Within moments of touching down on British soil, Queens rapper Koncept was informed that his Manchester show was not to go ahead as planned due to unknown reasons. But rather than dwell on the sudden misfortune, Koncept, joined by fellow rapper James Salvato and producer Joe Keitel Jr, invited Far Out Magazine writer Mike Milenko onto the streets of Manchester to promote Champagne Konny; his latest album of rap joints and club hits.
Clad in light blue sweatpants, a thin white summer jacket and matching immaculate white Adidas sneakers, Konny was the centre of attention wherever he went. Crowds flocked around him as he signed autographs and handed out stickers emblazoned with his face.
It seemed the news had spread that Koncept was in town and soon we were joined by an entourage of people who were eager to ride the Kon train. I managed to sit him down in between all of the excitement and ask him a few questions. I wanted to know what made the rapper, who has toured with hip hop heavyweights including The Roots, Wu Tang Clan, Brother Ali and Wiz Khalifa, tick?
How much of your life is reflected in your lyrics?
“Everything that I write, it’s all real. Either things I have experienced myself or seen around me. Everything comes from my heart, it’s very meaningful to me. I’m grateful that (my songs) resonate with other people too.”
Are there any particular tracks on Champagne Konny that stand out for you?
“It changes from time to time, but I think my favourite song is ‘Overstay/Flyaway’. It is like the most meaningful song for me. ‘Squeeze’ is one of the newer songs I recorded for the album and that beat just bangs so hard so that’s definitely one of my top songs. I think it’ll always change.”
Where did the name ‘Koncept’ come from?
“I’ve been (known as) Koncept forever, I grew up in Queens in Jackson Heights. My neighbour was a graffiti artist, he got me involved in hip hop in general. I was like five or six-years-old and he was buying me the Nas album, the first Wu-Tang album, the first Biggie album, I’d be playing Onyx Bacdafucup on my boombox.
“My mom wasn’t too excited about that, she would be like ‘what the fuck are you listening to?’ So yeah, he first got me into rap and gave me the name Koncept as my graffiti tag. I was also DJ’ing for a little while as DJ Koncept before I was rapping.”
Who are your favourite artists?
“My favourite rapper period is Nas, then Mobb Deep, My favourite hip hop album of all time is illmatic. J Cole is one of my favourites and obviously Kendrick. I love the whole TDE camp (Top Dawg Entertainment) I love Jay Rock, I think his album was one of the best last year, Schoolboy Q.
“I really love the artists Buddy and Anderson Paak. I kinda listen to everything, I’m not one of those artists or fans that’s like ‘I listen to this and because I listen to this, I don’t listen to that.’ I go in to listening to artists’ music as music, not thinking it should be or needs to be ‘this’. Same thing when I make music too, people who don’t know me ask what I do, ‘oh you rap?’, ‘who do you sound like?’, ‘how do you categorise yourself?’ I don’t really have an answer for that cos when I go into making music I just go into whatever mood or emotion or energy I’m in in that moment.”
What do you think of Mumble Rap?
“There’s some of it that isn’t for me and there’s some of it that I think is cool. Some people that are like ‘I hate that’ maybe they’re just listening to it in the wrong sense. I’m not gonna listen to a mumble rapper for the rap, you know what I mean? That’s not what they are trying to do.
“Lil Yachty or whoever isn’t trying to be Pharoahe Monch or Royce (Da 5’9) or J Cole or Kendrick, that’s not what they’re trying to do, it’s a totally different thing. So if you’re listening to it thinking ‘this guy sucks because he’s not rapping like this, then you’re listening to it with the wrong state of mind. I might not think the rapper is the greatest, but maybe the production is fire or the hook is catchy as hell.”
You moved to South Korea in 2017, why did you do that, what led to that point?
“Well, it wasn’t really intended as far as a move. It’s kinda funny ‘cos I was there for about a year and a half and people were asking me: ‘how long have you been living here?’ But I never really felt like I was ‘living’ there because it was never an intentional move.
“Miller Beer and Jameson Whisky brought me over for a tour, so I played their events. It was only supposed to be a week and a half thing but during that time I got asked to play more shows and extend the trip, then Sony Asia asked me for a meeting and we created a partnership. So I stayed in Korea to release my album ’14 Hours Ahead’. I was promoting, playing shows, going over to Thailand and Japan. I was in commercials. I was so busy with constant bookings and suddenly I’d been there a year. It felt like three months. I loved every moment of it.”
Does the music interfere with your personal life?
“That’s exactly what it did. After being there for a year and seven months and missing Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wanted to come back home and regroup, see my family.”
This isn’t the first time you’ve been to The U.K?
“I love the U.K, I haven’t been here in about three or four years so I’m super excited to be back here right now. I love U.K artists too, like Skepta, Lunar C and DJ Heritage.”
What was it like growing up in Queens, New York?
“My whole family is from Queens, born and raised. I’m actually the only person that has really ventured out. My family now live 45 minutes outside of the city but besides there, they only know Queens.
“I lived in Brooklyn for nine years, I travel around a lot. I live in Los Angeles now. I’m seen as the wild one in my family, like when I went out to Asia and told my mom I wasn’t actually coming back, she was not really surprised. I love Queens though, I still go back there from time to time.”
As well as rapping you are also a graphic designer and graffiti artist. Do you still pursue those roles?
“As far as graffiti goes, I don’t really do much street art anymore, although every so often I’ll paint, it’s more the legal stuff. My graffiti now is my stickers. I do have some really good graffiti artist friends; shoutout to my homie Mr Tum out in Korea. He’s been hitting up L.A and New York recently. He even painted the top of the Williamsburg Bridge. He’s one of my best homies. I still carry a marker everywhere I go and I’ll hit little things but because I’m so active with my music, it’s not something I wanna take a risk with.
“I’m still very active in graphic design. I designed my website, my logo, my merchandise. I don’t really like doing design for other people because I find that people that don’t know how to do design, don’t know what is good design [laughs] and it just becomes more of a headache for me. I’ve done work for corporate companies, I’ve designed like coffee logos and things like that. But I find that it’s usually people telling me ‘I want this and this’ and I’m like that doesn’t make any sense, you want me to do two different things that don’t match well.”
Who designed your album covers?
“The Fuel EP was designed by Chris B Murray. He’s an incredible illustrator. He does a lot of work for Marvel and other stuff as well. The Champagne Konny cover was designed by a different artist. It’s a pretty amazing story, it was a fan of mine who one day sent me that illustration and was like ‘I did this for you, I hope you like it’ I was like this is amazing, are you cool if I use it? I ended up making stickers of it and people were like ‘these are awesome!’ So I kept making them and putting them everywhere.
“When it was time to choose the image for my album I decided to use that illustration because I’ve been using it as a brand image for the past two years, I’ve been sticking them all over the world.”
When you’re touring how do you relax?
“That’s a very good question, you don’t. [laughs] You basically relax when you’re on the plane or in the van going to different places or whenever you get a chance to really. When you get into the cycle of touring it’s like your body gets used to this natural momentum where you just sort of keep going and take little naps when you can. Usually after my tours I take a week out to chill.”
Do you smoke?
“I’ve had like four cigarettes in my life. I used to work at different pizza shops and I always remember everybody would be able to go outside and smoke and chat for five minutes. I’d say to the manager, I don’t smoke but can I go stand outside for a few minutes and he’d be like ‘No, what are you doing going outside’ I was like ‘what I gotta do, go outside and pretend to smoke?’ What the fuck!”
Do you perform wearing glasses?
“I do and don’t. I start my set with them but I’m a sweater and I put a lot of energy into my performance so by the end of the first song my glasses are sliding off my face and I can’t really see the audience. Growing up I had prescription glasses but never wore them unless I was at school or at the movies, then as I got older I needed them to drive to see road signs and addresses. [What about contact lenses?] Never in my life! I’m really fuckin’ weird about my eyes bro, I can’t even put eye drops in. I don’t know how people can touch their eyes. You see kids flip their eyelids and shit, never in my life have I done that. I can’t, I wouldn’t, not a chance in Hell.”
Before we wrap this up, do you have any shout outs?
“Well, I’d like to shout out you, my man, thank you to Far Out Magazine for having me, for chopping it up, for the link up, it’s a blessing and an honour. I’d like to thank everybody that listens to my music and supports what I do, it means the world to me. I put my whole life and all of my energy into it because I love it so much, so the fact that I can have people listen to my music and resonate with it, have it touch them, inspire them in any way, it’s everything to me. I wanna shout out the UK, it’s so great to be back here, I will return soon. I’m not drinking champagne right now because in the UK, (adopts British accent) they drink delicious pints out here, so cheers!”