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Krept & Konan made history earlier this month when their debut album, The Long Way Home, entered the charts at No. 2—the highest-charting UK rap set to date. The LP's first official single, "Freak Of The Week", also simultaneously hit the top 10 and further proved the south London pair are the undisputed champs of right now. The Long Way Home doesn't so much celebrate this successful period, rather, it's an inward-looking recount of the struggles that brought them here—a true tale of tragedy to triumph. The success of the album surely exceeded expectations of fans and critics alike, but on closer inspection, the signs have been present for a while; stems of The Long Way Home can be heard throughout their catalogue, from 2013's Young Kingz all the way back to 2009's free Red Rum download.
Krept & Konan's Young Kingz mixtape saw the light of the top 20 whilst still unsigned, and any lingering questions doubting their appeal were immediately shot down. Revered A&R director, Glyn Aikins, revealed in a recent interview that he once told the rappers: "You guys are putting us all to shame, doing it all yourself," adding: "They've got work ethic; it's fantastic. Those are the sort of people I want to invest in." In reality, it shouldn't have taken for the extraordinary to occur for two of the most easily identifiable talents in the scene to be given a wider-scale opportunity. On album track, "Fell Apart", Krept spits "one label had the nerve to say put a singer in the group and they'd sign us," shedding a light on what's been going wrong in recent years, and heaps more embarrassment on the machines in place tasked with harnessing such acts.
Concerning the chart record Krept & Konan recently broke, an argument could easily be made for Tinie Tempah being the holder of the highest-charting UK rap album; his Disc-overy LP hit No. 1 in 2010. But, despite him rapping on every track, it was listed everywhere under "pop." In looking at rap/urban acts and their routes towards mainstream crossover, quite often, broad and lazy conclusions are made about the contents of their sound, removing any provincial links. The two major rap success stories of today, Tinie and Wretch 32, have been made to walk this confounding line that somehow employs chart success as a tool of negating rap legitimacy.
Stems of 'The Long Way Home' can be heard throughout their catalogue.
After breaking boundaries with his "Pass Out" single and platinum-selling debut, Tinie managed to top MTV's Best Of The Best list in 2010 but was somehow completely omitted the very next year, despite winning a BRIT Award and managing to continue his rise both here, and in the States. The very same would happen to Wretch 32 in the years following, with his chart-friendliness being met with similar derision in the sense that going pop with rap in this country diminishes credibility from their original scene. It's pretty clear things aren't as rigidly defined across the pond—Drake brazenly admits to "going pop" on The Game's latest single, "100", and yet he currently holds the crown as the hottest rapper in the game.
Krept & Konan rank as rarities in this regard, reaching a particular pinnacle in their careers without accusations of altering and watering down their style and content. Glimpses of their readiness, musically, could be heard as far back as their 2010 mixtape, Tsunami—back when a chance could and probably should have been taken on them. Albeit problematic in its own way (a separate discussion entirely), the way US label execs reflexively peer in towards the viral street-heat generated by Bobby Shmurda, for example (signed off the strength of a song with no hook), appears almost at complete odds to the way in which their UK equivalents stall when presented with opportunities to capitalise on inroads made by the likes of Fekky, Section Boyz, and J Hus.
The south London pair are the undisputed champs of right now.
This has come to establish the unbalanced process of recent years, whereby UK rap acts are tasked with arriving already in complete control of a chart-ready sound and image, much like the aforementioned Wretch and Tinie. A label then coming in, only with the offer of heightened distribution and some sort of industry validation is a dangerously cynical and see-through strategy, and one that has ultimately backfired. In that, requesting the likes of Lil Simz, Stormzy and most prominently Skepta and Jme to prove themselves independently, they engrain themselves to their DIY mantras, through a defiant "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality.
There are, however, positive signs that labels are intent on not repeating these same mistakes, with the most recent example of Bonkaz being signed to Sony/Pitched Up after the runaway success of his first major single, "We Run The Block". Whether he's ready for the same measure of success is of course still in question, but encouraging signs that rap acts from the UK are again being A&R'd and developed in the right way, can only help the emergence of many more. The Long Way Home falls just short of being the grand musical high point for Krept & Konan. But if their rise over the last 12 months has meant anything, it's that the next Krept, the next Konan, will surely be given the chance to tell the world their stories that much sooner.