Words by Matthew Mundy
In light of the upcoming release of Kano’s London Town, and the international flavor of some of this website’s visitors, I thought it prudent to dig up his debut album, 2005’s Home Sweet Home, and â€“ to paraphrase Clinton Sparks â€“ get you familiar. For those in the dark, Kano is the other side of the British rap/grime axis as Dizzee Rascal (at least how it’s presented to American audiences). In actual fact, the two have little to do with each other, other than evidencing the lazy cataloguing of American critics. Where Dizzee’s deliciously unhinged voice is all frantic, manic raps barreling towards the finish line, Kano eases over tracks with an unerring calm, unperturbed through it all.
The first weapon in Kano’s arsenal, though, is not his voice, which is noteworthy perhaps only because it’s easy to understand, unlike Dizzee and the vast majority of grime’s practioners. Rather, it’s his flow â€“astoundingly mercurial, dripping and slithering across tracks that span the often diverse spectra of both grime and hip hop production, it’s something special. In this sense he’s like Jay-Z â€“ whereas most emcees stick with a certain ambience or sonic template and perfect their flows over that, and only that (Eminem springs to mind), Kano sets the pace on every track he’s given. From the typically grime bleeps and slinky bass and synths of â€˜Home Sweet Home’ to the salsa horns and unsteady drums of â€˜Remember Me’, he sinks comfortably into any beat, molding it to fit his own ambitious design.
The highlights of the album are equally diverse. â€˜P’s & Q’s’ is another extremely typical grime production â€“ while grandness is coaxed out of the mass of synths spread out over the stutter-step drums, Kano toasts â€“ who else? – himself: â€˜I ain’t got punch lines, I got kick lines / And I ain’t commercial but I got hit lines.’ His hunger is palpable, and it’s no surprise the song is a grime classic â€“ it’s a prime example of what can be done within the often rigid confines of the genre.
Central to Kano’s appeal as an emcee is not his brags and boasts though – rather, it’s his lyrical earnestness that sets him most apart from his contemporaries. â€˜Sometimes’ is a great example of this â€“ over a silky, mellifluous backdrop, he lays bare his insecurities and frustrations with the music business. â€˜My manager said this the quickest deal ever / I said 18 years ain’t the quickest deal ever / I’m trying to sell and make the quickest mil’ ever / Support my family, so I can feel better / But it’s not for the cheddar, it’s not for the fame / It’s not for the Rolex, it’s not for the chain / It’s just for the respect, I’ve been doing this for years remember / Free of charge, I ain’t rich yet’. It’s an astonishing lyrical performance. â€˜Nite Nite’ is a soul-baring performance as well. Over an absurdly catchy piano beat only broken up by the gorgeous, soulful hook, Kano lays out a youthful love that is striking in its candidness. The singularity of the performance is even starker in comparison with many of his peers, who frequently are too hamstrung by either their labels or their own pretensions of hardness to appear human, for even the briefest of moments.
That’s not to say he can’t rip a mic though â€“ album standout â€˜Reload It’ is a beast of a track, with globetrotting DJ/producer extraordinaire Diplo overlaying frenzied drumbeat with a teeth-gritting bass line and a dizzying tornado of airy chords. It’s a testament to Kano’s versatility that he’s able to dominate the track â€“ few beats are this difficult to keep up with, let alone dictate, but he does it with aplomb. It’s something to behold – he’ll ease up to let the beat breathe a bit, and then just as quickly choke it off with a series of whip-fast stanzas.
The rest of the album highlights his versatility, with the rap-rock thud of â€˜Typical Me’ comfortably situated near the over-the-top braggadocio and synthetic epic-ness of â€˜Mic Check’, and the poppy stylings of â€˜Brown Eyes’. With few stumbles (the awkward Black Sabbath-fawning â€˜I Don’t Know Why’ and musically bland â€˜9 to 5′ mar an otherwise brilliant album), Kano has crafted a lyrically and musically diverse debut album that both underlines his willingness to bust out of the metallic, synth-heavy trappings of grime and his potential as an emcee. One can only hope his follow-up, currently due out in September, will make good on the awe-inspiring promise he demonstrates on Home Sweet Home.