Does rap music belong on an England football song? John Barnes would probably say yes given his success on 1990’s World in Motion by New Order. Since there’s been a distinct lack of football rap, but all that is changing with a new anthem for this summer’s Euro championships. Duo Krept and Konan took on the challenge of creating a song for the England team, and their journey has been recorded in a BBC Three documentary.
June’s tournament is one of the summer’s most eagerly awaited sporting events, with the final scheduled for 11 July at Wembley, and the programme follows the south London rappers in the run-up to the competition.
Following in the footsteps of the likes of comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, who sang 1996’s Three Lions alongside The Lightning Seeds, Krept and Konan’s challenge is to find a sound that represents a more diverse England, which involves Krept and Konan exploring what Englishness means in 2021 through a black British lens.
Times have changed since the release of Three Lions, and the programme shows the artists’ struggle with the pressures of the deeper significance of writing a song for one of the youngest and most racially diverse squads in English football history.
The pair seek advice from England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, Premier League footballers Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Declan Rice and Tyrone Mings, and fellow musicians Aitch and Big Zuu to create the track.
Southgate, when asked his advice, reassures Krept and Konan: “You shouldn’t worry about what’s been important in the past. To be English now is different, I think.” Describing how the diversity and youthfulness of the team have connected with the country, and how he sees this reflected in the fans at England’s matches, he added: “What will appeal to the audience you’re seeking is different to what it was back then, so do what you believe represents the team now.”
Listening to previous anthems, including Dizzee Rascal’s collaboration with James Corden for 2010’s Shout for England, the pair discuss the pressures they feel as two black rappers writing a song for modern England that will be different from anything that has gone before.
There are jokes from Big Zuu about whether they will also have a white singer on the track “to balance it out”, as well as recognition of how much has changed since the release of previous football anthems, from the haircuts to the vibes, including John Barnes’ small rap on 1990’s World in Motion amid the other white singers, which they speculate was more palatable at the time.
The rappers embark on a journey to bring together different aspects of England. They take in country views in the Peak District, learn Mancunian slang from rapper Aitch and hear from Calvert-Lewin about what it means to be a proud Englishman playing for his country.
Conscious that this track would be out of their comfort zone, Krept and Konan also explore the history of racism in English football culture, with abuse such as chants being a persistent feature. They hear from Aston Villa’s Mings about how his England debut was overshadowed by racism and also the positive response when he took the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
Emboldened by the belief that things can only get better for the next generation, Krept and Konan tussle with the difficulties of a society that only likes to claim the “lit” aspects of black British culture, such as black players scoring for England, and also unpack the will of those with non-white heritage to identify with their civic Englishness and their roots.
Former England striker Eniola Aluko tells them: “For a long time, we had to be one or the other, but I’m alright with saying I’m both … I’ve struggled with that for a long time because people question that you’re not fully English … But we’re multidimensional.” She adds that there is a connection between music and sport, and players probably listen to the duo’s music, as evidenced when they play a snippet for a fan – West Ham’s Declan Rice.
What does this fusion mean for a modern English anthem? “A reflection of where we are now in terms of the multicultural, diverse feeling within England … full representation,” Aluko says, highlighting that Krept and Konan are the ones making the song. “Once upon a time that would not have happened,” she claps.
Throughout the documentary, Konan feels sure that love will outweigh any less positive reactions they may receive: “No matter who you are or where you’re from, we’re supporting England and the song should unite that as well.” Krept adds: “It’s a new time and they’ve just got to accept that it’s new times now. And if they don’t like it, their kids will.”