They're the biggest stars you've never heard of. They've made a habit of shattering records and breaking new ground. They've collaborated with the likes of French Montana, Rick Ross, Jeremih, Wiz Khalifa, YG, Skepta, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sande, Chinx and Konan's mom in the past two years. And their debut album for Def Jam/Virgin EMI, The Long Way Home, which dropped in July, brought UK hip-hop into a realm on the charts that was previously only reserved for pop stars and legacy acts with the highest-charting rap album in British history, debuting at No. 2 on the UK Albums chart and atop the R&B chart. So why are England's Krept and Konan still flying so far under the radar?

Drake and Kanye West have turned their attentions towards UK hip-hop this year, giving light to a scene usually firmly entrenched in the underground and helping the likes of Skepta reach mainstream prominence. But guys like Skepta and Krept and Konan have been around for longer than that. K&K first started seriously making waves with their third mixtape, 2013's Young Kingz, which managed to reach the top 20 of the UK charts and win the distinction of being the highest-charting independent across any genre. The project's big single, "Don't Waste My Time," became nearly inescapable, and they picked up a BET Award for Best International Act: UK for their efforts. At 2014's Wireless Festival, held in both London and Birmingham, Krept and Konan met the likes of YG and Wiz Khalifa, leading to the collaborations that wound up on their official debut LP earlier this year. It's all been a steady climb for the duo in their native England, but the two know that cracking the States is another job entirely.

"All we do, we love proving people wrong," Krept says during a recent visit to the XXL offices. "We just need to convert people and make them realize that we got it over here. We got the juice." —Dan Rys


XXL: Tell me about your new album. It's technically your debut, right?
Krept: Yeah, our debut for a record label. It's a crazy feeling. There aren't a lot of people that make it to the stage of releasing an urban rap album; they don't get this far. The culture's not big; the music hasn't penetrated in the UK as much so everyone just winds up getting dropped. So we're the first to have a hit single, have an album that sells the amount the label wants it to, the chart position. So it's a really good feeling and a really good time for us right now.

It was the highest-charting hip-hop album in the UK, ever. What do you think sets you guys apart to be able to get to this point and be successful out of the gate?
Konan: I feel like we've been at it a long time. A lot of people might not know that; a lot of people are just coming across us for the first time now. But we've done three mixtapes and an album; we've done four main projects. The project before this album made history as well; it was the highest-charting independent album as well. So yeah, we've just been doing us, man. Experimenting. We're not scared to try new things; we're not trying to pigeonhole ourselves into one thing. We've done gangsta rap, we've done songs for the girls, we've done the conscious thing, I feel like we kind of touch on everything. I feel like because we're so relatable to a wider audience, that's what's kept us around.

Were you trying to represent all those different things with this album?
Krept: Yeah, our aim was to make an album that... There's a stereotype of the type of people we are in the UK, like it's all tea and crumpets and the Queen. And there hasn't been a body of work or music from UK rappers that has really penetrated the urban market of the US.

Konan: Even in the UK, there's a lot of albums but a lot of compromising happens in the UK because of the situation with the radio stations and the labels. So when they make albums in the UK, there's always usually those pop records or those dance records or  they've had to compromise or do other things for them to become big in the UK. I feel like we didn't do that; we just kept it normal the whole way through.

What is the hip-hop scene like in the UK?
Krept: It's not small, but it's small to the mainstream world. In America, rappers will get No. 1 albums, rappers will do numbers, rappers will be on the charts. That doesn't really happen in the UK, there's no hit singles from rappers really at all. There's a big scene—there's loads of rappers—but there hasn't really been anyone who's been able to do the numbers and match the stats next to the pop artists. So it's small in that sense, but it's big in our world. Like, you'll see if you come and we show you around that there's loads and loads of rappers. The scene's poppin' in our world. And now it's just at the stage where there's a lot more of the scene poppin' in our world. And that's why you'll hear about the Skepta's, us, the other people who will start coming through. We're just trying to be the ones to show the world that there's more than just rap from the U.S., that there's rappers in the UK as well that are good. That you can put us next to the rappers in America and we can stand our ground. So the scene is small, but everyone is hungry there. We're just at the head, so we're trying to kick in the door and say, "The UK is here."

What do you feel is changing to allow you to do that?
Konan: I feel like the social networks are allowing that to happen, the Twitter and the Snapchat and the Instagram. That's made the world very very small now. So we can get to another country just by the click of a button, whereas before you had to go through radio stations, through the labels, you gotta be signed to even get a look in. But now you can put a song on YouTube, it can go viral and the whole world can see it. I feel like that's been a big part of that changing and us getting to the ears of people that may not have heard us a couple years back. And I feel like a lot of U.S. artists are coming over to England now and seeing that the scene is kinda poppin' now and that it's something new. It's exciting to them, 'cause we speak English as well but they're not used to it. It's a different type of culture, but it's the same but in a different way, you know what I mean? So all of these things is key elements to how it's changing right now.

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Who are some of your bigger influences?
Krept: We grew up on hip-hop and there's a garage scene that we grew up on from the UK. There was a big crew who was the first to have any kind of success from our world, called the So Solid Crew. That was kinda what got us into rap. American-wise, I just grew up watching what was on TV: Eminem, Missy Elliott.

Konan: Ma$e, Diddy, Busta Rhymes.

Krept: And I grew up on Bashment music, 'cause I have a Jamaican background. That's really popular in the UK, Bashment and reggae music, that's a Bashment sample from Beanie Man and Sean Paul. We just grew up listening to everything, man, there's not a specific channel where we grew up like, "Yeah, this is it." We listened to American hip-hop; the biggest artist here can sell out the biggest arena in our country, too. I don't think we listened to anything really different, we all listened to the same thing. Obviously minus the grime and the garage, which is a really UK thing that Drake and them are really picking up on now.

You've got YG, Jeremih, Rick Ross on this album—that's a Def Jam connection, right?
Krept: Yeah, I think that's how Def Jam got wind of us, 'cause when we got all these collabs we had to clear the songs with Def Jam, and they were probably like, "How did these cats...?"

Konan: We were just making an album and while we were doing that we just kept playing these shows and meeting all these people. And then we were nominated for a BET International Award and so we was in L.A. and when we were in the press room that's how we met YG and his team, and they happened to be heading to Wireless Festival and we was there and we bumped heads, so we was like, "Come watch us perform." They came and watched us and we turned down the stage, and he was like, "How they putting me on after you?" That was like his first time in London or something. So we played him a few songs from the album and he was with it and he sent over some verses.

Wiz Khalifa was kind of the same thing; he heard "Don't Waste My Time" and then when he came to Wireless Festival—the same one—he was like, "Yo, bring them to the changing room." So we went over to meet him and he was like, Yo, what are you working on, we were like, an album, and he was like, Can I get on it? And we were like, Yeah. And yeah, we sent over the songs, he liked one and he jumped on it. That's kind of how the majority of these things happen, us being around and doing these shows and meeting these people.

Like, Rick Ross was the same, he came over while we were at 1Xtra Live and we were at the same show. We performed and put on a big show and tore down the stage. Then we had a song that we had Ross in mind for made by a DJ from England that knows Ross; he played it for Ross and asked him what he thought and Ross was like, "Yo, I'm with this." He sent it to Ross and by the next day we were in the studio in London—We had drove back down from Birmingham, about two hours—and by the time we got to London he had his verse already. By the time we came in the studio he was already laying the verse down. He was like, "This is the hardest stuff I've heard from the UK; this is some of the hardest stuff I've ever heard, period." So that's how that happened.

And then Ed Sheeran, he came up from the grime scene. So when we did our mixtape he was tweeting "Don't Waste My Time," the lyrics and stuff saying he was with it and congratulating us on our success with the mixtape. And I just hit him like, "Yo, get on the album," and he was like, "Yeah, when I get off tour I'm gonna come through" and that's how that happened. So yeah, these things all happened all natural; it was meant to be, I feel like. It fell in place; Wiz released his album just before he sent the verse and then the album went No. 1. Then Rick Ross done the same... Then Ed done the same. [Laughs] It was like, everyone that was on the album was getting No. 1 on their album. We were just trying to [harness] all that energy and live up to that, 'cause we've got all these No. 1 artists on our album, guys releasing their stuff as they're giving us their verses. And then when we released our album it came in at No. 1 until Ed Sheeran half-priced his album and took us over. [Laughs] If it was anyone that was gonna beat us, it was gonna be Ed.

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Your big single with Jeremih is over a DJ Mustard beat. How'd you link with Mustard?
Krept: Mustard's mad, because Mustard sent us beats and we was like, "Nah, we don't want to have any American producers on the album, we want just UK," so we didn't use any of his beats. And then Jeremih was looking for someone in the UK for the remix to "Don't Tell 'Em" and everyone was telling him, "Krept and Konan, Krept and Konan, they're the guys." And then he reached out to us. And we went in the studio and while we was making it he played us the beat from Mustard and we was like, "Ah, god, this is sick." And he had the template, he was singing on it, so we was like, "Ah, okay, let's just do it." [Laughs] There's no hiding from Mustard. And we kind of built the relationship through there. This was like in October; he finished off the verse and the song, we added our verses in January, he came over to London.

Konan: Our album was actually finished when Jeremih sent the song. We had the album finished, mastered, everything and we was like, "Yo, Jeremih, what happened to that song?" And he sent it over and we played it to the label like, "Yo, this is the one, we've got to stop everything we're doing and add this to the album." So the album got pushed back a little bit just to get that song on. We actually flew to L.A., he flew here to do a show, so then we had to fly back to England. [Laughs]

How do you feel like you're making an impact in the United States?
Konan: Slowly but surely I feel like we're making a ripple. Yesterday, someone came up to us like, "Yo, Krept and Konan, can I get a picture? Your last mixtape was hard and that Jeremih tune was dope." And they were American. We was kinda shocked that people over here know who we are. So I feel like we're making a little bit of an impact.

Krept: Yeah, I feel like we're doing it by, obviously, the songs getting played in the clubs. No one from the UK got DJs playing their songs in the clubs in America. We get snapshots like, "Your song's in Vegas, your song's in Chicago, your song's in New York, it's on Hot 97." So it's just a case of, we just need to get it to everyone somehow. That's why Def Jam has been so supportive as well. But we've gotten radio play and obviously we're working with a lot of American artists. So when people probably look into us and look at the album they'll probably see Wiz, Jeremih...

Konan: And then before that we had songs with French, Chinx, RIP to Chinx. So we've just been trying to get our feet wet and then slowly but surely make our way over here. But we had to fully make our statement in England; we'd done the mixtape that had done so well, then we had to show everyone that it wasn't a fluke and we kind of did that. So now I feel like it's time for us to come over here and build up our empire over here.

Krept: We still need to get the people out here to know our stuff.

Konan: And then to start playing shows over here. You know, just build. We've got a tour through England; our shows are very energetic. They're so turnt. But yeah, keep building, put out more music.

What do you guys see as the obstacles in your way?
Konan: There's gonna be obstacles, because we had obstacles in England. We was really slept on for a long time.

Krept: People will probably, because we're from the UK, not take us seriously until they've got proof. 'Cause all we do, we love proving people wrong. People are probably like, "Ah, they're from the UK, they can't rap," until they actually hear us rapping. So it's just like, we just need to convert people and make them realize that we got it over here, we got the juice.