From working at Fat Beats Records to releasing music via Sony Records – Koncept is a Queens-based, globe-trotting emcee and frequent collaborator of contemporaries such as J57, Marco Polo & Royce Da 5’9″.
After two years on the road and a lot of time spent in Asia, including a sold out tour with Scoop Deville, Koncept is on the verge of releasing his latest LP, Champagne Konny, and wants his fans to know he’s recharged and ready to enter a new chapter of his career.
If you don’t mind I’d like to get a bit of background information on yourself if you can take things back to when you first started.
Yeah, for sure. My name is Koncept. I grew up in Queens, New York. I’ve been Koncept since I was seven years old, originally I got it as a graffiti name then later on when I was about eleven I started DJing – me and my cousin got turntables and got in to that. I was writing also, I used to write short stories and poems and stuff like that, then started writing my own raps and got hooked and that’s how it happened.
Your debut LP Awaken was released in 2012. Upon listening to this album it features a lot of talented producers such as J57, Audible Doctor & Marco Polo not to mention guest spots from Sene & Royce Da 5’9” – I wondered if you could give me a little insight on how these connections were made and what then lead to you receiving a Red Bull endorsement for your next EP The Fuel.
Just before it was released I was working at Fat Beats in New York, so I met a lot of people, that’s where I met Marco Polo. Marco and I decided to do a song for the album and it’s funny because we had a different beat from what we ended up using on the album. So we had this beat and we were thinking who can we get to feature on it, anyway some things happened and the beat we were going to use, I believe Danny Brown actually wanted to use the beat so his manager had offered Marco money for that beat we were going to use so I told Marco to sell him the beat and we ended up using a different beat which ended up becoming ‘Watch the Sky Fall’ and it ended up being a better situation for us. I had sent Royce some of my stuff and he liked it so he was down to do a feature so we got Royce on the Marco Polo joint. So we released that single and it ended up being the number one song in the college charts across the country. I had another single called ‘Aspirations’ also on that album and that ended up on MTV 2 and then one day I woke up and I had an email from Red Bull asking me if I want to be a Red Bull artist, so you know it’s Red Bull , I wasn’t going to say no [laughs]. They ended up flying me out to LA and put me up in a hotel and gave me a car and gave me their studio and I ended up making The Fuel EP. That was kind of what kicked off everything for me and led me to touring the world and having some incredible experiences.
“As a fan, if you want to listen to the same album over and over again, I think that’s kind of stagnant.”
I believe one of the next big steps in your career was by way of another huge corporate sponsor in Miller Genuine Draft and Jameson Whiskey – they sent you to Seoul, South Korea to do a tour which lead to you teaming up with Sony Music Asia and your sophomore LP 14 Hours Ahead. Listening to your material, your lyrics often encompass a lot of introspection and I wondered if your experiences in Asia contributed to this?
For sure. I think the way that I write music is from my feelings, from mood and from experience. From things that happened to me or things that happened around me. So being in Asia, everywhere I go it definitely inspires my music and how I write and my overall outlook on life in general. Experiences of different places and different cultures and the way people live, it definitely affects my music and my writing for sure.
I find it hard to speak about Asia and hip-hop and not mention the late great Nujabes. Is he an artist you’re familiar with?
Nujabes? Yeah I love Nujabes! He’s amazing. He’s someone I listen to and draw inspiration from for sure.
Speaking of other artists, to help get an understanding of your tastes and influences, who are you currently listening to?
I listen to everything honestly. For me, it’s not even just hip-hop I listen to a lot of other genres of music from all spectrum’s you know. What I’ve been listening to over the last few days, I’ve been listening to that Freddie Gibbs & Madlib album, man that’s incredible. When I was growing up, artists that inspired me to make music were A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang, Nas, Mobb Deep, De La, things like that but I literally listen to everything now. I’m not one of those people that’s like I don’t listen to that because it’s new, there’s definitely things I don’t like but I feel there’s a time and place for all music. I listen to more lyrically minded stuff but new artists like J Cole, Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Kendrick… the scHoolboy Q album, I had that on rotation for a while but at the same time I’m not one of these guys that hates on the new stuff. The lyrics might not be the strongest but the production might be tight or the verse might be well put together, I listen to different music at different times really.
Who would say are the top five artists that influenced you, specifically when it comes to being an emcee?
Well… Nas. Definitely Nas for me. Nas is my favourite rapper, he’s not the best album maker [laughs from both of us].
But Nas is definitely my favourite rapper. I grew up in Queens and I can remember buying Illmatic as a kid and studying it and remember just how effortless it was. But then other people in my top five are Black Thought – Black Thought is one of the most incredible rappers there is, Pharaohe Monch, Mos Def, Redman, I love Redman.
I had the pleasure of listening to your new album Champagne Konny a few times. From what I’ve heard, it seems to be a pretty stark departure sonically from your previous material. I felt as though it was influenced in sound by the trap sound. It’s not normally something I would associate with a New York aesthetic but as you said you listen to everything. What was the main reason for moving into this different sonic landscape?
With me, I feel as a fan of music, even more than a creator of music, when listening to an artist I don’t want to hear them make the same song or the same album over and over again. For instance A Tribe Called Quest are a perfect example, their albums all sound different, they don’t make the same album over and over. If I want to listen to the same album over and over then why do I need to make five different albums? That’s just as a fan first. As a creator of music, I would be bored if I made Awaken over and over again. Besides being bored, it’s not pushing me, it’s not pushing my creativity making the same thing. That’s a few reasons why I would say the sound is different. But on a human level, I grow constantly, I try to learn different things and experience different things so with that naturally, as a person and artist I’m developing and experiencing new things so therefore creatively I’m going to try new things and develop my sound, my writing, my voice. It wasn’t like going into making this music I was thinking let me do something different it’s just that I’ve grown. I was wanting to make music for the person I am now. Making this music, it was me doing me at this point in my life. My music will develop on every album I make, it will have a different sound to it but it’ll always be the music I want to make.
If you’re a fan of Koncept, if you like Awaken, if you like The Fuel, if you like 14 Hours Ahead, I couldn’t imagine you’d listen to this and wouldn’t like it. As a fan, if you want to listen to the same album over and over again, I think that’s kind of stagnant.
I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with your comparison to A Tribe Called Quest. I think Guru said it best on the intro to ‘You Know My Steez’ – “We have certain formulas but we update them with the times and everything. And so the rhyme style is elevated, the style of beats is elevated but it’s still Guru and Premier…” I appreciate the fact you’ve pushed yourself artistically and correctly so.
One of the lead singles from your upcoming LP, ‘Watch the Sky Fall Part. 2’ features veteran emcee Royce Da 5’9” yet again. What is it about Royce that makes you want to continuously work with him?
Well Royce Da 5’9” is one of the best rappers period. He’s one of those people that when I listen to him he makes me rewind it back and make me be like ‘damn’, and think how did he put that together. His structure and his flows are very unique, I love the way that he raps. Royce is a guy who definitely steps out of the box and does his own thing and just kills it every time. That’s why I wanted to feature Royce in the first place. This new album Champagne Konny that’s going to drop August 16th, it’s like my recharge. It’s like my new step after being out of the country for so long and everything that I’ve done up to this point, this album is my recharge for this year. I wanted to get that same feeling and energy like I had on Awaken so we done a part two. So I readied my verse and wanted to keep the original hook the same and just give the song and myself new life and my fans, let them know this is my recharge. That’s why I had to get Royce back on the project.
You’re coming to the UK also later this year, three dates in England I believe. Would this be your first time coming over?
I absolutely cannot wait to come over there. We’re going to have a blast on this tour. It’s not my first time, I’ve been over there but it’s been a few years now. I played some shows before and they were great shows but I’m ready to come over and make an impact and experience it a bit more.
There’s one question we always finish our interviews with, more than anything it’s to help settle a debate among the writers at the site. What album do you prefer between Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx and GZA’s Liquid Swords?
That’s a tough one… Damn man, that’s hard! [long pause] I’m going to go for Cuban Linx but that’s’ very tough!
It has caused many arguments between the writers of the blog especially when we’ve had a couple of drinks. Why Cuban Linx?
For me, I mean they’re both classic albums and both have had a major impact on my upbringing so it’s hard to say but for Linx, the reason I went with that one, it’s one of those moments in my life where I can remember going out and getting that album and going home and playing it. I bought it on CD and I remember listening to it on a deckman over and over [laughing]. When I was growing up in NY my grandmother moved to Florida and I went to visit her and I listened to Linx for the entire week. So because that experience as a kid it has the edge but they’re both phenomenal albums that have inspired me a great deal.
Thanks for talking us Koncept.
Thank you, I appreciate your support and conducting this interview. I want to thank Andy my publicist who is such a great dude, he is killing it! Thank you to anyone who listens to my music and shares it on their social media, I love hearing from my fans and the people who support what I do, It means everything to me.
Check out Koncept’s new music video ‘Sheeesh’ from his upcoming album Champagne Konny released on all major music platforms worldwide on August 16th.
Tickets for the ‘Champagne Konny UK Tour’ are available HERE.