It is not often that an interview feels like a group therapy session. However, in the gleaming innards of the Universal Music Group’s London headquarters with rap duo Krept & Konan, and one of their close friends, fellow rapper Ramz, we manage to create something of a safe space.
Krept & Konan’s new album Revenge Is Sweet flips captivatingly from the big-boots heft of Goat Level to the slow and sexy Afrobeats of G Love. But the tracks that hit hardest are the two that round it off. Ramz delivers a three-minute spoken word track, Before It’s Too Late, in which he talks about his mental health problems and says he has tried to kill himself several times. It is followed by Broski, a moving ode to Krept & Konan’s friend and former business partner, Nyasha ‘Nash’ Chagonda, who killed himself last year. Together, and in their own unique ways, the trio are beginning a hard journey toward emotional recovery.
“Our friend did actually kill himself, and it affected us seriously,” explains Konan of the decision to have Ramz on the album. “Ramz is our peoples and he’s going through the same situation, and we don’t want him to go down that path. He’s getting help now, which is sick.”
Krept, Konan and Ramz grew up minutes away from each other in south London. Krept & Konan formed in 2009, and since then they have had four Top 10 albums and dabbled in other forms of entrepreneurship. They opened a Croydon restaurant, Crepes & Cones, last year; Chagonda had helped them bring the project together.
The pair’s relationship is as solid as ever and they are always ready to extend a hand to a younger generation of local artists. For Ramz, who is 22, that support has been invaluable. He says their first meeting “was early days, when [his track] Barking was kinda fresh, before it started charting”. His gold tooth glints every now and then when he cracks a rare smile.
Barking, with its catchy hook about linking with a girl from east London, reached No 2 in the UK charts in January 2018 and suddenly lifted the university student into the public eye. “It was hard. It’s not a small track that the streets know – this is worldwide,” he says. “People in India know this track; Dubai, all around the world. It’s like: ‘Rah, I gotta do another one of these, then.’ But people want it to be a rush, so you’re scratching your head thinking: ‘Am I even going to come up with another song?’”
Until 2018, Ramz had never suffered from mental health problems. “I didn’t know I was in a situation like that until someone told me: ‘You’re depressed, you’re a threat to yourself sometimes,’” he says. He believes the trigger for his depression was a combination of a romantic relationship, the pressure to release fresh music and comments on social media. “People were saying stuff online … I couldn’t even write. So I stopped making music, didn’t go to the studio any more. I was just staying at home, not doing anything.” Krept says that he and Konan have also been affected by trolls: “People not giving us the dues, people cussing us online, people giving us hate. It’s affecting our mental health.”
In July 2019, Ramz posted an ominous illustration of a person hanging from a tree with the caption “suicide” on Instagram. “In December  I even tried to run in the road,” he says about the lead-up to that incident, speaking hurriedly. “On the day when I posted the picture I was in my car. I turned off my phone and everything so no one could get a hold. I said to myself: ‘If no one comes in a certain time I’m going to kill myself.’ I’m not even lying. The ambulance came, the police came.”
Since then, he has been receiving therapy. “I see someone now and it’s all right, I wouldn’t say it’s the best,” he says. “The person is lovely, they help a lot. But I don’t even want to be there, it just brings back bad memories. I just feel like I’m a different person.”
All three are uncertain about therapy. Pulling the cords up on his hoodie so it covers more of his face, Krept says he feels like his therapy is “talking to my friends and family”, while Konan, who says he is a chronic overthinker, believes there needs to be a more general awareness of ways to cope.
Ramz sees the benefit, but remains sceptical of its appeal to young black men. “I think people like us want to be strong and do it ourselves,” he says, to nods from Krept and Konan. “It’s, like, you don’t want to hear it. The first time [in therapy] I started crying, thinking: ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I didn’t like it. Then I thought: ‘Let me go back again.’”
It is a situation he is still struggling with: one of intense vulnerability. But his latest track, Think Twice About Suicide, was released in early November and is a plea to others to not “jeopardise anything you could be in life” by killing themselves. He says his mum, friends, family and God have kept him here.
In the past few years, we have seen more and more dialogue around mental health problems, but the conversation in the black community is yet to become mainstream. Some strides have been made: in 2016, Keith Dube fronted a BBC Three documentary called Being Black, Going Crazy? and earlier this year Derek Owusu’s anthology book Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space, highlighted that “there is barely any measure of British societal disadvantage in which black British men are not overrepresented and/or taking the lead,” including severe mental health problems. A black man in the UK is 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health condition than a white man. But, as concluded by Safe essayist Kenechukwu Obienu, “as a black male, mental illness is one of the last things you’re willing to open up about”.
This is why both Revenge Is Sweet and Think Twice About Suicide are significant. “I don’t think mental health has ever been a conversation in our community,” says Konan.
“It’s not, innit,” says Krept, agreeing. “It’s only now that we realise, ‘Wow, we was depressed these times.’” Konan thinks that many of the men he grew up with suffer from PTSD, from seeing “traumatic things, like friends dying, your mum overworking to pay the bills and your brother going to jail. These things affect us but we act like it’s normal.”
“Where we’re from, we’re meant to just get on with things,” adds Ramz.
Almost since the beginning of their time in the public eye, Krept & Konan have opened up about the difficulties they have faced. In 2013, Konan wrote a track about the fatal shooting of his stepfather and wounding of his mother by a love rival, called My Story. “When my stepdad got killed and my mum got shot and I was homeless, I had a little breakdown, but I kinda bounced back because the music helped me. The music helps a lot of us get through the traumatic times. When you’re not doing the music and you’re stagnant, you start remembering.”
Some of Krept’s trauma is more recent. Earlier this year his cousin, the rapper Cadet, of whom he speaks fondly throughout the interview, died in a car accident. And then in October he was stabbed at a BBC Radio 1Xtra gig in Birmingham. His mum keeps asking him how he’s coping. “I’m like, ‘Mum, please stop talking about it, I’m fine, I’m good.’ But every time it keeps reminding me and I just wanna move from it. I’m alive, it coulda been worse, so let’s look at the positives,” he smiles. The perpetrator, he tells me, hasn’t been found.
Meanwhile, their memories of Nash, although laced with the bitter unfairness of his death, are sweet. They talk about him in the present tense. “You see Nash, yeah, he’s the funniest person,” says Krept. “He’s hilarious. Because we know him we get his banter.” His death was entirely unexpected to them, although looking back, Krept says he wishes he had noticed the small changes in his demeanour. “You’ve got to ask and pick up on it,” he adds, sadly.
Since the trio have released their respective tracks, the response has been overwhelming. “People are sending us what they’re going through, that they’ve been suicidal recently, that they’re glad that they heard this song,” says Krept. “Someone even said this song has actually saved their life.” Ramz speaks about the frustration of not being able to individually help every person he’s had in his DMs. “I couldn’t bear reading them,” he says. “But imagine if I didn’t make the song, or just thought: ‘Cool, leave it, move on.’”
Overall, it feels like all three men are helping to activate a conversation around mental health in their communities while at the beginning of their own recoveries. They want to promote kindness and respect, reminding people to think about what they say online and how it might impact. “Unless it’s Katie Hopkins, because I feel like she deliberately says hurtful things!” laughs Krept. “But in general, yeah man: you just gotta go easy on people.”
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
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