We need Kano right now. Save us, Kano, save us. Save us from corruption in our towns and senseless violence on our streets. Save us from the pain and suffering that sweeps through our communities.
Back in 2016, it was “T-Shirt Weather in the Manor.” Now it’s 2019 and he’s talking about Hoodies All Summer. There is a chill wind blowing after all.
For anyone who’s seen the incredible video for “Trouble,” that harrowing document of everyday life in “a postcode war,” you’ll already be familiar with that joyous piano riff, the shimmering early Kanye-esque soul sampling. Kicking off with a sample of activist Darcus Howe and collapsing in the middle with a sample of someone reporting a stabbing to emergency services, it’s as horrifying and vital as it gets.
You’ll also be familiar with the heavy grime cut “Class of Deja.” With D Double E and Ghetts lending a hand; MCs going head-to-head like the early days; three distinct voices battling with a dexterity seldom heard on a major record. The fact that Kano isn’t afraid to yield the space shows the respect and love he has for these guys. These two contrasting pieces—the melancholy uplift of “Trouble” vs. the ferocious attack of “Deja”—sum up the album.
From the beginning, you sense Kano’s ire. He spits, becoming increasingly incensed on the album opener “Free Years Later,” conjuring images of wealth hard-earned, of sorrow and loss hard-lived, of life and lessons hard-learned. His anger reaches a boiling point, driving his opponents back into the shadows where they belong. But as he reaches a seething critical mass, the track breaks and he shifts gear into a light tenor, only to repeat the process.
Kano has never been one for the braggadocio that can give hip-hop a bad name. He’s always been a sensitivity, a sense of humour too, and these things help to temper the assault. As an MC, he’s astonishing. That’s nothing new. Hip-hop has evolved considerably over the past 40 years, and the UK scene started to thrive the moment it made a conscious decision to drop the Americanisms that made so many early records deplorable.
But, while his peers can often struggle with the pitfalls of focusing on life as a major player, and the material treats that such success brings, Kano never seems all that interested in those elements. An S-class Mercedes and the odd bottle of brandy aside, it’s his love for his family and community that bleeds through. Maybe he’s aware that boastful remarks about cars and money could be misconceived or misconstrued in the places where this record will be most eagerly received: those communities already ripped apart by violent crime and turf war.
Maybe, like the rest of the world who have achieved wealth and success, Kano can’t stand to watch the alternatives that life might have served up. What is that? It’s not guilt. Helplessness maybe? The pledge at the end of “Free Years Later,” when he raps “what D Double did for me, I just do for the youts,” shows that commitment to make a change in young lives.
Once you get past the opener (it took me half a dozen attempts) the album rages across styles without ever letting up on quality. “Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil” settles in around an ominous descending riff and Kano explodes snarling out of the track. And that anger is the hallmark of the album. Kano takes on the haters, the politicians, the privileged. His touch is deft though, and the record is a lean 10 tracks drawing on a range of musical styles while maintaining a consistency.
His parting shot here, “SYM,” starts out on a straight piano motif, as backing singers croon “Suck your mother and die.” Kano emerges, defiant and detailing all the ways in which his community has suffered, all the promises that were made and then broken, all the wasted opportunities and hypocrisies that have increasingly marginalised so many members of society. Again, that fire ignites and his passion escalates as the track shifts from gentle piano to skittering beats.
While earlier grime recordings were simple productions, Kano has raised the bar here with an album that is hard-edged, with a whiff of melancholic nostalgia, a sense of righteous indignation, and some simple yet addictive hooks, and he demands to be heard.
We need Kano, now more than ever.
Score: 🤝🤝🤝🤝🤝 / 5