Of all the clich's thrown about in this business, 'It's all about the music,' has to be one of the most hackneyed. And yet Kano really is all about the music.
He clearly isn't in this for the cash and, in person, he doesn't emanate the brash arrogance that is the stock in trade for most MCs. 'I'm not that open a person,' he says softly, 'I'm not that talkative, I'm quite quiet, shy even. Music is my way of doing everything.' Clad in regulation leisurewear, his mild brown eyes rarely look up and engage. Diffident but articulate, street-sussed but quietly ambitious, Kano has a bigger vision of what his music could be than most of his garage-schooled peers with their arcane London rivalries. Where others have tried in vain to turn underground garage into chart-fodder, Kano shakes off musical straight-jackets and embraces an unforced pop sensibility.
At only 24 he's come a long way from pre-teen years when scouts from Chelsea and Norwich were sniffing around a juvenile football prodigy called Kane Robinson; a long way too from adolescence when he was a ubiquitous presence on London's garage pirate radio stations.
After throwing down some lines on Mike Skinner's, 'Fit But You Know It', Kano went on to sell over 100,000 copies of his debut album 'Home Sweet Home', won a 2005 MOBO for Best Newcomer and was nominated for a Brit. He has a following, you see, the underdog quietly recognized for talent and hard work. Averse to hype and gimmickry, he toured the world and now his second album, 'London Town' displays much more of him than he's willing to reveal in person. It took over a year to put together, with tunes gestating for weeks on end until it felt right to lay them down with his producers Mikey J.
'I go all the way when I express my feelings,' he explains, 'A lot of artists, some of their best songs come when they're feeling vulnerable. My favourite song by 50 Cent, the ultimate bad guy, is 'Many Men' where he's talking about being scared of dying. With me it's not about getting into character for songs; when you get an album from me you learn a little more about me, not Kano the artist, but the real me.'
And it's true, each of the twelve tracks on the album welcomes listeners into Kano's world, shows them around and whether they're dancing or simply lending an ear, there's plenty to hold the attention of even the most A.D.D. teenager.
It kicks off with 'The Product', as in 'product of my environment'. It's a manifesto, a statement of intent over sinister gothic synths recalling moody London rave pioneers Genaside II. Kano lays out that he comes from East Ham, from London's harsh urban cityscape, but he also acknowledges his travels when the song borrows production techniques from the slothful Houston Screwed style chanced upon when touring Texas. The song closes with a boastful acapella, a musical policy alert: 'I like garage, rap too, some rock shit, some conscious' some pop, pop, pop shit.'
Straight away we're onto the title track 'London Town', riding a bass that in Kano's words 'could take yer head off'. This is the opposite of the slightly twee 'LDN' version of London that's currently receiving so much attention. Once again, Kano's London is a world of struggle, but also a hive of creativity that bred him. 'I just wanted to tell people about the London I know rather than all these people like Fergie from Black Eyed Peas talking about it,' he says. It's also designed to send the crowd wild at his shows, something it's done ever since he first let rip with it over a year ago.
For 'Buss It Up', Kano went to Jamaica to record with Vybz Kartel, one of the biggest dancehall artists on the Kingston scene, and his producer Don Corleone. Kano and his family have been going to Jamaica every year since he was a child and his tunes are often marinated in a West Indian vibe. He's also used to the pace of life, going over to record on Monday and things not even starting to happen until Thursday. When Vybz Kartel did appear, though, 'He got a pen, paper, a zoot about that big [indicates a 10' spliff] and a Guinness, then he wrote and wrote and wrote and filled up a page.' The result is a ragga-infused party banger. Kano's mother, a PE teacher and big ragga fan for as long as he can remember, would surely approve, but for some of the lyrics which Kano giggles, might be a bit rude.
'Bad Boy' rides in on bleeps that recall US R&B at its fruitiest. It's immediately catchy, borrowing its chorus from the jungle crossover classic 'Original Nuttah' by UK Apachi & Shy FX. The subject matter shows Kano attending to the laydeez, the bad boy of the title telling a girl that, although she doesn't usually go with guys on the first night, 'you know you're dealing with a bad boy so you should make an exception.' It's global pop that's also edgily sparse in its production.
With 'Police And Thieves' Kano takes on Junior Murvin's reggae classic. He grew up in a household where reggae was the common currency, where his uncles ran sound systems and provided multiple musical father figures for the young Kane Robinson. Listening to the classic on a rediscovered CD he was struck by the relevance of its sentiments to contemporary London where a spate of teenage gang killings had lately taken place. He starts with an acoustic guitar, as if he might be about to emulate Plan B, but then he flows into a story of urban deprivation, 'a story of how easy it is to give into peer pressure, for a normal young guy to put themselves in a position where they can be shot down.'. The beats drop and Kano let's rip in full righteous anger, jammed with cracking couplets such as 'Just the other day we was up late discussing Iraq/ Over champagne, how fucked is that?' as a welter of sirens and urban noise descend.
The mood isn't dark for long, however, as one of the album's highlights immediately pops up. 'Feel Free' is a collaboration with Damon Albarn, an epic dub'n'beats number that could have come straight from the last Gorillaz album, replete with a kids choir from Kano's old school where his mum still teaches. Kano is still amazed at Albarn's creative spirit ' 'He'd play an amazing classical piece on piano then pick up some '2 keyboard for kids and start messing about - which is where a lot of the sounds came from.'
Fame has not been a completely easy ride for Kano and on 'Sleep Tight' he speaks cautiously about some of his demons. Initially it sounds like a lullaby but on closer inspection the lyrics reveal a troubled soul who cannot even relax when he's asleep. The UK garage underground, with its relentless, aggressive and essentially meaningless demands to 'keep it real' is a scene where bitter enemies can be made over nothing. 'Yes,' he admits, 'It was basically about something happening to me while I'm sleeping, about having to have my guard up as I moved into the limelight, people being against you. There was a time when I was having mad dreams because I wasn't feeling too cool, too safe.'
Unafraid of pure pop 'This Is The Girl' is disco-soul that harks back cheerfully to East 17's streak of hits. Craig David even appears on it. David was a natural collaborator for Kano, a singer who had come through from the garage scene on Artful Dodger's records, then gone onto sell 11 million solo albums. David was the last massive star to rise from the British urban firmament, so it's not surprising Kano felt a kindred spirit, unafraid of pop at its most unashamedly blatant.'
'Me And My Mic', meanwhile, harks back to more innocent days when Kano would have his boys, the likes of MC Demon, round his house, jammed in his hot little room taking turns on the microphone, dreaming of making it big like the So Solid Crew. It's blatantly nostalgic for the rough'n'ready times when he and his older brother, DJ Chopper, would tout homemade tapes about, when Kano and his N.A.S.T.Y. Crew would rave it up on the pirate station D'j' Vu before he had his breakout single 'Boys Luv Girls'. Featuring Kate Nash on the chorus, long before she had the sort of profile she's since developed, the song is also built over an insanely noisy jazz drum break. 'What a noisy song,' agrees Kano, laughing.
The final two tracks showcase Kano in ruminative mode, head-nodders 'for smokers even though I don't smoke'. 'Over And Over' is all about repeating the same mistakes, something that so many from Kano's background have done, ending up at the wrong end of the law. He took an alternative route working hard though school and college, putting his own stability down to a good upbringing.
Finally, and most paradoxically, is 'Thin Line', a song that lays out with almost brutal clarity Kano's perspective on the music business. 'Fed up of shows, fed up of stress, fed up of promo, fed up of press,' he spits, lines that initially worried his management, but the pay-off is that 'I love the music, love the studio, love the beats.'
'More than a product,' he declaims as his album draws to a close, 'It's life.'
Kano went ahead and released his third studio album, 140 Grime Street. The majority of the album was produced by Mikey J who is also a signed producer to Blue Mountain Music. The first single released was Hustler. The video for the song was based on the series The Wire and shows Kano going into a block of flats with rooms of topless women packing boxes of CDs. This part of the video also bares resemblance to the films New Jack City and American Gangster.
Kano's brand new single, "Rock N Rolla" from his currently untitled album was first premiered on Radio 1xtra DJ, Mista Jam's radio show. The single was offically relased in October 2009.
The second release from Kano's upcoming album is called "More Than One Way". The video was also released on Kano's official YouTube page. The track was written for a campaign to promote the Diploma and was given away for free exclusively from The Diploma website. The music video was made with the help of Diploma students from all around the country. The TV ad shows Kano walking through a crowd of students whose Diploma qualifications pop up in bubbles above them. The tasks students helped with on the video related to the course they were studying for. Creative and media students helped in producing the video and construction students helped make the set. Kano said in interview for the Sunday Times that he wanted to 'inspire people, but not in a way that's patronising and preachy'.
This shy young man does indeed come to life with his music. That's when you see the real Kano. The rest is just window-dressing.
Blue Mountain Music and Because Music publish the following albums for this artist for the World;
'Home Sweet Home', 'London Town' and '140 Grime Street'.