 with their biggest show ever at The O2 Arena. “That’s one off the bucket list, the final stage,” says Konan. “You know when you’re playing a computer game and you get to the boss level? That’s what it feels like.”
“We’ve seen so many artists perform there, we’ve come out with Drake there. I remember watching Jay-Z’s show and thinking ‘Yeah, I need to perform’ and I left early because I was so taken aback. It was the inspiration I needed to go to the studio and I immediately left. Now, to say that we’re doing it is a crazy thing.”
A crazy thing it might be, but it’s testament to their talent and the ultimate proof that playing the long game can pay off. Don’t count them out of that Pyramid Stage slot just yet.
Krept and Konan’s Revenge Is Sweet is out now. Watch the full NME interview above.