In Hattie Collins’ book This is Grime, Ghetts recalls the first time he met the East London rapper Kano through a mutual friend before they joined NASTY Crew. “Kano showed me songs with a 16-bar and choruses – Weird… this is in the Garage Era when man are saying Oli Oli Oli.” He also notices Kano’s quiet disposition, a figure who was “showing man the tunes, drinking tea and just reserved.” After the meet up, Ghetts is ecstatic, praising Kano’s uniqueness in a grime scene still in its exploratory stages: “Oi your boy is fucked! He’s sick!”
Kano has always possessed a form of dusted-off coolness, seen in glimmers on his debut album Home Sweet Home but more recently at the forefront on his previous effort, 2016’s Made in the Manor. On that project he guided us through biographical vignettes about growing up in East Ham. It inevitably opened a new sound in his career, one that has led to its purest form on his brilliant new project Hoodies All Summer; Akai Machines, pumped up electronic beats, and Eskiboy beats become cinematic and dynamic orchestration, punchlines – no, kicklines – translate to piercing social commentary and sweet nostalgic collections.
Although Hoodies All Summer packs more in scope, it undeniably speaks most profoundly to the black British community. “We’re doing this for money” rises a tired male voice in “Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil” before Kano looks at the environment he grew up in and raps about the struggles of trying to stay alive in an area riddled with knife crime. Over an old-school Eskiboy beat, Kano holds tight of his talent, proclaiming “nobody can take these 16’s from me.”
Through his skill as an MC the realization is striking, because he knows that others aren’t so fortunate. This permeates into the next track “Trouble,” which is more explicit in its opinion. Opening up a dwelling speech from political activist Darcus Howe and a blistering hook: “Politician, hush don’t make a sound / Been oppressing us, couple centuries now.” Kano portrays the pressures of contemporary black British life (heavily aided by the accompanying music video/short film) describing the environments, thoughts, and fears that black Britons mull over as they hustle out of the futures the government draws out for them. The chipmunk-pitched vocal howls, syncopated piano keys, and Kano’s dexterous lyrics captivate you before crashing into an unflinching audio memo of an emergency call.
Hoodies All Summer speaks to the black community but takes time to listen to us through the use of vocal samples. It doesn’t take the holier-than-thou option of masking his lyrics as unimpeachable answers, because all of the solutions to these questions about knife crime and violence are more complex than messages on chicken boxes or putting lyrics on wax. While the record refuses to dilute its bleakness, it remains, adamantly, a celebration of black joy. Kano is a talented wordsmith, and he uses his words elaborately to praise a community feared by outsiders – exemplified on home town ode “Pan-Fried,” where is he is joined by fellow East Londoner Kojo Funds. Funds’ smooth-as-silk, patois-infused vocals married to Kano’s carefree delivery over polished steel pans is perfection, while “Can’t Hold We Down” is a resistance anthem accompanied by a hope-instilling chorus from Popcaan.
Kano’s air of enigma becomes less ancient and explosive in the instant grime classic “Class of Deja,” a shout-out to the pirate radio station where he spent his days exercising his skills as an MC. With the help of Ghetts’ ironclad energy and an intoxicating hook from D Double E, they perfectly channel the energy of those formative sets. He excels seamlessly on tracks with such seemingly differing intentions as “Got My Brandy, Got My Beats” (a somber dive into UK funk house featuring seasoned producer and singer Lil Silva) and “Bang Down Your Door” (a short love letter to a close one incarcerated that wouldn’t feel out of place blasting through your Uncle’s speakers). During Kano’s ascension as a prodigious Grime legend, the transgressive genre suffered a lack of direction, but now that it’s splintering off into different sounds with sturdily confident roots, Hoodies All Summer makes its unique character felt in its ability to revel in nostalgia every once in a while.
There’s a running stereotype of black people fervently using humor to deal with fear; Kano uses that trait as the closing note of Hoodies All Summer. It felt intentional when Kano utilizes a black church to sing the chorus: “Suck your, suck your, suck your, suck your, mum,” The enunciation carries itself with sophisticated flair even as it burns with the sting of insulting someone who has wronged you (a feeling you know well if you’ve ever told anyone to suck their mums before). With ruthlessness, Kano tells us the recipients of his mum-sucking barbs: the politicians who were responsible for Windrush, and the racist football fans who make monkey noises or throw banana peels. The schools that lose faith in us. The government who build environments not made fit for living and blame us for trying to escape. A sense of comfort warms up inside you as the glimmering synths and choir overlap each other and Kano’s triumphant delivery isn’t quashed but instead rises over the production, resilient in its hope that times are changing.
The title of Hoodies All Summer may seem like a juxtaposition, but Kano has always proven himself to wear his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t miss the mark with these ten urgent tracks; they demand your attention. Kano may seem as introverted as he was when Ghetts first met him, but he truly shines as an observer, letting his music do the talking. As a result, it’s his most mature, deafening, and profound album yet.
- Words: Ethan H-L