Kano Hoodies All Summer Parlophone
Three years after the release of the exceptional Made in the Manor, Kano has returned with a new album – and a good way to assess Hoodies All Summer, his latest work, is by looking at a track by Ghetts, his favourite co-conspirator on the mic.
On his 2010 LP, Calm Before the Storm, Ghetts has a song called Back From the Mountain, where he talks of having spent a great deal of time away from the public eye, honing his craft as an MC. This is a hermetic process, recalling that time when a young Bruce Wayne left Gotham City to receive elite training. By this analogy, Kano is the Dark Knight of grime; every so often he disappears from view, and, once fully renewed, he duly re-emerges as a hero.
It’s easy to trace Kano’s artistic mood by where he chooses to showcase his albums live. In 2016, for the release of his fifth studio album, he blew the roof off O2 Brixton Academy; a homecoming show that reminded fans of his cataclysmic power. Now he’s presenting Hoodies All Summer in the regal setting of the Royal Albert Hall, swapping the moshpit for something more orchestral and meditative. While this record may be less immediately thrilling than its predecessor, Hoodies All Summer is no less compelling. Like Solange’s A Seat at the Table, it’s a work written first and foremost for those from the artist’s background, with everyone else just lucky to be allowed to listen.
As suggested by the first release from this record – a 19-minute music video containing two singles, the poignant Trouble and Class of Deja – Hoodies All Summer is not so much an album as it is a superbly-sequenced collection of short films. Each track is strikingly vivid, and several are accompanied with snippets of speech, as if they are intended to be experienced as intimate documentaries. Kano has taken the central themes from his last musical outing – joy and trauma, the clash of solidarity and claustrophobia of living in a close-knit community – and delved yet deeper.
If the Hoodies All Summer manifesto is to be found anywhere, it is in the opening verse of Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil, where Kano observes: “Life of a lyricist/ In the times that we’re livin’ in/ Gotta speak mind of the bigger things/ Shine is irrelevant, the grind is imperative/ Got to put pride before millions.” He could have made an album full of party anthems, but our current political moment called for more.
And so in just 10 tracks – featuring Popcaan, D Double E, Ghetts and more – Kano effortlessly sweeps through a range of our era’s major themes. Vitally, though, he never preaches. He laments the ravages of knife crime, yet understands it to be the product of a zero-sum game. He mocks politicians who tell immigrants to “go home” to their colonised countries, noting that those same politicians still crave to maintain an economic hold over those countries. He sympathises with the families forced from their homes by gentrification, while spitting scathing bars towards those who assume that black people are content being victims of systemic poverty and crime.
A work that unfurls in new ways with each listen, this album won’t yield itself easily to listeners whose idea of Kano is him going back-to-back with Ghetts at Butterz. What is clear, though, is that Kano almost delights in wrongfooting his audience – you only have to look to his legendary Fire in the Booth for evidence. It would have been easy for him to give us 10 equally vigorous sequels to Garage Skank, but instead, as he says in that famous freestyle, “I’m Mr Everyone-Went-Right-I-Took-The-Left”.
Kano seems concerned with showcasing the broadest range of what grime can be. He reminds us all that grime isn’t just gunfingers and unrestrained energy, as euphoric and cathartic as that is. Grime is heritage; it is tender; it is pensive and melancholic. Sometimes, grime doesn’t just sound like a full-bodied rave; it also sounds like the exhausted drive home at dawn after Eskimo Dance. It is as multi-dimensional as the characters at the centre of its lovingly-drawn stories. And in a time where black lives are increasingly stereotyped, Kano pays them the most radical tribute of all – he renders them infinitely textured, and thus utterly human.