Kano came through the UK rap scene like a fireball back in 2005 at the tender age of just twenty. His underground vinyl-only single “P’s & Q’s” was stunning, and better than 95% of ANY rap released that year, whatever the form: hip hop, grime, bashment… Here was someone with the swagger of a young Jay-Z, the “Illmatic” state of mind of a 20 year old Nas and the genre-straddling of Eminem. His album “Home Sweet Home” was well-received critically, and, backed by a big marketing budget (plus a cheesy handshake from The Streets), sold fairly well. Certainly it hailed a real and true pretender to the throne for the UK rap scene’s King of Kings, and gems like the Diplo-produced “Reload It” were the real deal. However (you knew that was coming) last year’s confused offering “London Town” found him with a great lead single (“This is the Girl” featuring Craaaaaig David) but an obvious attempt at catering to the polar opposite of his original grime crowd â€“ fans called him “see-through” and abandoned him. It was a sad end to the start of Kano’s career â€“ aged just twenty-two, he “parted ways” with his label 679 and has gone the independent route (viva la revolucione!). The result is a predictable “I’m going back to my roots” third album that, unsurprisingly, works pretty well.
To be fair, Kano has always been more honest than most about his frame of mind â€“ he strongly suspected that he might just drop one album he actually loved, and he was proved right, as his half-hearted sophomore slumped. To be a disenchanted veteran at such a young age is just a damn shame, especially when you rhyme like Kano â€“ the Jigga comparisons have thus far proved the most accurate measures of a man who sounds almost disinterested, such is his apparent superiority. Like Sean Carter, he has, for now, decided to do it himself on BPM Records, and “140 Grime Street” does exactly what it says on the tin â€“ taking it back to his grime roots, although mixing in Dirty South flavours too. As a body of work, it stands up well in the current climate â€“ hard, consistent, focussed. This is helped by the fact that Mikey J produces the lion’s share of the album, and does a very respectable job: even if there aren’t potential singles galore, he never drops the ball and the LP makes for a pleasurable listen. Other beatsluts that contribute include Wiley, Skepta and Davinche, all helping to create a dark siege mentality in Kano’s head, and it brings out, on occasion, a mammoth lyrical beast.
Kano clearly feels he has a point to prove, and it is commendable that he doesn’t retread the formula of his previous albums. Enraged by his treatment at the hands of 679, he turns in a lyrical performance that should impress most â€“ perhaps not in an artistic sense, but as a pure wordplay exercise it works well. On the penultimate track, the acappella rant “Too Advanced,” he really does kill it, whilst complaining that the “realest shit” he ever wrote, “Layer Cake,” wasn’t even included on his last album. Lead single “Hustler” finds him taking us through the journey of his career, pre-HSH, all the while appealing to people who haven’t heard rappers use the phrase “hustler” before (there may still be three or four people out there, you never know). We even find him clearly confessing his love for “The Wire” on the awesome “Hunting We Will Go” â€“ with him and Ghetto taking turns to play Omar with his great big shottie.
Sure, we didn’t expect Kano, one of the UK’s leading lights, to be quite so formulaic but he has been scorned, so perhaps we should be understanding to his need to find solace in what he finds comfortable. The album, when picked apart individually, may appear flat at times, but as a start-to-finish listen, “140 Grime Street” is consistent and impressive, with Kano delivering on pretty much every track. Ironically, the album does have an equally balanced US feel alongside the grime factor, and many of the tracks could easily find a home on many a Dirty South compilation. All in all, a welcome return, even if it occasionally feels a touch mixtapey. It does, however, seem clear that Kano needs direction and perhaps even an experienced arm around his shoulder to show him where to go next. He may have reconnected with his underground fans, providing them with a banger for their kits cars, but he is even bigger than that, so next time let’s hope he is even more inspired. Oh, and hope that he doesn’t burn out too soon. That would be a damn shame.