Meet The Crowd: Krept and Konan, Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Photo credit: Greg Coleman
“Any spare tickets? Anybody need spare tickets?” goes the cry. The tout is a middle-aged man with a bundle of silver dreads that he’s coiled into a stretchy durag and a disarming grin he uses to shield his sinister intentions. “Spare tickets to be sold! Any spare tickets?” he cries again.
But the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire is no place for a ticket tout. At least not today. The tracksuit clad group of college kids who have descended on a wintry west London, the young couples who arm-in-arm trotted down Goldhawk road and the girls suffering in five-inch-high heels who waded through the grasslands of Shepherd’s Bush Common, all secured their tickets weeks prior. They’ve waited months for these few hours. And now they’ve assembled like toddlers around an ice cream truck, patiently, and impatiently, awaiting their fix. This still-winter evening, penetrated by flustered venue staff and ticket touts may go down in history. After a national tour, Krept and Konan have arrived home for the final date. A swansong for a moment and a year that changed their lives.
Some fans, like Rima (pictured above), flocked to the empire as soon as they could. “I’ve been here since four,” she says, clinging tight to her iPhone and the folded envelope that holds her tickets. Those at the front are fenced in like livestock and head a queue which pulls out round the block and into a back alley, then splintering into two lines like a set of neatly stacked dominos, so tightly meshed that it looks as if a strong wind would be enough to send them tumbling.
In such tight quarters, in such weather, in such unfamiliar company, tensions usually fray but this evening is different. Bas, Emeka, Pats and Coobi (above), a group of boys towards the tail of the domino pack have all come in tracksuits. Though it’s not long ago since they were kids in school uniforms listening to early Krept and Konan mixtapes like ‘Tsunami’ in the lunch room.
“Bluetooth ting,” Bas, a rapper himself, says of his earliest memories as a fan.
Pat chimes in, “To see them go to this. It’s a dream; it’s like an inspiration. We followed them all the way.”
And from there it’s a nostalgia trip:
“Remember when the ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ remix came out?” He says looking around at the rest of the group.
It’s answered with a collective nod.
“We was in school and went nuts, dashing chairs and that.”
Emeka cuts in. “We feel part of it because we were listening to them from then. Then when we were saw them at Wireless, everyone was singing along. You can see how they inspired a generation.”
“When that album came out,” he says excitedly. “12 o’clock to five o’clock. I didn’t sleep.”
The album they are speaking is of course ‘The Long Way Home,’ shortened to ‘TLWH’ and is the reason why the roads surrounding the core of West London look like something out of a viral Black Friday video. Step through the crowd and you find more praise. Three friends Jay, Kane and Connor (below) are bumming cigarette’s and swigging from half empty beer bottles.
Connor willingly talks through the stages of their progression, handpicking their record deal and the MOBO wins as a personal highlight.
Kane is most invested in the album; “The little skit he got his mum to do,” he says. “That was a brilliant idea.”
The Play Dirty progression can be broken down into phases. Some like Emeka and Bas, and Jay and Kane came in at the ground level. But there are others, more recent, whose contribution to their success is no less vital.
Ella and Chloe (below), a blonde and a brunette sipping from paper cups, arrived slightly later to the game. Minutes earlier Krept and Konan had paddled through the crowd to excited cheers and slipped through the firm black door they now lean on.
Seven o’clock comes and the doors are cracked open. Over the course of the next two hours the bouncers will meet the awkward gaze of two thousand sets of eyes as they awkwardly pat them down. “That’s a nice scarf,” one of them mutters to an attendee as he rummages through its tresses for signs of anything amiss.
For those who make it inside unmarked, Cadet and Yungen are the warm up acts. Cosmic is the orchestrator. He knits it all together. He controls the sound system from an app on his iPhone, threatens to give out a £50 note, changes his mind and instead leads the pool of grinning faces on a warm up lap: Bobby Schmurda, Future and Rihanna. But perhaps most apt was ‘Good Times.’ Because down on the floor, up in the terraces, on the balconies reserved for close friends and family, there was not a foul mood to be found.
It’s the final stop of the tour and the stage has been fashioned like a tube station on the underground with a makeshift carriage pushed to the back wall. As the production runners shuffle back and forth to get everything in order, we witness the evolution in real time. Tube signs with ‘Play Dirty’ emblazed across the tube’s trademark thick blue strip are planted on each side, eventually joined by a set of pristine oak benches, some smoke machines and two security staff who pass out cups of water to suffering souls in danger of succumbing to, if not of crushing, then at least dehydration. It’s steamy inside, even in the peaks and when an announcement rumbles through the speakers that a train is pulling into the station, the climate tips towards tropical.
The tube doors open with a ‘ding ding’ and a mist of smoke. When ‘Certified’ plays out, the dominos on the floor rattle like sand in speakers and never quite truly settle again. For the rest of the evening the tube doors will stay open longer than they’re closed. Fekky, Section Boyz, two scantily clad dancers, Konan’s mum, JME, J Hus and then Krept and Konan for a second time. They’ll play the album almost in full. They’ll giggle, well up, dish out words of encouragement, shout, and sing arm in arm with Konan’s mum. But before all of that, they take a seat on either bench. Konan on the left and Krept on the right, they take a second to breathe it in; the crowd, the tour, the album. Then they slouch down in their seats and kick their feet up in a way they maybe haven’t done since gathering in parks in Thornton Heath. The days when rapping was a pipe dream and the thought of a sold out tour was a thought beyond their grasp. Krept and Konan may have taken the long way home but they wouldn’t have had it any other way.