KREPT & KONAN
Duo cement their place at UK rap’s top table with storming show.
London’s premier grime duo remind everyone why they became London’s premier grime duo.
KREPT & KONAN O2 FORUM KENTISH TOWN, LONDON WEDNESDAY, 21 MARCH, 2018
Karl “Konan” Wilson is stressed out. He may not look it, sat perfectly still in a makeshift barber’s chair in Kentish Town Forum’s dressing room, but he is. It’s less than an hour before showtime and both he and Casyo “Krept” Johnson are processing the fact that a month of planning is not going to plan. As he receives his precision cut, Wilson tells Q how he’s spent recent weeks trying to extract visual ideas from his head and get them onto three huge video screens that will curve around them onstage tonight. You might say he exercised some fairly unorthodox forms of HR management to make it happen. “I had to hold one of the graphic designers in my house hostage,” he grins. “I had him there for two days. Literally, he couldn’t go nowhere until he was finished!” That they arrived today only to find the finished thing doesn’t look exactly how they wanted was not the start they hoped for on the first of a sold-out, two-night stand at the Forum. At least one problem the pair haven’t got today is waning popularity. The view from their dressing room is telling: the queue snakes from the front doors and extends out of view down a side road. This is a long way from where they started. The stress in the room soon diffuses as they rewind the years and live performance. “It threw us right in the deep end,” says Johnson, slouching deep into the dressing room’s sofa as he
remembers the unique way he tried to win the Glaswegian crowd over. “No one knew who we were, I was so under pressure I started giving out money…” “Yeah!” laughs Wilson. “He gave out money, like, ‘Win some money if you come onstage!’” They don’t need to resort to those tactics these days. Krept & Konan have long cemented themselves in the elite tier of the UK rap scene. When they first appeared in Q in 2015 ahead of their label debut, Long Way Home, they had already seen their selfreleased 2013 mixtape Young Kingz break a Guinness World Record by entering the Top 20 while they were still unsigned. Yet there was tragedy at the heart of their story, too. In 2011, intruders broke into Wilson’s home – owing to a personal vendetta – and killed his stepfather. Both Wilson and his mother were present. “My house was a murder scene,” he observed grimly to Q. Where they are now in 2018 couldn’t stand in starker contrast. Video woes aside, the pair – boasting a perfect equilibrium of humility and self-belief – are on a high. Last year they released not one, but two mixtapes on the same day: 7 Days capturing them at their most aggressive, 7 Nights adventurously exploring an R&B sound. These Forum shows mark the lighting of a long fuse towards bigger shows later this year. “This is a celebration of the mixtapes,” says Johnson. “We’re not even rapping on one of them, it’s R&B singing and that still managed to go to Number 8, and 7 Days went to Number 6. This is a celebration of the fact we even had the balls to do that, pull it off and that the fans love both projects.” “We’re always trying to prove we can do everything,” he adds. “We can make tunes for the girls, we can make tunes for the mandem, we can do grime, we can do rap – there’s no type of song we can’t do.” Less than one hour – and two fresh haircuts – later, the pair prove that in emphatic fashion. The show starts with a 30- second countdown on the video screen, as footage of their 2014 MOBO win is soundtracked by the Champions League theme music. What follows is not a sedentary affair. The most striking thing about Krept & Konan’s live show is the sharpness of their lyrics and the unmitigated ferocity of their delivery. An opening one-two of On My Life and Told You is the perfect demonstration, seeing the duo pass the lyrical baton while aggressively stalking the stage. Later in the evening, Konan delivers his breathless solo freestyle Last Night In LA, and even manages to make a reference to Toblerone sound unnerving. The duo’s taste for ominous soundscapes only serves to accentuate
“WE CAN MAKE TUNES FOR THE GIRLS, TUNES FOR THE MANDEM, WE CAN DO GRIME, WE CAN DO RAP. THERE’S NO TYPE OF SONG WE CAN’T DO.” CASYO “KREPT” JOHNSON
the intense atmosphere. Yet for all their icy stares, often neither can camouflage their smiles onstage.
This speaks volumes about the reaction of their crowd. Bolstered by Johnson’s tireless appeals for more “Energy! Energy! Energy!”, the Forum is perpetually whipped up into a state of moshpit frenzy, no more so than during the deafening bass blasts of Don’t Waste My Time. Some of Krept & Konan’s best punchlines and quips tonight aren’t even delivered by them, with Freak Of The Week’s tongue-incheek showboating, “Have you ever ate McDonald’s on a G4?” coming from the crowd. Equally as impressive is the aforementioned video display. Not only does it pulverise the eyes, it’s also imbued with personality as footage darts from the London riots of 2011, to Theresa May laughing maniacally, and even The Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum. It makes for an assault on the senses, and this is where their manoeuvre into R&B makes so much sense. In exploring a new sound, their live show has a new dimension. As such, whenever proceedings threaten to overdose on testosterone, they wisely pull things back and slide into a groove via serene gems such as Wrongs and Ride For You. It might not be as captivating as hearing them deliver what Johnson described preshow as “bars, bars, annihilation, bars” but the crowd are in full voice for these moments. The only downside is the setlist casualties the new focus creates. AWOL tonight are some of their most poignant songs, be it Roses dealing with a friend’s battle with leukaemia, or Johnson’s solo song Cold Summer, which tackles religious radicalism. Few would have complaints tonight though, especially considering the influx of guest appearances, including rising R&B singer Hudson East and North London rappers MoStack and Abra Cadabra, the gruff stylings of the latter supercharging Robbery Remix. Still, they save the best until secondto-last. For their penultimate act, they welcome Stormzy onstage for the electrifying Ask Flipz. As they crisscross the stage together in a blur of energy, it’s the moment of the night. “Alright, listen to me,” says Stormzy, addressing the crowd afterwards. “These are legendary brothers, they’re very, very important to me… my fucking big brothers!” After that tribute, Krept & Konan close by giving the hypnotising strains of slow-motion anthem Wo Wo Wo an energy injection with Wilson stagediving into the front row and confetti streaming across the venue. Earlier in the night, before all this chaos unfolded, Q asked the pair if they felt they had received the respect they feel they deserve. “I don’t feel that we do, man,” replied Wilson. “Unless we’re in people’s faces, they forget. People just jump on trends of what’s going on now. You should just always remember us. I feel like every time you talk about UK urban music – period – you can’t forget us.” “I would agree with that,” nodded Johnson. “I’m obviously biased, but our contribution to where UK music is at today has played a big part.” Biased or not, during tonight’s show those statements manifest themselves as fact.
Konan the barber-ian: (left) Wilson gets a backstage trim; (right) Johnson and Wilson stand proud.
“Just my size!”: Casyo “Krept” Johnson keeps abreast of his audience.
He is risen! The Kentish Town crowd plays support act to Wilson.