The Rap Game UK,11-08-2022,Krept and Konan, DJ Target,Hosts (l-r),NAKED,Trevaughn Omari

DJ Target, Krept and Konan On The Enduring Success Of The Rap Game UK

The three rap moguls break down the story behind a uniquely British talent show...

Besides its name, there are virtually no discernible clues that BBC Three’s The Rap Game UK is an extension of the American talent show once home to Ohio superstar Latto. The format is different, focusing on adult contestants as opposed to teenagers; the logos look nothing alike; and there’s an emphatic focus on Black British genres like UK drill and grime, with a thunderous soundtrack from producer Carty S to match. Ahead of its return for season four, Clash caught up with the show’s three judges – BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter DJ Target and rap royalty Krept and Konan – to get the full story of how things came together and where they’re headed this year.

“When I first heard about it, I wasn’t aware of the American show,” recalls Target, who initially represented 1Xtra at early planning meetings before being offered the role of co-host on The Rap Game UK. “Obviously, we didn’t want it to look like a lifted spin-off, and I bump into so many people who don’t know that there’s a US version. I like that, because our show is based on its own merit.”

Although some of the graduates of Jermaine Dupri’s edition, like Latto and J.I. The Prince of NY, get regular airplay on his radio show, Target explains that the trio have “never had too much contact with the US show-makers,” and they’ve been given ample free reign to put their own twist on it: “The main focus was to keep the authenticity; to make something that core UK rap fans could be into before we even thought of addressing a wider audience.”

Although transitioning to on-screen presenting was a new leap for all three mentors when they first started filming in 2019, each of them viewed it as an extension of what they were already doing. “When you’re rapping, you’re always in front of a camera anyway, and we’re very open with our personalities, so I feel like this was just another way to show a different side to us,” reflects Konan, adding: “Personally, I was a bit nervous about forgetting lines, but you get used to it. Everyone in the team’s got banter, so it just becomes cool.”

Dialling in on a separate occasion, Target echoes the same sentiments: “As the guy who’d been on radio for so long, I always felt like out of the three of us, if anything, I was coming into it with an advantage. From day one it seemed to flow naturally, and we have so much fun doing it that it never really feels that presenter-y. Don’t get me wrong, though, there’s plenty of bloopers!”

This year for The Rap Game UK, the three decided to personally sift through more audition tapes than they had done previously, a process which is typically handled by their dedicated casting team. “We got heavily involved from the start, and this year’s cast is definitely my favourite one yet,” Target smiles.

“This was the first season that we’ve been really hands-on with it, and that’s why we feel like the competition is a lot stronger this time,” reaffirms Krept.

It’s evident from the first episode of The Rap Game UK, with a dramatically lower proportion of fumbled bars from the contestants than we’re used to seeing – a cycle which they were especially eager to break. “I feel like through the past series, you know this person’s gonna be the one to win ‘cause there are one or two standout talents,” Konan admits. “But this one’s a cross ball for everybody.”

Past winners have competed for the privilege of signing singles to Krept and Konan’s label, Play Dirty, but have failed to strike gold when that moment has come. Recognising the flaws in this Syco-style business model, they upped the stakes in 2021, introducing a new prize of £20,000 hard cash. “I think the words ‘record deal’ sound very exciting and glossy to the outside world, but because of how the legalities worked out, they were only really in a very short-term deal,” Target explains. “Whereas with some funding, you can develop your brand, shoot some videos, go to the studio; whatever that might be, you can work on yourself as an artist and still have a sense of independence.”

Konan agrees: “Deciding what you’re gonna do with the money makes you more of an entrepreneur and lets you learn the business side of the game. If you’re always relying on someone, then you won’t know what you’re doing when that relationship ends. But if you learn it yourself, you’ll always be able to thrive and get on your feet when you fall.”

DJ Target, Krept and Konan On The Enduring Success Of The Rap Game UK
The Rap Game UK,11-08-2022,P3Lz;JCLARKE;ZOELLZ;MWANGI;BIG JEST;MAYO,NAKED,Rachel Joseph

Even so, it’s not like their alumni have ever been left high and dry after the finale. Off-camera, they’re treated to a series of follow-up mentoring sessions, and the judges are keen to keep an open dialogue with anyone who’s come through their doors. “When you’re actually out there doing it, it can be a really lonely place, so we wanna make sure we stay in contact,” Target assures me. “I feel invested in all of them, not just the winners. I know how much of a struggle it can be, so wherever I can help out, I will.”

Krept and Konan have a similar ethos, and are often offering feedback to the likes of Graft, Kaydizzy and DDroid on their demos. They’ve made some friendships through the show, too: “We’ve been in the club with Kay Rico many a time,” laughs Konan.

Back in 2013, the pair earned a Guinness World Record for the UK’s highest-charting album by an unsigned act. Now that other independent artists like Central Cee and Knucks are doing the same on a regular basis, do they think the path to the Top 40 is easier? “In every aspect of life, there’s always someone that does something first, and then obviously everyone follows up,” Konan muses. “Like McDonald’s: there wasn’t anything like it, and now there’s Burger King and however many things after it, you get me? Plus, now there’s streaming, it’s gonna be way easier for songs to chart; you can leave a song on repeat and it classes as a sale instead of going out there and spending your hard-earned money on someone’s music. And it’s sick to see everybody charting; now everyone can eat.”

Posed with the question of the most common mistake he sees up-and-coming rappers making, Krept responds: “Thinking that everything comes to you. I feel like there’s this misconception that opportunity just comes to you when you’re popping, but a lot of the time you’ve gotta make things happen. It doesn’t end there; the work doesn’t stop.”

Konan concurs: “Even when you get to the position we’re at, it’s not easy sailing and you’ve gotta keep reinventing yourself. A lot of people think they just need to get one hit, so I feel like you need to see past that.”

Target’s answer is equally insightful: “Because everybody is so self-sufficient now, there’s so many people making music. I think some artists lack the consistency to cut through that noise – in terms of content; consistently dropping new music. Especially if you’re a new artist, you’ve really gotta get amongst it. I wouldn’t say that’s a mistake, but it’s an oversight.”

Now more than a decade into their journey and still charting regularly, Krept and Konan know a thing or two about consistency. Konan’s top tip for sustained success is to keep listeners on their toes: “You can’t show all your cards at once. If you listen to Redrum, Long Way Home, 7 Nights and Tsunami, they’re all different types of music; we didn’t try to cover everything all at once. When you’re talented at being creative, you can’t limit yourself to one avenue. Like, we just saw Drake drop a house album. He didn’t need to do that, but he keeps going; he keeps exploring.”

Krept grins, adding: “I feel like if we were to ask people what they think our next song’s gonna sound like, they couldn’t tell you. I think that’s what keeps it exciting.”

Target, meanwhile, makes a different point: “The thing that seems to be drawing people in now is artists’ truths. If you can have people connecting to your story through amazing songs, then you’re onto something.” He also cautions against taking shortcuts, which can be damaging in the long run: “Avoid trying to follow trends and fads and stick to what is true to you. Sometimes it’s a longer route to success, but when it finally clicks, you’ve built foundations and you’ll stick around a lot longer.”

Season Four of The Rap Game UK is currently underway on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer, with a new episode dropping every Thursday night at 9pm.

Words: Luke Balance

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