Kano is one of the most enigmatic artists in the UK rap game, an MC who has evolved with the scene as it grew from the underground sound of inner city youth into a wide umbrella encompassing multiple genres and putting the UK back at the forefront of music worldwide. Whilst the artist from East Ham was on the frontline during the early days of this rise to success, shelling down pirate radio sets and involved in spectacular clashes, these days he is more elusive, only periodically stepping back into the scene to let everyone know that he’s still ‘got it’. On Hoodies All Summer, his most recent project, he strays further than ever before from his roots in UK hip hop and grime, recruiting choristers and cellists, sampling speeches and soul singers to create an album that is simply beyond the generic.
By repeatedly crossing the lines between genres he blurs the boundaries between black and white to create shades of grey, mirroring the messages he puts across in the lyrics. He gives equal attention, for example to the pressures of growing up in disadvantaged, impoverished areas and to the much different, but no less pressing, challenges that are thrown up when you try to leave those areas behind. The tone throughout is reflective, Kano is aware of the contradictions that he creates, acknowledging on Trouble, for instance, “Still conflicted cos man will bust gun on Netflix/ But I show you both sides of the fences, watch out for splinters”. It’s a logical continuation from his introspective previous project Made In The Manor, as he turns the lens from himself to the area around him, critiquing the establishment that created it as well as those who “stay up ridin’, til the sun’s risin’/[…]just tryin’ to get one or get bunned tryin’”.
In a polarised political climate where there often seems to be only two extremes and no middle ground in any debate, it is refreshing to hear such nuance, and telling that it comes from a rapper rather than any politician. The lead single Trouble, a track that engages with the epidemic of violence that has swept the capital in recent years, perfectly highlights Kano’s understanding of these nuances. His proffered solutions – “Any beef can be squashed if hands could be shaken” – are immediately given an uneasy caveat – “Any hand can be shaken when the blood dries”. He also tries to get to the root of the problem, taking aim at the establishment on SYM – “They trap us in estates, won’t even educate us boys/ And wonder why we break the law”, which gives context to the analysis of the situation he gives on Good Youtes Walk Against evil, where he says “when you got no faith in the system, hungry today fuck tomorrow”. This illustrated understanding of the get rich quick mentality, as well as the barriers to doing it legally make it resonate when he spits, once again on Trouble – “ I know the roads, yes, but when’s the goal’s bread/ it don’t make no sense” – the nuance of his understanding allows him to ask with genuine sincerity on the hook “the beef please stop it cos it don’t make money”.
On SYM i.e. suck your mother (and die) – a phrase which is beautifully (and hilariously) sung by a choir on the hook, Kano expands this critique to specifically highlight racial inequalities in the UK. He casts his eye back to the experiences Windrush generation, when they “promised us so much and left us to be poor”. He reflects on various manifestations of racism since that time, from the commonplace signs that read “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs” to the racial abuse John Barnes suffered whilst playing for Liverpool. As if to show nothing has really changed, on Teardrops he rhymes “If they can spraypaint ‘nigga’ on Lebron James’ crib/ That means a black card ain’t shit when that’s the shade your face is”. It’s a fitting critique of how money and success can do nothing to improve your situation in a society where racism is still sadly pervasive.
Money and its effects is a theme throughout, it’s prominent in the hooks of the singles Trouble and Pan-Fried, but it’s the album cuts like those discussed in the previous paragraph that truly expose its fickle nature. On Got My Brandy, Got My Beats Kano speaks on another problem that money can’t solve, jibing as he raps about a broken relationship “Gold Rolex on my wrist, but I’m still balling as we speak”. Whilst the track, and this use of wordplay in particular, makes it clear that more money doesn’t necessarily mean less problems, he does note that, racism aside, it can make your problems a lot less dangerous: contrast “every month bills, every week stress” (Can’t Hold We Down) with “man hurt my man just now, run up on my man/ Point on dialogue, just backed out and start firing” (Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil) – it’s a point Kano tries to make throughout the project.
Bang Down Your Door, a Streets-inspired track on which Kano more speaks than raps over a garage type melody, is another manifestation of this. He raps about the conflict he feels seeing his path diverge from some of the people he grew up with – “you was in the field when I was on tour/ I was on the telly when you was in the cell”, whilst reaffirming “if the family need me they can shout me/ I’m one phone call away don’t doubt me/ Just as long as they don’t ask for an Audi”. These lines simultaneously speak to the positive changes money has made to his life, whilst also presenting new and different challenges such as moving away from his friends and family and the fear of being used.
For all its intelligent social commentary and showcasing of the various genres of UK rap, the project would not be complete without an ode to the sound that started K-A on the path to superstardom. Enter Class of Deja, a stonker of a Grime riddim in which Kano reunites with fellow former N.A.S.T.Y Crew members Ghetts and D Double E. The three of them fire off their inimitable flows over a Jodi Miller beat that sounds like it’s straight from 06 all clanging synths and syncopated snares. It’s an ode to the trio’s days on pirate radio and to the genre that gave Kano his platform, a platform that on this album he uses to full effect, to give community issues a national audience.
Album Rating – 4.5/5
Standouts: Trouble, Class of Deja, Good Youtes Walk Against Evil, SYM