Cadet The Rated Legend: Krept on his cousin's life and legacy

By Kameron Virk
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, Johnson family

On 9 February 2019, Blaine Johnson, better known as Cadet, was on his way to perform a gig at Keele University when the taxi he was in crashed, killing him and injuring the other passengers in the car. More than a year later, as his debut album Rated Legend is released, Cadet's cousin Krept reflects on their at-times complicated relationship. As told to Kameron Virk…

It's hard putting private things out in the open. I do it in my music because I know how much people look at artists and think that everything's great. But when you're open and honest and let them know that you're going through just as much stuff as they're going through, it helps. It can literally save lives. That's why I've been so honest about how hard it's been for me since Cadet died. As his debut album comes out, I want to just take a minute to reflect on his life and our relationship.

Some people have such mad stories that they have to figure out a way to talk about them. Cadet was 100% one of those people. He was such a talented storyteller. Anyone who's heard his music knows that.

When you come from a certain place, a certain background, and you go through so much stuff… if you like doing music, you like rapping, to put it into words is not gonna be difficult. I think that's what separates a lot of people. It's just their story.

But before the world knew him as Cadet, he was Blaine Johnson, my cousin. And for a period he was MC Bubbly too! Yeah. MC Bubbly. When he spat his first bar, at my dad's house in Brixton, that's what he was called. The lyric was actually good - but I was like 'Bro, you can't be called MC Bubbly'.

Image source, Johnson family
Image caption,
Cadet was always a funny kid. He was a troll before we knew what trolls were

Blaine was less than a month younger than me. So growing up we were always together. Like, always. His dad and my dad are brothers, but our mums are close too. I've got an older brother, and we were all really close. But my brother spent some time in Jamaica, and it was just me and Blaine together. It was like he was my brother.

We used to spend every Sunday at my nan's. Those Sundays were a vibe. We all used to go there - Cadet, me, my dad, his dad, Cadet's sister Chandler, our nan and granddad, our auntie - sometimes other cousins too. My nan used to cook every Sunday so there was always food there. But it wasn't even just for that reason: we just used to go there, play games and buss jokes - and Cadet would be dancing. He was always dancing when we were younger. The guy loved body-popping. And he was so sick! He could've been a professional dancer if he stuck with it. I used to body pop a bit too - but he was to the point where when we used to go parties, he used to get in the middle and start body popping and everyone would go crazy.

There's something else that sticks with me from that age too - an image I just can't get out of my head. I don't know why my dad did it - Cadet must've been being naughty. But we were at the petrol station, and you know where it says how much the petrol is per litre? There was a little peg on there. He lifted Blaine up and hung him on there by his pants. I just remember Blaine swinging helplessly and crying and I can't get that out of my head. I used to laugh about it every day.

Image source, Johnson family
Image caption,
Ludo was our family game - we used to play it every Sunday at our nan's

When we got a bit older I took advantage of the 417 bus, which went from my house in Gipsy Hill to his in Clapham Common. It dropped me literally right outside. So from when I was allowed to travel by myself, in secondary school, I'd get on there and it would take me all the way there, or he'd come to mine. Then when Cadet started living with his dad in South Norwood we used to walk to Crystal Palace from my house and jump on the 410 bus down to his dad's.

Those buses are where his name came from - their brand name was Cadet. We were just on the bus and I saw the Cadet thing and I just said, "Cadet! Why don't you call yourself Cadet?" He was like "Cadet?…. Yeah. Yeah, that's hard!" We must've been 14 or 15, and ever since then he's been Cadet.

I started rapping before him, just because all my friends were. They were doing sets in the ends and I was like, I need some bars to jump in the set. That's when I started writing. And then he saw all of us were spitting, so he started. The maddest thing is even when his name was MC Bubbly, the lyrics were good - I knew from then he could spit.

We went to Richmond College together when we turned 16 and made a whole new friendship group.

Things started changing after that though. I went to uni in Portsmouth, and Cadet started working. So we just didn't see each other.

Image source, Johnson family
Image caption,
Me, Cadet and his dad Paul at a restaurant in south London back when we were still at college

Me and Konan started making a name for ourselves at this point too. We put out our first mixtape in my first year of uni. So I'm doing uni, I'm doing music, and then we're just getting into mad problems and involved in street stuff too. It was like three different lives I was living. It was balancing bare stuff.

It looked like me and Konan were already successful - and any time me and Cadet spoke, it felt like he was asking for stuff. 'Oh, can you do this for me. Can you promote that?' But we weren't making no money, we were still building.

We weren't even seeing each other on Sundays now, because I was in Portsmouth. My family thought I was distancing myself. Cadet didn't fully understand until a few years later, when he was in the "groundwork stage" of his own career - as I call that period in mine - that I was just working. He talks about it on the new album.

But we weren't speaking openly at the time. There was a communication breakdown. He used to make songs or freestyles every now and then and send shots for me. And I was like, why does he keep doing that? And then he'd ask me to promote it! I was like 'Are you alright?' It was weird.

It really took off for me and Kone in the next few years. We did the remix of Otis, which went crazy viral. But it was a mad period - this was just after the situation happened with Konan, where his step-dad was killed. But we capitalised on the Otis momentum, dropped Paranormal, and ended up going on tour with Skepta. He gave us some advice - basically told us to keep doing us and not chase the labels or the radio - and we never really looked back.

Mobo Awards, BET Awards and a record deal followed. But I never got a call from Cadet. I'm definitely someone who thinks 'Everyone's got their own life'. I don't expect nothing from anyone. But that was the person I was closest to my whole life, and I didn't get to share that with him.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Winning a BET Award was crazy - we couldn't believe the Americans knew our song

We'd still see each other sometimes, round nan's on a Sunday. And when we were together it was normal. But for me relationships aren't just about when you see each other - it's about when you're not with each other too. I'm sure at some point he would have said 'I'm proud of you'. But it wasn't how it would have been if we were close. I know that for a fact.

At this point I'd had enough. I just kept thinking, 'Why are we like this? How did it get like this?' I missed that relationship - and I knew it had gone because of the music. The only thing that was gonna build our relationship back was him doing music and taking it seriously.

That's when I messaged him and said 'Bro, you're coming Wireless'. I needed to inspire him. I knew how talented he was, and that if he took it seriously, he would get big. Sometimes you just need that little fire.

Wireless that year was mad - there were loads of celebrities backstage. When he saw them coming up to us, he was like, 'What's going on? These man are actually getting big!' There must've been 5,000 people in the crowd that day, singing every single word back. All our friends watched us perform from the side of the stage. Cadet was the last person to leave - I could see it had worked. He was inspired.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
I knew taking Cadet to Wireless in 2015 would change his mindset

Things felt pretty normal after that. We started talking all the time - mostly about his music. As far as I was concerned, our relationship was fixed. But he was still sending shots for me on freestyles - like on Slut. I thought that was just about music, so I was like, whatever. As long as you're doing music, you can say what you want. But I didn't know all of the stuff he thought had been going on.

That's when the letters came.

He told me he was dropping something, to look out for it. From when I saw the title, Letter To Krept, I just knew it was gonna be honest.

I was in my house in Bermondsey and watched it as soon as it was uploaded. I wanted to hear it. And then I just started writing. I was glad he did it because then it was like, now I can explain my side to you.

When I heard the lyric about his girlfriend - that he thought I knew she was cheating on him, I was like, 'Rah, swear down you thought that?' Until the letter came out I had no idea he'd been thinking that the whole time.

I was happy with the way it played out though. He likes expressing and telling his truth in music, and I do as well. So I was cool with how that happened. At the same time I knew that if I responded to him it was only gonna help his career.

Image source, Cadet/YouTube
Image caption,
Cadet's Letter healed our relationship

After I said what I needed to in my reply - about him asking for my help but not putting the work in himself - the air was cleared. It was back to normal. We didn't even need to build anything back up - because we'd been so close for the rest of our lives, except for that six-year period in the middle. It was the same as it was before, just with no weird elephants in the room.

We finally got to witness each other flourish. I got to share those big moments I'd always wanted to with him. At this point Cadet was hitting hard with the freestyles. He knew his lane, he knew what his fans wanted, and he was delivering. And when it came to storytelling, he was in his own lane. When he spat I had to just sit back like, 'Wow. That's talent'.

But he felt underrated. He didn't think he was getting his dues. I remember we all had a conversation and I said how if you tell people something enough, it becomes true. As an example, Giggs calling himself the Landlord - you end up calling him that. That was when he started calling himself Underrated Legend. It was a smart move from Cadet to put that out there, because then everyone starts saying he needs his ratings!

But Cadet's thing was, 'Rapping about my life is cool, but that's not really getting me the bookings. We're not going to be able to shut down the clubs or the festivals with that.'

Until Advice came. That was the hit he'd been looking for. He'd been dabbling, and he got it so right with that one. But it was almost never a song. Cadet and Deno done it as a freestyle in the car, put the video on social, and left it at that. Konan rang him and was like 'Bro. Cadet. Bro. This is a banger! Record a video and put this out ASAP'. He did, and it was his biggest song ever.

Image source, Denodriz/GRM Daily
Image caption,
Cadet's biggest song - Advice with Deno - was almost just a freestyle

After that, he just kept on going. He started feeling like he was finally getting the recognition he deserved. You see when you start getting records like that back? You start getting serious money. He was like, 'Rah, I'm about to actually join the crew'. He started getting bookings - he was booked for Wireless - and he started feeling like a real artist.

I'm glad he got to feel that. He was chasing it and he got there, he knew what it felt like to have a massive record. That's something that makes the way he died so much easier for me.

A month before Cadet died, I lost one of my closest friends, Nash, to suicide. I met Nash in college but we became mad tight. We were all in the same group chat - me, him and Cadet.

I remember playing Broski, about Nash passing away, to Cadet. We played it and just sat back like, 'Wow. I can't believe he's gone'.

Then a month later, it happened again.

When I found out, I was in Dubai. My girlfriend took me for my birthday.

The day before, Cadet messaged me saying, "Yo cuz, I just want you to know I love you."

I was like, 'You're dumb man. You're soft'. He told me he'd got me the socks I'd asked for for my birthday.

The next day my friend CJ called as I was boarding my flight home. I knew something was wrong because it was late in the UK, like 2am. So for you to call me at 2am, knowing I'm abroad, something's wrong. And it's someone that doesn't call me a lot - we don't have phone conversations like that. So I know there's a reason he's calling me, and I know he's always with Cadet. I picked up and he was crying. I just knew. He didn't even have to tell me what happened. I knew exactly what he was going to say.

I hung up the phone and nearly dropped to the floor. I had to put my bags down, take a seat and have a breather. My girlfriend was helping me. All I kept saying was there's no way. There's no way, there's no way, there's no way. I was trying to ring people, and eventually I got through to my dad. He was crying, and that made me cry. All this time I'm having to board a plane. It was the worst, absolute worst, worst, worst feeling I've ever had.

By the time I landed home, I'd been seeing the response on social media. I could see all the love he had, I could feel it. But his mum, dad and our nan, they weren't seeing it. As adults they know that their kids are doing well as musicians, but they don't really know until they see you at a concert or something. So I needed them to see all the love that was being poured out on social media.

That's why I said Hyde Park - 'Everyone come to Hyde Park, we're gonna let off some balloons for Cadet'. I needed them to see the impact that he made. At first they didn't understand why I was saying Hyde Park. They wanted to do something in Clapham. But I had to explain - this is bigger than South London. When they saw all the people they couldn't believe it. There must have been 1,000. They couldn't believe it, that he had so much love. My uncle never cries. That was the first time I've seen him break down. It was hard, it was so hard. It still is.

Image source, Johnson family
Image caption,
Cadet died a month before his 29th birthday

I started to learn about what happened on the night he died. I had to speak to the people that were in the car with him. He was in a packed car and he's the only one that died. I spoke to his friend Money that was there, his DJ, and Ed his cameraman. They were all in the car. Cadet was behind the driver. The DJ was next to him, Money was on the left behind the front passenger and then Ed was in the passenger.

What they found mad was the fact that they called an Uber, and they missed it. So the Uber they actually got in wasn't the original Uber they were meant to get in. They got into a second Uber and they were driving for like five minutes on country roads. They said they turned a corner and a car crashed into them. Head on collision. He died instantly. There wasn't any other major injuries. I know Ed fractured something. But no-one had life-threatening injuries. Cadet hit his head. That's what killed him. Whatever he hit is what killed him.

But they weren't even meant to be in that Uber. It's like something out of Final Destination. You call an Uber, you just, JUST, about miss it. You cancel it and have to call another one and it just so happens that at that time, this guy is coming around the corner.

If they got in a car one minute earlier that wouldn't have happened. If they got in that first cab, this wouldn't have happened. That's what I find mad.

After the funeral I was just keeping busy. I was getting ready for his show, the Rated Legend show. We put it on in Brixton Academy on his birthday, two weeks later. It was like Avengers Assemble. Everybody was being helpful - the venue, my agent, all the artists, 1Xtra who helped with logistics. Everyone came on time, it was perfect. It was like 'Rah, all these people, these artists, they all had respect for Cadet'.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
I have no idea how, but we pulled the Rated Legend tribute show together in two weeks

After he passed, loads of producers started hitting us up saying they'd recorded songs with him. It ended up being 50, 60 songs or something. It just kept on being more and more. I was like, 'This guy was working his arse off! Why's he got so many songs?!'

We tried to get a cohesive body of work out of it. That's what his mum and dad wanted. The family listened to all the songs and decided what they liked, and Rated Legend is the culmination of putting those together and finishing them off.

We set up the Cadet Trust too - which funds organisations that are doing something good for young people or in the community. All these kids that we're funding and helping, when they get to where they get to in life, they're gonna be able to say 'Cadet helped me get here'. We just wanted to leave something in his name that can benefit people who are chasing their dreams.

My first child is due later this year. Having something missing from your life and then having something added is a weird feeling. But I really can't wait for my daughter to arrive. It's going to help take my mind off loads of stuff, like my friends that I've lost. It feels like finally I'm gaining something instead of losing people.

I know the relationship my daughter would have had with Cadet. He was so good with kids. I know for a fact, when she got old enough, he would have come over like, 'I'm taking her out'. That's the kind of person he is. He would've been an amazing uncle.

For me, I just want people to know how special he is. That's what this album is. I want people to listen to it, and to hear this amazing body of work he made without even trying to. I want people to think, 'Wow, imagine if he'd been trying to make an album?' I want people to see how much potential he had. And I want people to no longer call him underrated - he's surpassed that now.

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