East Ham’s grime artist Kano on new album Made In The Manor
PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 February 2016 | UPDATED: 17:03 09 March 2016
Grime godfather Kano talks about the evolution of the genre he helped to create and the release of his new album featuring Blur frontman Damon Albarn.
Yet the genre of grime, which came to prominence in the early 2000s, has always stayed close to its roots, most of which were laid down in the streets of east London.
Alongside artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, Kano is widely regarded as one of grime’s founding fathers. Having started his career with the N.A.S.T.Y crew, who broadcasted from the pirate radio station Déjà Vu in Bow, the rapper’s love of dancehall, bass-heavy instrumentation and quick fire lyricism was pivotal in a genuinely British hip hop revolution.
Five records in, however, and Kano is back at the beginning. His new album Made in the Manor is laden with inspiration from his years growing up in East Ham. Recorded in both Hackney and Holloway, its development even saw him making a trip to his old school, Langdon Secondary School. Clearly, this is an artist who remembers where he came from.
“It’s been a fun time revisiting stories and good memories, both lyrically and physically,” admits the 30-year-old ahead of his show at Troxy on March 19. “It’s good to experiment and all that – it’s definitely important for myself as an artist to do – but also to maintain that identity of where you’re from. It obviously means so much to me, east London and the music I make and the scene I come from, so it’s important to get that across as well.”
Made in the Manor has been a long time in the making. It’s six years since the release of Kano’s last offering, Method to the Maadness. The delay partly stemmed from his acting commitments in the BBC series Top Boy, but also from a desire to put out music for the right reasons.
“I wanted it to come earlier – it just wasn’t in a place where I was happy with it yet,” he says. “When people hear the record, I think they’ll understand the depths that it took to make this.
“To release an album after so long, there has to be a reason to do so – I don’t want to release an album just to capitalise on it. If I don’t have anything important to say, I just won’t say it.”
His new collection, out on March 4, certainly has enough to say.
Piano-led track Endz sees him back on Manor Road, refusing to be a token black television personality (“you’ve got Lenny for that”) and boasting about how even rap giant Jay Z admires his talent. Garage Skank – which borrows an infectious hook from Zeph Ellis’ XCXD BXMB – is a swaggering return to freestyle, while collaborations come thick and fast with the likes of Wiley, Giggs and Damon Albarn.
Considering Kano worked with the latter both on his last record and with Gorrilaz, what continues to draw them together?
“Damon always surprises me with what he can bring to the table in a tune. I love playing him a song and hearing his ideas for it, whether that be putting down synths on a keyboard or a vocal.
“I just think he’s so creative, I respect him very highly and think he’s one of our country’s greats.”
Since the release of his debut album, Home Sweet Home, in 2005, Kano is aware that grime has evolved – and not always for the better.
“I think a few years back everyone seemed to be going more for the commercial area of things. It felt like a bit of forcing to get chart-topping singles.”
At the time, this caused him to look beyond the scene for influences, though now he believes grime is in a healthier state, citing the authentic contributions of “veterans” like himself and Jme alongside the “new breed”.
Considering its London roots, he didn’t expect the movement to spread across Britain and even abroad as it has.
“It always did feel colloquial and niche while we were doing it. It was to our surprise that people were getting into it up and down the country – it wasn’t until we started travelling that we realised.
“But back then we would travel and just see fans – now they’ve got their own crews and MCs who are big in their area. Even stateside and around the world people seem to be finding out about us.”
Now with an international reputation, is it hard to keep his roots in focus? “I’ve got a way of remaining firmly on the ground,” Kano says. “But I think what’s interesting is that a lot of music that’s winning at the moment is British and not hiding that fact.
“Before, maybe there was a bit more compromise involved – ‘if you want to break America, you’ve got to do this, do that.’
“Now it seems like we’re influenced by them and they’re influenced by us. We can still do what we do because DJs will now play us in the same sets. They’re getting a bit more experimental in their music with the later Kanye stuff and Travis Scott and that.”
After six years away from the music scene, the good news for Kano fans is that he seems to be back for the foreseeable future. Despite a foray into acting, his focus now is on touring Made In The Manor, and further material lies in the pipeline.
“To be honest, I’d really love to get back to recording and maybe make another album. I’m in a good zone right now, so we’ll see after that. Top Boy was so great, a new thing in my life, but for me to do acting again I’d love to give it the opportunity to be as great. For those things, you might have to wait a little while. There’s no real age limit on acting – perhaps there is on music, so I kinda wanna get my work done now and get on tour while I’m young.”
Kano plays Troxy on March 19. Visit troxy.co.uk. Made In The Manor is out on March 4.