By Geoffrey Rowlands
It is rare to see a mixtape anywhere near the upper reaches of the UK Albums chart. The fact that not one but two mixtapes are nestling comfortably among the top ten is scarcely believable. That is until it’s revealed the mixtapes are dual releases from English rappers Krept and Konan.
Casyo ‘Krept’ Johnson and Karl ‘Konan’ Wilson have become major names on both the British and international hip hop scenes during the last few years. Their music has sold so well and been critically appreciated to such a degree that the two 28-year-old South Londoners have been showered with awards.
Their 2009 debut mixtape, Red Rum, offered a taste of what was to come. The follow-up, 2010’s Tsunami, earned Krept and Konan their first recognition winning Best Hip Hop Mixtape at the 2011 Official Mixtape Awards.
Since then, selecting just a few of their honours, the duo have won Best UK Newcomer and Best Hip Hop Act at the MOBO Awards, Best Group and Best Hip Hop Act at the Urban Music Awards, Best Newcomer at the MTV Brand New Awards, Best Group and Best Mixtape at BBC 1Xtra’s Mixtape Awards and Best International Act UK at the Black Entertainment Television Awards.
They were even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records when their 2013 mixtape, Young Kingz, hit number 19 on the UK Albums chart. This made it the highest-charting release by an unsigned act.
The success of Young Kingz attracted the attention of Virgin EMI Records. The unsigned act suddenly found themselves with a major label record deal towards the end of 2013.
“We’d previously had some interest from other labels,” Krept recalled. “Most of the people didn’t understand us. Some of them even suggested we should form a group with a singer or guitarist instead of being a rap duo.
“It made us think that all the hard work me and Konan had done was being ignored. But we just used that as fuel. We didn’t have any Plan B. We had to make things work no matter what. Luckily, the Virgin EMI people had a genuine love for our music.”
“We were still in two minds about signing the deal,” Konan admitted. “A lot of fans said we should have remained independent but the majority said they were mad happy and it was about time. We also got so much support from other artists who sent their congratulations.”
“We went into it with the right attitude,” Krept added. “We were determined not to get complacent. We wanted to keep striving for excellence and prove all the doubters wrong.”
Their dogged determination and strong work ethic was perfectly encompassed in the songs on their 2015 Virgin EMI debut album, The Long Way Home. So too was the amount of respect paid to Krept and Konan by a host of major names in the music business. Guest artists ranged from Ed Sheeran to Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross to Jeremih and Emeli Sande to Skepta.
Fan response could hardly have been better. The Long Way Home topped the UK R&B Albums chart. It also hit number two, behind Ed Sheeran’s X, on the UK Albums chart becoming what was at that time the highest-charting rap album in UK chart history.
Lead single, Freak of the Week, peaked at number nine giving the duo their first UK top 40 entry.
“The respect we got from our guest artists meant so much to us,” Konan remarked. “Rick Ross said our album was the best UK music he’d ever heard. We did the song Certified with him and he was even more gassed about the track than we were.”
Some critics carped about the number of non-British guest artists. But Krept and Konan wanted to put together an album which had universal appeal rather than relying upon a home grown sound.
“We always kept in mind the idea that we wanted people around the world to relate to the songs on our album,” Krept stated. “We didn’t want to become pigeon-holed into just being regarded as a UK act.”
The album also featured personal songs which explored the vulnerabilities felt by Krept and Konan.
“We’re not rock solid, metal-hearted people,” Konan explained. “Everyone feels vulnerable at some time in their lives. We decided to open up about some of the situations which happened to us.”
They return now with the 7 Days and 7 Nights mixtapes. The former concentrates on grime tracks while the latter is an R&B mixtape. Although guest artists on 7 Days are all British, Krept and Konan have retained an international flavour with American singer Jhene Aiko and Canadian rapper Tory Lanez making their contributions to 7 Nights.
The mixtapes duality is matched by the release of two singles. Wo Wo Wo is taken from 7 Days while For Me is from 7 Nights. Both tracks have accompanying videos.
“We felt pressure to produce quality mixtapes after our success with The Long Way Home,” Krept admitted. “But we feel pressure is a good thing. We’re hard workers so being under pressure just pushes us to our limits. We felt like we couldn’t afford to lose so we had to get the mixtapes right.”
Former One Direction star Niall Horan thought his career couldn’t get much better. Flicker, his debut solo album, has sold well throughout the world. Some examples include Flicker entering the charts at number two in Italy and Australia, number three in New Zealand and the UK and taking pole position in the Netherlands and Niall’s native Ireland.
But he wasn’t prepared for the news from North America. Flicker stormed straight to number one both in Canada and on the Billboard 200.
Niall posted a heartfelt note of thanks to his Twitter followers. He wrote: “Wow! Thank you so much. My mind is completely blown. An album I wrote has gone to number one in the United States and I cannot thank you guys enough for supporting it.
“It’s been a crazy couple of years for me between writing, recording and promoting this record. Today it really feels like all the hard work has paid off.
“Huge thanks to my label and my management for the constant support for everything I do.
“My band have been amazing. Travelling around on every TV show and every radio thing this year helping me to achieve this.
“The fans. You are incredible! The love I get on a daily basis is amazing. Thank you and thank you again.”
Following the split from her former footballer husband Jamie Redknapp, Louise Redknapp continues her comeback to music by releasing another video from her Metropolis Session. The track, a cover of the Banks song Waiting Game, is a duet with Starsailor singer / guitarist James Walsh. It can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZUWz-oRUYQ
Links can also be found on this webpage to videos for three more of Louise’s Metropolis Session performances, Stay, 2 Faced and Bright.
The latest to fall foul of what has become known as The Strictly Curse, Louise and Jamie’s marital difficulties emerged after she participated in the 2016 series of BBC Television’s Strictly Come Dancing. Their parting adds to a lengthy list of separations or divorces involving celebrities who appeared on the show.
The ex-Eternal member and solo artist effectively ended her music career after becoming a mother. Her time on Strictly Come Dancing rekindled Louise’s suppressed desire to again step into the show business spotlight. Although divorce has not yet been mentioned, she apparently believed performing again was not possible while living with Jamie.
Louise is currently starring as Sally Bowles in a UK touring production of the stage musical, Cabaret. A new solo album and concert tour are planned for next year. It will be interesting to see what the response of her fans might be.
A re-release of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 saw George Michael’s classic 1990 album return to number one on the UK chart. But while the inheritors of George’s estate will gain considerably from the sales proceeds, they are apparently rather less concerned about continuing to support his favourite charity.
George’s involvement with Childline was only revealed by co-founder and television personality Esther Rantzen after his death last Christmas. Although he sought no recognition, Esther wanted to stage a tribute concert thanking George for all his financial support.
The concert was still to have gone ahead with all proceeds benefiting Childline. But George’s family has refused permission to stage the show.
“It is such a shame,” said Esther Rantzen. “I’d have loved to celebrate George’s music and give the fans a chance to say goodbye. But once the family says no, there is nothing we can do.” brief
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