To me Kano epitomises the underrated legend title we give to many artists and media personalities. Wiley respectfully referred to him as a “Nice boy who raps” in his second NFTR interview, in the book ‘This is Grime’ Ghetts describes meeting Kano for the first time and shares “He was very laid back, same way he is now, he was sipping his tea showing me completed tracks” this sums Kano up to a well…tea! He’s immensely talented, probably one of the most technically gifted and versatile MC’s in the game but he’s never reached “Star status” or received the attention his peers have but that is part of Kano’s appeal – he has never chased fame, he’s just come with his ground breaking riddims and blazin bars and it’s his skill and penchant for experimental instrumentals which has kept the laid back yet prolific MC aligned with other legends in Grime.
On the day of Kano’s Made in the Manor gig (13th October) at the O2 Ritz, Manchester I was vexed. I was screw facing making the plants in the kitchen shrivel up with my sour face. The reason – My favourite MC was playing in my home city, the gig had sold out quick time, something I should have anticipated due to the mastery of Made in the Manor and the popularity of Kano, but nope I underestimated his pulling power (lesson learned truss me!) and thought I’d scoop up the last few tickets no problems with 12 days to spare. There must be a guardian angel above who rates Grime because 2 hours before the gig Kano’s management kindly granted UK Grime access to come and review the gig, miracles do happen!
After flinging on the first clean outfit I could find complete with wrinkles (look don’t judge me I only had an 1hr to recruit a wing woman, get dressed and get out the door) on arrival at the intimate venue beats were being shelled and sliced expertly by DJ Chopper who blasted all the latest Grime beats from Skepta, Ghetts and co., he also played tribute to Kano’s long-time collaborator ‘The Streets’ which had us golden oldies in the building cast knowing looks of recognition to each other as the largely under 25’s crowd gossiped over the chilled tempo of ‘Original pirate material.’ Not long after Chopper delivered his solid set it was the tiny but mighty Little Simz’ time to grace the stage decked out in head to toe distressed denim and a red baseball cap the internationally respected UK rapper strode across the stage confidently as she spat her bars with the intensity and fearlessness for which she is known. Having watched Little Simz epic performance as the only female amongst her male counterparts at the Grime symphony which was the most memorable musical moment of 2015 in my opinion I fully appreciated Little Simz performance and could see why she has become the international female face of UK urban music. She was relaxed yet confident as she performed the soulful ‘Wings’ and it was clear that she was feeling every lyric of the song. The track ‘Gratitude’ went over the fresh-faced audience members heads as they restlessly awaited King Kano’s, but I fully appreciated Simz impassioned and stark delivery as she threw her head back and closed her eyes as the melody seemed to hypnotise her. If the teens ‘n’ 20’s attention spans were too short to appreciate ‘Gratitude’ Little Simz won them over with her energetic performance of the dark and distorted ‘Dead Body’ her DJ – Complexion, ad-libbed throughout the track balancing his skills on deck with hype man duties he also shook a leg with Little Simz as the raw riddim filled the Ritz. The crowd embodied the messiness of the instrumental and bounced along with ‘Simz as the edginess of the track seemed to jolt them into a jump up frenzy.
As Simz said her goodbyes to the heaving crowd (You could definitely feel that it was a sold out gig as claustrophobia closed in as we were front row against the barriers) we felt a rush of excitement along with the baby-faced crowd many of whom were probably too young to remember K-A in N.A.S.T.Y crew or his first steps into solo stardom with Mike Skinner as his wingman. As the stage was plunged into darkness I heard shrieks of “He’s coming” , “He’s here” I was nervously biting on my bottom lip as I always do when I see one of the Grime greats and I have been lucky enough to see so many this year. We heard Kano’s voice before we actually saw him which had everyone gassed as he delivered an ominous monologue detailing life in the East end from which he hails and the strength of character artists must possess to succeed in the face of oppression. The stage was awash with dramatic scarlet lighting making it appear like we were gazing at a danger zone as if to warn us of the destruction Kano was about to unleash pon the mic. The instantly recognisable guitar licks of ‘Hail’ rung out and our king emerged in a custom-made “86” black bomber jacket as a shout out to his beloved “86 St. Olaves Road.” As we were bathed in blood-red lighting (Just in time for Halloween) Kano’s view must have looked like 100’s of stars in comparison as every person in the venue had their phones pointed at him to capture his arrival.
From that electrifying entrance the militant drums of ‘New Banger (which sounded incredible with the live drum set) started to pound persuading the crowd to go crazy, everyone was banging and crashing into each other just as the drummer on stage was to the bass, Kano spat the lyrics with pure heat which set the tone for the rest of the gig. ‘This is England’ felt bigger and better when accompanied by Kano’s luxurious feel live band as he reminisced “Back when Lethal Bizzle was Lethal B” and the defiant chorus of “This is England!” packed a punch when the crowd shouted unanimously with Kano. The Made in the manor album holds such depth in its instrumentation it was great to see Kano visualise this element by not only having a live band on stage with him but he also had band members stood either side of him who were on the horn…literally as they were brandishing the biggest horn instruments (Trombone and French horn I think but don’t take my word for it!) I have ever seen, it made for a striking aesthetic for the tracks ‘This is England’ and ‘3 Wheel ups’ and the players remained on stage with Kano for most of the gig ensuring all eyes were firmly on stage at all times.
Kano began to feel “T-shirt Weather In The MANNY” as he stripped off his “86” bomber jacket to deliver a powerfully nostalgic rendition of ‘T-shirt Weather In The Manor’ as Kano began with a patois “awwooooo” the audience recited every single word as though they had grown up with Kano in his manor and also witnessed “Rachel getting her hair braided to see one side looking like Don King.” The most emotive moment was the undeniably beautiful ‘A Roadman’s Hymn’ which translates to street struggles across the country, again the audience were fully engaged as Kano punctuated every word with meaning it were as though Kano were delivering a sermon at church as he raised his hands and soaked up the atmosphere of his congregation, he exclaimed “Awwwww sounds so beautiful!” so unique was that moment that the whole place erupted in claps after this performance which seemed to last forever as the audience were genuinely enthralled by the rendition. We remained in Kano’s church as the gospel strains of ‘Drinking in the West end’ filled the venue and I couldn’t help but grin my head off when everyone shouted the memorable “Shhhaaaattttupp” lyric from the song as Kano recalls the time he and the mandem shocked the TOWIE cast with their antics. These tracks along with the chilled out introspection of ‘Endz’ showed Kano’s lyricism at its finest; he brought clarity to these deeply personal songs and you could see Kano felt what he was saying as he has lived the lyrics.
As grannies of Grime (me and my girl genuinely felt like we’d stumbled into a fresher’s rave at Manchester Met. University when we took in the angelic and wide-eyed faces around us) it was an unforgettable moment to witness Kano perform the tracks I first heard back in 2004 / 2005. Kano took it waaayyyyyyyy back and dropped the classic riddim ‘Ghetto Kyote’ at this point the young crowd looked slightly confused but nodded along to the music, only a handful of us were going off our nut and going mental as Kano demonstrated exactly why he’s a forefather of the Grime genre. As Kano tore up the classic instrumental I had to buss out my boggle as K-A brought levels pon mic. ‘P’s and Q’s’ went off the scales with the old skool and new skool as people were either bringing the ruckus with mosh pits or bouncing up and down as Kano flexed his flow and by now was shining with sweat as he poured every ounce of physical energy into each song. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the growling guitars of ‘Typical me’ and was pleased he’d brought the angst ridden ‘Home sweet Home’ track to his ‘Made in the Manor’ tour as it was a track I identified with during my college years and it was a treat for those who had missed out on the ‘Home sweet Home’ tour earlier in the year. Kano performed the melodic ‘Nite nite’ which won us ladies over back in the day with as much heartfelt honesty here in present day as he did back in 2005; My boggle AND gun fingers came out to play for ‘Boys and Girls’ which saw Kano effortlessly flow over his first release as if he made it only the day before with his infectious grin breaking out in between songs you get the sense Kano is proud to parade his old skool cuts for his day ones and introduce them to the new generation of grime / rap fans.
The tropical steel band of ‘My Sound’ with its victorious horns was a fitting ‘end’ to the gig as Kano is chatting complete truth when he declares “My sound’s the realest” no one would dare dispute that after the phenomenal performance he had just put in to the 1,5000 strong crowd . Of course the lyric “Link up the mandem from Manny” went down a storm as everyone screamed it with him as we all felt proud as Mancunian’s gathered together in one space listening to Kano big up our city. The lyric held even more weight as earlier in the show Kano admitted that Manny is his second home which made us feel even more pride. After Kano ‘Exited’ stage there was not one person who made a dash for the coat queue because we knew the show was not over before the shells had been slung and never one to disappoint Kano returned to stage to shut down the Ritz on the EPIC “3 Wheel ups” beginning with a very Manc’ “Lets fuckin ‘av it then” Kano made it muuadddd by bringing the classic Grime gig element to the performance by reloading the track twice, completely normal for Sidewinder or Eski dance but not a solo performance and this made him even more of a king for bringing that vibe to his show. The mighty “3 wheel ups” is such a big anthem we all embody the spirit of direct rude bwoys when the beat drops; Kano was just as hype on stage as we all were in the front row going absolutely mental. To close the show Kano finished with the ambiguous genre of a track ‘Garage Skank’ and I think it’s the ambiguity of the track not belonging to any particular genre (despite its title) which makes it a BEAST of a song where ever it’s played around the world. The Manny crowd chanted “Leng it down!” at the tops of their lungs myself included never wanting the gig to end. It was the perfect way to end a sell-out show on a “Mad ting” as the euphoria of Kano’s lyrics “White boy wasted Gazza’d out” saw Kano nearly rip the roof off the Ritz with the legendary track. There was not one person in the Ritz standing still, even the people up on the balcony who had sat reservedly observing the gig until this moment got out of their seats and skanked along with K-A, how could you not!
With Kano now looking like he’d been in a rush and decided to dip in the shower with all his clothes on before hitting the stage, he came down from the stage to thank and greet the rowdy fans who braved the barriers. Kano embraced us and showed love, I wasn’t in position to get a hug but I did get to touch his sweat drenched forearm, I type this with my finger wrapped in cling film to preserve the sweat of a living legend which I will tout on eBay!! All joking aside Kano’s versatility, humility, warmth and gratitude towards his fans alongside his technicality on the mic whilst also possessing the ability to body any beat is the reason he’s acquired legendary status and why fans turn out in their thousands to see him. Kano shared his story from the stage and we were grateful to be a part of it if only for one night. All that’s left to say is Kano gave Manchester a night to remember and it was SWEET GEEZ!!