In an era where it felt like everyone was trying to make "universal" stuff that sounded/ripped off American aiming to appeal to a global audience by kids who grew up with aspirations to be like rich US hip hop artists, grime's return to the mainstream conversation kicked the regional ownership back into gear. It reminded Londoners that we have a history and identity beyond images we saw on MTV Base.
Don't get me wrong, I indulge in the gritty, road rap tales from the younger generation. I love their way with words, passion, hearing their pain, perspective and outlook over trappy beats. But I love balance too. It was lacking 2 to 3 years ago.
While there has been hit singles, club smashes, memorable clashes, war dubs with videos and a couple high charting projects, I don't think this generation has delivered a definitive album. Skepta was important in bringing the grime singles and style to the back forefront, Kano brought me a quintessential London album. Material that couldn't have been made anywhere else.
Actually, before we get into it, this isn't an album review as such. This is about what the album means to me and why I feel its very important, and also my thoughts about Kano.
For a long time, I'd been hoping Kano made something I wanted to hear. Even though there were some hits after Home Sweet Home (Layer Cake anyone?), there were misses too. I always got the impression he didn't know how or even want to fit in, but compromised to stay relevant so kinda sat in between. I neither liked or hated most of the songs, more frustrated 'cos I know what Kano can do. Just listen to 'Layer Cake' ffs. Even 140 Grime Street felt a tad like he wanted to place himself back in grime out of necessity rather than something he wanted to do. I forgot Method To Madness existed. Haven't heard it.
(Let's not forget Kano could write those type of pop songs; "Stryderman" and work with N-Dubz prove that. And "This The Girl" was about 3 years ahead of its time.)
Made in the Manor kicks off with 'Hail'. Admittedly, I didn't really like 'Hail' when it was released last year. He was saying stuff I wanted to hear, just not on my kind of beat. "They say grime's not popping like it was back then. Rap's not honest like it was back then," is so real. "Stealing a living with your sticky fingers. Crossing that pond and fishing for hits" = a statement I fully back as I referred to earlier. "Big mic man like Merciless" must be the first time the 'War head' Leonard has been name-checked/rated by a grime artist. Cockney, Jamaican and Irish accents. "We've both gain influence but how comes nobody credits us Brits" is another bold thing to say in the beg era.
Makes references to the good old days too. "We've had dub plates on acetate, dun know Kano woz 'ere. Used to shop in catalogues..." Hold it right there. Catalogues, bruv? Mad memories. Thinking back, I wonder if I thought it was Kano kinda making grime but not making grime. I didn't get it. I FULLY get it now though, especially after witnessing a live version at the Home Sweet Home Revisited show (more on that later). It was a reintroduction. A statement of intent. I didn't get it. But I get it now. Context is everything.
'New Banger' was pretty much the same; felt everything lyrically, not so much my thing sonically. Very British though. Sounded kinda ecstasy house + 90s influenced. He was saying a lot of stuff, again. "All white parties but ain't no tennis. Where Yardie dances don't end until 10ish." Wugh!? "They showed us what bangers and mash is, we showed them what dumpling and yam is. Built sound systems in house before one finger garage skankers." Sick cross cultural reference. A lot of familiar references, especially that last verse. My favourite bit is "Before I knew the alphabet, I knew zunguzung-gu-gu-zhungu zeng." Oh and "I grew up on jungle. Karl 'Tuff Enuff' [Brown] and D Double E. When I was watching Ziggy and Bungle. Was hearing Supercat from my uncle." That's my generation.
I'm gonna try cut the quoting lines in a bit. These are the singles so whatever. I'll keep the album track quotes down to a minimum. It'd be like them bastards that tell you the next line from a film they've rinsed but you haven't seen.
"There's a whole heap ah gyal dem running man down, true stories. You can't introduce riddim-dim like me. Made in the manor, yeah I'm from the east. Gyal dem ting, gyal dem ting." Now we're at something I wanna hear beat-wise from Kano. It's called 'Garage Skank Freestyle' and it's a return grime. Todd Edwards style garage vocal sample (maybe?) with grime style drums and bass.
This song here got me gassed. He speaking like man dem and talking about things a lot of people wouldn't even understand. My favourite example of that is "Now I floss like Lambie and dem man deh". I'm not even gonna act like I get most of the incidents he's referring to cos I don't. But I love that. It's extra real. He's naming nuff man I don't know too. But I get it. If you get me. It just feels real open and honest. And it bangs!
So, to the Home Sweet Home Revisited show. Man. What a moment. There aren't many Londoners who can draw a sold out crowd for an album recorded ten years prior. There's literally a handful of shows I'd attend; Craig David, So Solid, Dizzee Rascal, Skinnyman and Kano. Those were crucial to my appreciation of urban music. That show was special. Kano did the album top to bottom, excluding Remember Me (easily the worst song on the album) and maybe a couple others (not too sure). Ps and Qs was, like, the third song in so it wasn't a case of waiting for one of the most important songs of this century.
Not only was it great for us to participate in raising gun fingers and reminiscing, I could see Kano was moved almost to tears at the end when he thanked everyone. Knowing it is sold out is completely different to seeing people go mad for an album he himself hadn't listened to in ten years. I mean, he got big reactions for album tracks he probably hasn't performed in about 8 of those years.
Brought out Ghetts, D Double and Wretch 32, but it was when he brought out Giggs to debut a new song. When I say the song was MENTAL! Wiley kicked the first verse, then Kano then Giggs. I just remembered Giggs' flow being immaculate. Didn't hear what he said properly but his timing on the riddim was incredible.
Then the tune dropped on Mista Jam's show. '3 Wheel Ups'. Facking hell mate. Song of the year candidate easily. On paper, he followed Jme's top 5 song of 2015 'Man Don't Care' with Swifta and Giggs yet managed to make it sound so fresh. "Man don't care about fathers. Man just care about figures. Man don't care about yards. Man just care about Bimma's," a nod to that? In reality, I don't compare the songs. They both great songs. A&R's, remember this when you cat something hot. You can still make it original.
Once again, London references. "And you're in Dstrkt poppin' that Goose boy, you're not a direct rudeboy." Truss me. Slight reference to last years incident where couple black girls were rejected? That shit's standard too. "Cash rules everything around me, that's word to a method man lyric. Yeah, I Roll Deep in east but I still might Megaman with it" = ridiculous. "I don't wanna hear 'bout cuntch and food and ting. Man, don't do dem tings" words you may not be familiar with if you aren't from the ends.
Giggs absolutely obliterated it lyrically. "I might bap-bap-bap ping-ping. And then leave no prints" is my favourite bar. Shout out the Godfather of Grime too. He was on his job. "I was getting 'em hyper, you were touching ya lighter, I was kicking a Mitre..." Yeah, g. But yeah, the godfather of grime, UK/road rap's equivalent and arguably the most talented MC in the country on one tune. Even got the D Double ad-lib.
I just realised I wrote all of that about songs you've all heard. You wanna know about the ones you haven't. Or maybe you're reading this to see if my thoughts match yours. Either way, I ain't even deleting it now - you just have to deal.
Funny thing is, none of above reflects the album's overall sound. 'Endz', the last single before the album does. This is important information. Don't go into the album expecting to get mad hype to songs that sound like 3 Wheel Ups and Garage Skank freestyle. You'll either skip to find that vibe and/or leave disappointed. Give the album a listen with an open mind.
I got hyped off a track list for the first time in my life. The titles were mad intriguing.
'T-Shirt Weather In The Manor' is the song that kicked off the mood for the album, according to Kane Robinson. "69 Manor Road, Sunday morning. Dorothy be up but Jennifer be yawning." Don't know who either of them are but I'm intrigued. "Rachel'll get her hair plaited but I spoilt it." Once again, no idea who that is but its obviously a peer. Then he talks about food cooking and listening to Heartless Crew on Mission FM. All those personal London references in the songs before are fully on deck in the first 30 seconds.
I mean, when's the last time you heard a London rapper mention a 99 flake? He speaks about family/friend struggle too, someone's locked up and couple others aren't talking. "Breezer and Alize get the party started... DJ got the Tina Moore and MJ Cole. The olders asking for some Dennis Brown." Fam, those were my family/freind/family friend barbecues.
I fully rate the subtle references to how we were the first youths growing up to a British sound jungle and UK garage music over anything else while the elders raised us on reggae (not hip hop, soul or whatever). My generation took reggae into different forms (garage from US and hardcore) to create the sound of our generation. The elders had their Saxon, Cosxone, Shakka and lovers rock, they were still making reggae. Already I'm feeling this. This is the real story of Jamaican-Londoners in the 90s. The majority of black Londoners.
And we all love London in the sun.
Can I just say I rate him using "Manor". I know it's the name of his road but it's also what we called the ends. We borrowed it from Cockney's. Something we don't really do anymore.
'This is England' needs to be the next single. This is a song I've wanted to hear forever. A triumpant London song. Yeah, he says "This is England" but that's because we are
Can you point to your country on this world map? 😁 pic.twitter.com/vBtmRl1nLw— Ash R. (@aroueno) March 2, 2016
See? So yeah, the video can be so serious. Link up man like Devlin for a remix. Kevin Mitchell in a boxing gym. A couple old east end gangsters. Some road man. Just go around some sights. Could be the video I've always wanted too. Proper uplifting for the London I know.
Man shouted out the guys drinking super tenants on the park bench. And he says "shubeens". "Change is gonna come for the masses. Bars back, give that dance shit a damn rest. Rap for the have nots and the have less." Statement! "Brother and a mother, where's daddy? Oh well, same ol', same ol'." Which leads to the next song...
'Little Sis'. I'll be honest, this is the most awkward moment on the album. It's about a sister on his paternal side that he doesn't know. Pushed so far to the back of his mind, he forget she existed when her friend mentioned her to Kano at Lovebox.
These kind of songs are always gonna be tricky to do. Will it make me cringe? Make me emotional? Or will it make me cringe? Not gonna lie, I felt awkward. Hopefully that's the intention as it is an awkward subject. One that's prevalent in my community. Fatherless kids who don't know their siblings. All sorts could be happening. The tempo is weird, the usually fluid Kano kinda stumbles over the beat, I dunno. It made me feel something though.
'A Roadman's Hymn'. Man. Where do I start? Favourite song on the album. The way I fxckung feel this song to my core. It begins with some police sirens and a car driving past with a heavy bass line. They're outside somewhere, not sure where, but it feels like when we used to be on the high road. Outside a sweet shop or barbers.
This song is incredible. The way he channels a dancehall artist. I feel like this was inspired by them slower tempo Jamaican songs where the man dem give a different type of reasoning about their situations and life. His phrasing is Jamaican-inspired too. "Y'Yeah, yeah yeah. Wow-woah," is straight up Yard man. "Work all day just for toast and spaghetti" the realness. If you've never had no frills spaghetti in tomato sauce on toast, you're a full pencil case-owning, anti-gentrification march in Shoreditch child of a Tory.
"And see drug dealers roll up. So who they wanna beee like? Chaps, chains gold. Avirex jacket and a GTi Golf." Fam, if you can't relate, you probably watched Blue Peter. And actually had an empty washing up liquid bottle. One that your mum never diluted the washing up liquid with water to make sure we got every drop. Basically, you haven't lived, you mug. Weak hearts. The representation is so real. "Please free da man dem that's locked up. I ain't saying that they never fucked up. But where is forgiveness?" The realest time I've heard a plea to free da man dem. Usually, I'm kinda like "Well, why are they locked up, bruv?" But this is something I can fully stand with.
"Yeah man dem sell drugs but man dem know business," is a regular reasoning on the ends. There's aspiration talk in there too. "I remember when Bruno had the Punto and Minoor (sp.) had the Civic. Had to twang a bouncer to get in when I was spitting. Always had the vision that one day it would be different. Nas told a brother it was written. Champagne sipping, Pam fried two fishes." Ghetto fabulous pictures. Oh, and going to the chicken shop and "youths see me on road and feel uplifted".
Only thing is I wonder if man dem in jail will listen to this sounding song. I hope they do. That's probably one place where I wonder about... I'll finish this bit in the summary.
p.s. I'm trying to keep the words down for you. I'm just here expressing though. Freeing the mind.
'Drinking In The West End' reads like a "Let's fuckin' 'ave it" type banger. It ain't though. It's like you're in his head recalling the night before in the morning before another night out. So descriptive. So vivid. So real. "Jeans on my waist, can't wear it low like the youth man dem. Tonight we're going out the ends. That's all you wanna do when you're in the ends." Then he talks about going barber, shopping, driving there, reliving the night before.
"Live for the weekend. But then it's Monday blues got a rouge (something something) the dance to paint the town red." Are you crazy? "Turnt up, came down, same shit all over again," then does MC Creed's "We du-du-du doing it again". Mad. "Welcome to the big smoke where we pop bottles and we don't vote." Statement. Lamb shwarma on Edgware Road. Fam, I've never heard anybody this thorough with the London references. Like, they'll say what they got but not say where. Like, you man don't go bagel king after the shoobs?
(Side: I'm gonna do a word count on "references" just for my personal best.)
'Deep Blues' featuring Damon Albarn on the chorus. "The people's done with the fiction, now they want fact. Go underground, but mind the gap." "Trap, trap, trap. Now everybody's trapping and it sounds like 'trap, trap, trap, trap, trap, trap'," so real. Won't give away the next line but once again, so real.
Second verse is deep. Not gonna say what exactly, but it puts "living" and life into perspective. Last verse too. "How'm I spending them pinky's but got the blues." Speaking of good verses, Kano doesn't waste a line let alone a verse throughout this whole album. It's been six years since his last, he definitely didn't slack. I can't stand filler tunes/verses when someone's made me wait for time.
These two tracks really gave me a The Streets vibe if Mike Skinner was black and from the ends. Stories are too vivid. You can tell he pays a lot of attention to his surroundings. It's the little things.
Posted 'Endz' above. Proper deep tune. Listen to it for yourself though. Too many quotables. "Blud, I ain't being token black on telly, you've got Lenny for that." Not sure I've heard many times a fixture on telly like Lenny Henry has been mentioned in songs. See, this is what I mean about London (or in this case, British) references. They outweigh the usual American or generic by a long shot. You might not get this album if you aren't from here. And that's awesome.
'Strangers' is an open letter to a long lost bredrin grime (and Pow! Forward riddim) fans will be familiar with. MC by the name of Demon. "You don't wanna bring arms house" guy. Really emotive and a solid last verse. Won't reveal for those whof haven't heard it. I've heard loads of open letter type songs but never heard it done like that.
'Seashells in the East' is a single after 'This Is England' in my mind. It's about being a product of the environment. 'My Sound' is the most direct homage to dancehall; sound, lyrically and the way he rides the riddim. "Corned beef and rice, it was real then. Please buss a shot for your real friend!" Solid conclusion to the album. It sounds like the end. Triumphant yet sombre.
If this doesn't get a Mercury Music Prize nomination, we need to burn it. Not many albums will be better than this. It's early but I'm saying it straight and clean. I haven't heard a British album this good since Skinnyman 'Council Estate of Mind'. The lyrics, songs, concepts, stories, references and sequencing are all on point.
When asked who was the top MC two years ago, I said Skepta cos he has it all. Sets, clashes and on tracks. Sing alongs, reloads and deep stuff. I believe Ghetts is the most frequently named technical grime MC based on consistency. Kano has always been a top spitter but a lot of that was based on what he has done and what people know he his capable of, not so much on what he was doing then in my opinion. Kano puts words together well all day, but what he's saying wasn't always resonating with me. That's not the issue right now.
Right now, Kano owns 2016. Pree his bars on Logan.
Then pree the Fire in the Booth.
Like, someone have a word! Who is lenging both grime and hip hop riddims over like this? So comfortably and confidently. He's way too gifted.
Proud London album. Ends-relatable observations, perspectives and stories. Well worth the wait, money and listening time. The only thing potentially holding it back from classic is I wonder if the beats will hinder it impacting the people who need to hear it. Need the reminder. It's a UK take on hip hop sound-wise, with grime sensibilities and delivery as informed by dancehall in an era of Drake flows and big room trap. Two of those three origins are foreign (one further than the other), but putting all three together means this couldn't have been made.
Kano produced an honest reflection of his experiences that I relate to as part of his generation. We were the first and possibly last generation who grew in a time of London making the best of everything we heard. We loved our Jamaican background, respected America, but we were proud of ourselves. And that's all I want in this so-called borderless world. Ownership. Representation. Region. Identity. Pride.
Last year, I said it was "Rep Your Ends" time. This has fulfilled it. That's how I sum up this album. A real document, statement and reflection of the ends. Kano ain't road, he's from the ends. I relate to that. "Real" is overused and diluted but it's the best way to describe it. Ok, take "honest". As an album should be. Thank you Kano.
Get it here. Listen for yourself.
p.s. you may think I wrote too much. but you don't even know how much more I could've written. This has been thought formed over the past 5 days. I just got to a point where I thought I have to 'llow it. Thank you for making it this far. You're special. Marley don't shoot him.