“The Class of Deja’s doing fine!” declares Kano on "Pan-Fried," the celebratory Kojo Funds-assisted single from his new studio album, Hoodies All Summer. The group of scholars he’s referring to didn’t study your average curriculum; they’re a generation of East London-raised UK MCs, self-educated through pirate radio stations — like Deja Vu 92.3 FM — where they’d spit rapid-fire bars over 140bpm instrumentals, consolidating the musical genre that would eventually be coined as "grime." In keeping that spirit, while exploring other influences along the way, Kane "Kano" Robinson has become a pivotal figure in British music, alongside peers like D Double E, Ghetts, and Lethal Bizzle, who have all found their own pathways to success.
Kano began to enjoy crossover appeal after the release of his debut album Home Sweet Home in 2005. Now regarded as a UK classic, the ambitious LP was one of the first full-length albums from an MC with a grime background, and boasted production from Diplo, The Streets, and Adele-collaborator Paul Epworth. Now, with 20 years of success under his belt, Kano is in the rare position of holding veteran status while bringing fresh and engaging ideas to his music, and in recent years, each new addition to his discography has felt like a contender for his best. When his fifth album Made in the Manor dropped in March 2016, whispers began to spread among fans that it might actually be better than Home Sweet Home. And if it didn’t quite beat the nostalgia of his classic debut, then Hoodies All Summer certainly feels like it does. Or at least, those whispers have risen to full-on conversation.
The album landed in a time when Kano is more globally visible than ever before, particularly through his leading role as Sully on Top Boy, Ronan Bennett’s cult British crime drama — the series was revived on Netflix last year with the help of a team of executive producers that included Drake and Future the Prince. However, when memes and comments began to spread on Kano’s videos from new viewers declaring that they “didn’t know Sully could rap” (whether intentionally trolling or legitimately naïve), to UK fans, it read like the equivalent of praising Sincere from Belly’s rapping ability in a conversation about Nas’ Illmatic.
At only 39 minutes, Hoodies All Summer is impressively expansive, as Kano juxtaposes celebration and triumph with vulnerability and sorrow — often in a purposefully jarring way — over a beautiful soundscape from producers Blue May and Jodi Milliner. Equal parts political and personal, Kano ensures that the subject matter of the record remains rooted in his own experiences. He never feels like he’s preaching as he explores the deterioration of his native East London communities, or as he celebrates the resilience of the people who inhabit them.
Initially beginning work on the sound of the record right off the back of touring his previous album, Kano hit a creative block around its subject matter and took a year off to come up with ideas. He began to shape the world that the album would inhabit through notes that pulled contextual imagery and sounds. The DNA for the album, he wrote, would be Gucci loafers, Hennessy, and "Anytime" by Bounty Killer. These initial notes are certainly present in the finished work, and with Hoodies All Summer, Kano believes he came closer to executing his initial vision than ever before.
“I really had a strong idea of the personality of this record,” he explains. “When I talk about Gucci loafers, that’s a metaphor for garage [music]: then when I hear ‘Got My Brandy, Got My Beats’ or ‘Bang Down Your Door,’ and the sped up, chopped up vocals, I’m like, ‘Yeah, we really hit that.’ When I listen to [Bounty Killer's 'Anytime'], I get the urgency in his lyrics and just the voice of the people — it was quite political but still street and still raw, from the perspective of a person on the ground that actually lived it.” Hennessy, meanwhile, is representative of the hip-hop influence that’s present throughout the record, from the early-Kanye feel of "Trouble" to his ability to articulate complex themes and narratives through bars that are intentionally easy to digest: no words are wasted on decoration, and yet every stanza is a masterpiece.
While Kano has long experimented with the fusion of genres, it feels like he’s finally found the equilibrium in which he can channel the energy of his influences without compromising the cohesion and uniqueness of a full-length album. “Earlier in my career, I think I had so much inspiration and influences in me, and different styles that I was into, and I knew I wanted to showcase my ability to make all of those styles and still be me. Now, I think I can touch on all of that stuff, but it still feels like it is all part of one home,” he says. “I am oversimplifying it with what I am about to say, but it’s not like a dancehall track there and a hip-hop track here, and then a garage track there. Now, it’s like, I can feel the garage in there but it’s not garage. ‘Pan-Fried’ [has] some kind of dancehall to the bassline, [plus] that sped up vocal, but then it has got Kojo [Funds] on it, so it’s bringing that Afro influence — it’s all of those things working. It goes noticed but unnoticed — it’s just a feeling.”
“We celebrate life non-stop / Cah we made it off the block / And Bizzle got the Rolls Royce drop,” Kano spits on the first verse of "Pan-Fried," extending Hoodies All Summer’s community spirit to the artists around him; the rare few who share the experience of being among the first British MCs to garner mainstream success. In the visual for his Popcaan-assisted "Can’t Hold We Down," Kano invites the Unruly boss to his mother's house to cook dinner, where they’re joined by a host of his friends and family, including familiar faces like Ghetts, Lethal Bizzle, and Giggs. The scene feels like a full-circle moment for a group of artists that began their careers around the same time and have weathered a storm that nobody had experienced before them.
“When you are young and you are around people and you share a common hobby — a love for music, and you’re from the same area — you know each other like that, it’s just similar interests, or you generally talk about music or whatever,” Kano reflects. “But as you are becoming more successful and you become older, you realize there’s less and less people to relate to and have these conversations with, and then you start to appreciate those people because they know exactly what you’re going through. The celebration is important, and celebrating our success and each other’s company. But just to know that people are there for you in whatever capacity, like a Lethal B, Ghetts, or a Giggs, that you can have some real talk with them — you do appreciate those people even more.”
Although Kano is regarded a veteran in the UK, he and his peers continue to push boundaries and progress into uncharted territories; trailblazing for the new generation of artists and giving them a broader sense of ambition and possibility. On "Free Years Later," he closes with the proclamation that “What D Double did for me / I just do for the youts,” referring to D Double E, the Newham native who began his career in the '90s through jungle and garage music before joining early grime collective N.A.S.T.Y Crew alongside Kano in the early 2000s.
“I guess what [D Double] has done for me is, he made me believe,” expands Kano. “Because prior to him, everyone I saw doing their thing on TV, or whatever, was so far removed from where I was. I was like, ‘If he could do it then I could do it.’ So I proper studied him. I used to have all of the tapes. Then I would make my own tapes in my bedroom; I would pretend to be him, and I would know every single lyric. It was all by me observing him and just him leading by example, I guess. He’s done a lot for me.” Similarly, through his own resilience, Kano is reminding young Londoners that there is room for an artist that goes against the grain, that’s unafraid to be themselves despite any industry trends or social pressures to create, perform, or even live in a particular way.
The acclaim that has been garnered by Hoodies All Summer is a well-deserved sigh of relief for its creator: “I tell you what, if I am being honest, I didn’t get to a point where I doubted myself completely, but it is nice to prove to yourself that you can do it again,” he admits. Aware that he’s been caught up in the familiar narrative in which fans are unable to see beyond the nostalgia of a debut album, Kano is thankful to be hearing new opinions around his work. “Since my first album, people have always been saying that’s the best album. [But when] I made Made in the Manor, people were like, ‘Oh maybe that is, but he can never do it [again]. It don’t get better.’ I met loads of people who said, ‘You can’t do better than that,’” he recalls. “So when I made this album, and I’m hearing the discussion shift again, I’m happy that I’ve proved to myself that I can make another album that is a contender for one of my best. I think it’s my best. And hopefully I can do that again.”