Duo ce­ment their place at UK rap’s top ta­ble with storm­ing show.

Q (UK) - - Contents - GE­ORGE GARNER

Lon­don’s premier grime duo re­mind every­one why they be­came Lon­don’s premier grime duo.


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


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.

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