“We three king of orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and Fountain, Moors and MANORS
Following Yonder star.
O star(s) of wonder, starts of night
Star(s) with royal LYRICS Bright”
I went to a Catholic school, even though me and the broski weren’t what you’d consider Catholic (we were christened but we didn’t have Holy Communion or confirmation ceremonies like our classmates) our mum wanted us to have ‘discipline and grounding’ which was her reasoning for wanting non-Catholics to attend a catholic school. You may think that an oddity but it’s in the oddities and mismatches in life that jewels are discovered. The above is a hymn we used to sing in assembly at school (I’ve remixed it a lil bit to suit our Grime tastes) and came bubbling up to the surface of my mind when I think of the interweaving histories of our three ‘Kings;’ our jewels discovered – Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Kano. Sure there are MC’s who stand deservedly alongside them (Ghetts, Skepta and D double e and Lethal Bizzle come to mind) but when we think of the three wise men who gave the genre a springboard to allow it to ascend to the top of the skyscraper, those are the names who stand out to me as the untouchables.
Just like the four elements earth, wind, fire and water each element aligned brings a unique characteristic and compliments the other to create something unique and exciting which is what Kano – with his earthy instrumentals and introspective rhyming, Wiley – with his manic bars which change direction without warning just like the wind and Dizzee – with his firin’, pepper spray rhymes truly embody the elements of earth, wind and fire perfectly. The water is represented in the way all three can flow over any beat, from any genre, at any time. It has been interesting to watch these three insanely talented artists’ paths criss cross as they park on any given intersection to help each other out – Dizzee remastered Kano’s first single “Boys love Girls” or to challenge each other – Wiley and Kano famously clashed on Lord of the mics back in 2004. The interwoven paths to each of their differing successes has been a long and complex journey not only for them as individuals but also for the Grime scene as a whole.
So now we reach a point in Grime where the clock strikes Kano signifying it’s his time to shine again after a six-year break from album releases. Of Grime’s ‘Holy trinity’ Kano is the most enigmatic of the three, Wiley is the charismatic joker who speaks articulately and humbly, Dizzee is the loud mouth bragger with a touch of arrogance and Kano is low-key, modest and down to earth always giving out props where it’s due and staying out of trouble proving that he really is on his P’s and Q’s. Kano came to the attention of the Grime scene just after Dizzee’s “Boy in the corner” won critical acclaim allowing other Grime artists to come through and emulate his success; one of those artists was Kano, like many first generation MC’s Kano came up with N.A.S.T.Y crew members Sharky, Jammer, Ghetts and Double E with their own show on Deja vu radio with special guests Wiley and Dizzee passing through to drop verses on killer beats. In 2005 Kano branched away from N.A.S.T.Y crew in a bid for solo success and managed to find a mentor in ‘The Streets’ Mike Skinner who featured him on the single ‘Fit but you know it’ soon after he signed to 679 recordings with his first signed release being the monster track “P’s and Q’s “ back in 2004, with its heavy B-line and ragga tinged riffs it’s still a club banger to this day and is the track that had the industry proclaiming Kano as the next big thing, he had the underground scene in the palm of his hand and then Kano did what Kano does best he flipped the script and released the guitar heavy “Typical me” as his sophomore single which ironically was anything but a typical track for a Grime MC, releasing a rock influenced single was a great move for Kano’s versatility but it polarised Grime fans who were confused as to how an artist who came with a dutty B-line under a year ago could now be spittin over a rock song. This is where Kano’s journey began as the chameleon agile ninja man – back flipping and landing expertly in genre’s alien to Grime heads and then nimbly balancing on the thin lines between each genre like a veteran tightrope walker always keeping his balance and remaining focused.
June 2005 saw K-A release his debut album “Home Sweet Home” an album which stands alongside “Boy in the corner” as a solid body of work due to its honest lyricism on tracks “Ghetto Kid” “How we livin” and “9-5” its experimentation on ‘Remember me’ and ‘Sometimes’ and it’s Grime bangers – ‘P’s and Q’s’, ‘Reload it’, ‘Boys and Girls’ also a personal favourite of mine for the switch up ‘Nobody don’t dance no more’ and us ladies love Kano for remembering to make heartfelt jams we could relate to such as “Nite nite” ft. Mike Skinner and the sweetness of “Brown Eyes.” Kano achieved the impossible of making an album which stretched across a multitude of genre’s giving the album accessibility which allowed music fans to find their favourite song to suit their tastes. Some Grime heads didn’t view “Home Sweet Home” as pure Grime but even Kano himself warned us not to label him “What you call it Garage? What you call it Grime? Call it what you want I’m fine but rhyme wise I got a short order of mine” on the track ‘Mic Check’.
Kano’s follow up album 2007’s ‘London Town’ saw him drift further away from his Grime influences and deeper into Hip hop beats and experimentation, it’s a bold effort draped in darkness and convoluted compositions, Kano recognises his uniqueness “It’s like Grime but a little bit slower” on title track ‘London Town.’ Kano displays more arrogance and self-assuredness (most notably on “Bad Boy”) on this album and whilst there is a lack of Grime he does explore the grit of London observed over the years. London town is an album that slithers around in the shadows coiling itself around you silently rather than hitting you in the head like a bull charging towards you at 100 mph. He proves his transcendent abilities by gathering an array of artists from differing genre’s including Kate Nash, Damon Albarn, Vybz Kartel and Craig David on the most commercial track on the album ‘This is the girl.’ On the whole it is a sullen album full of depth which sees Kano question his new-found fame. This album might not have satisfied Grime heads but Kano’s artistry and determination to push himself outside of his comfort zone should be applauded.
Kano’s fourth album ‘Method to the Maadness’ which dropped in 2010 saw him explore his electronic and dub step cravings working with the dance / punk producers Hot chip, dub step producers Chase and Status and electro house producer Boys Noize which gives this release its eclectic feel with genre’s often overlapping within the same track. The album has an intergalactic feel and aside from the electronic tracks featured Kano also brings back his much-loved anthemic growling guitar on “Maad” which actually works with its anarchic school kids chanting chorus which harks back to the rebellion of the band the sex pistols. This for me was Kano’s most interesting and inventive album as I can’t remember another album where an MC has toured so many different sonic landscapes like a space invader. A great touch to this album is that he’s invited his friends along with previous collaborators – Damon Albarn, Vybz Kartel, Ghetts and Wiley joining the electronica tripped out space ride. Other stand out tracks are “Get Wild” ft. Adiona and Wiley, the soul funk of “Bassment” ft. Damon Albarn and “Spaceship” produced by Chase and status.
By the time the return of K-A was announced late 2015 we were all well aware that Kano’s journey had taken him through every musical maze in existence before he decided to come back to the manor and deliver from the heart. There are a few different reasons why Kano hasn’t been universally recognised with the same plaudits afforded to some of his peers he’s something of an enigma – we don’t know a lot about his personal life and he rarely has off the record beef, he’s diverse and experimental refusing to be labelled as one type of artist which sees him transverse like an interloper across foreign terrain which fans haven’t always embraced (he’s probably Grime’s first indie guy) and lastly his cool exterior particularly in his younger years made it hard to get to know him at times; we knew of the situations he found himself in during his life and he set the scene perfectly but we never knew who Kane Robinson was, how he felt, what he thought or the after effects of challenges he was faced with until now – Kano has invited us all aboard his red open top double-decker tour bus meandering carefully through the manor which made him the man and the artist he is today parking at pivotal points in his life allowing us the viewer to gaze at the memories projected from Kano’s mind as they unfold before us in vivid imagery. This is a testament to the pictures Kano paints so clearly and as we listen to his journey on Made in the Manor it moves from something we hear to something we can visualise.
Kano displays his polaroid’s from the past expertly as the album opens on a red-hot summers day and you can almost feel yourself melting in the manor as Kano tells us it’s ‘T-shirt weather in the manor’ we are transported to a time before the release of Kano’s first album where Heartless crew ruled the airwaves; as you try to cool down with a “Screw ball 99, flake it out” the instrumental is subtle with a simple piano melody underscoring Kano’s story ensuring we can hear what he has to say. Then we have the smoky, brassy and ambitious track ‘This is England’ which will have you hunting for your England footie kit in a show of patriotic solidarity as Kano raps about “Jellied eels, pie n mash” and includes the victorious chorus of “This is England, this is England where you can be a villain or a victim” The track is an absolute gem as it has one foot in the past with its big band James Bond / 1940’s flapper girl feel (Get Shirley Bassey on the remix yeah!) and the other firmly in the present with mentions of back when Lethal Bizzle was Lethal B and Wiley was Wiley cat. ‘A Roadman’s hymn’ is an understated but stunning shout out to the mandem in the East end as Kano encourages them to do what they have to do to survive whilst struggling to reach the top, it’s also Kano’s thank you to the people who held him down when he was on the come up, Kano’s sincerity is amplified by the strains of violins on the outro. “Drinking in the West end” is a celebration of well exactly what the title suggests, over a gospel vocal throughout as Kano reminisces on how he insulted the whole cast of TOWIE on a messy night out. On the sparse and soulful arrangement of “Endz” Kano gives us insight into how he views his life in the present and warns that “Too many mans talk nuff blah blah that’s just the endz.” Kano even explores the psychological effects of being a man from the manor on the mod rock tinged “Seashells from the East” and explores the delicate balance between the defeatist mentality vs the survivors mentality of the manor which will inevitably decides a person’s fate as Kano’s lyricism shines throughout.
There are three songs on Made in the Manor where I had to take a moment to digest what I had heard in disbelief as Kano uncharacteristically bared his soul in raw honesty and made personal revelations many wouldn’t even make to their closest friends. I’m not ashamed to say ‘Little Sis’ moved me to a tear… (ok maybe two) as Kano tells of his regret that he hasn’t seen his sister since she was two years old and wonders what she is doing now; the most heart-breaking realisation is that Kano realises he’s missed many big bro moments in her life which he won’t get the chance to recapture. “strangers” is also a tale about a type of loss but here Kano is brutally honest about the breakdown of his friendship with a lifelong friend who was more like a brother, by the end of the song you want to speak to Kano and ask – are you two talking now? Just bell man innit?!! I’ve also found my new favourite phrase hidden in this track “Red stripe vibes.” Of all Kano’s collaborations on Made in the Manor ‘Deep Blues’ is the most intriguing and interesting namely because he is working with Damon Albarn for the fourth time, an artist so far removed from Rap or Grime that any time their two worlds collide it’s going to be unique. The composition of the track is hypnotic, earthy, moody and hauntingly beautiful. Kano revisits the misfortunes of the people he cares about and you realise even a much-loved and much respected pioneer can get low and deals with the same hardships we all face. ‘Deep Blues’ is a track many Grimesters will dismiss as dreary and skip straight past it but for me its simplicity is its beauty and it works.
One of Kano’s biggest accomplishments on Made of the Manor is the very thing which made “Home Sweet Home” the classic album it is today – he perfected the balance between the rough and the smooth, he hasn’t alienated the Grime heads like “London Town” threatened to or the electronica of “Method to the Maadness” did which had the B-line riders asking where the bangers at? Look no further they are right here from the wild wagon which speeds round the corner driven by Kano’s direct rude bwoys Giggs and Wiley honking those blaring horns on ‘3 wheel ups’ which scream we’re “Home sweet Home” ‘Remember me?’ (which is where the use of horns first crept into Kano’s back catalogue) to the rowdy drums and music to lose your shit to of ‘New Banger’ where Kano demands us to “Skank Skank skank” (I give you 10 seconds before you get up off your behind and do as the man says) on which he remembers how the locals “Showed us what bangers and mash is, we showed them what dumpling and yam is.” The album ends with the uplifting steel band of ‘My Sound’ and the euphoric get off your face track ‘Garage Skank’ which in my opinion is already a classic tear up the club anthem just as P’s and Q’s remains today. It’s a celebration of everything that makes the Grime and urban scene in the UK so unique, as Kano asks “Who put the Eski in Eskimo? “and “Who put the metaphors in this Grime shit man like Sharky and I did” a poignant shout out to fellow originator and collaborator Wiley and also shows Kano hasn’t forgotten the people he came up with in shouting out his former N.A.S.T.Y crew member Sharky. The Zeph Ellis produced track is full of nostalgic references which will make you grin like a lunatic (If you stop dancing like one for long enough – I can’t) when you realise just how far the scene has come. We also have Kano to thank for the cuss of the year leaving people around the world discussing the aroma emitting from the A13 Bexton exit and unhygienic girls having Dettol dips to avoid comparisons! Kano peppers the track with his deliciously fierce patois as he does throughout the album never forgetting his Jamaican roots.
As the album draws to its close with a charismatic cameo from JME on “Flow of the year” I can’t help but think that Kano has not just taken the title of flow of the year but I’m going to call it now and say he’s arguably taken the title of Album of the year – Kano has delivered a beautiful masterpiece of an album with ‘Made In The Manor’ it’s multi layered, deeply personal, nostalgic, inherently British and mature. He has struck the balance just right between his turn up tracks and his quieter introspective moments which was often missed by a margin on his previous albums. Kano has matured into a well-balanced artist who has delivered an expertly crafted concept album which has set a precedence and will hopefully inspire other artists to create albums which are just as ambitious and ground breaking.
So as I turn away after weeks of peering through the windows of ‘Kano’s castle’ where he now stands at the top as king his words echo through my head “See I won’t never have a calms’ day rest , Til my albums’ in stores next to Kanye West’s” If Kano wanted to he could easily have another six years off by that measurement because in today’s times Kanye West refuses to release physical copies of his album in stores meaning in that respect Kano reigns supreme with no Kanye on the shelf next to him, we only see the man from the manor who made it out but reurned to give respect and recognition to his Home sweet Home.
“All hail the King Jackson but our Quincey was Wiley and our Michael was Dylan” … and OUR Kendrick is Kano.