For the final post of this long week, I've elected to venture outside of the United States, in an effort to explore the artists from other countries who also happen to follow the blog. You may call it pandering, and I would agree with you, but I'm legitimately grateful for this thing having any readership whatsoever, let alone one outside of my household, so I really should be doing this kind of thing more often. Only time (and the comments section) will tell whether this is an avenue I should continue to travel down, though (which is my way of demanding: leave more comments).
So, Kano. Born Kane Robinson, so he didn't have to go out of his way to find a nickname, he's a London-based rapper and actor (because aren't they all?) He specializes in the hop hop sub-genre grime, which doesn't have a huge following in the States, but I understand is huge in his hometown. He was signed to a record deal at the age of eighteen, after having already built a name for himself in rhyme battles (something else artists in the States hardly ever participate in anymore, save for during hip hop award shows, it seems) and as a part of the N.A.S.T.Y. Crew collective. It goes without saying that people generally like the guy, as he is known for his writing and energetic delivery.
Home Sweet Home is Kano's debut album, and it earned him a gold plaque in the UK. It was released to massive critical acclaim and won him fans all over the world, including some famous rappers that, obviously, would never actually work with the guy because they would feel threatened or out of their element, but still. Kano released several singles from the project, most of them charting fairly high. Kano is one of the reasons why the garage and grime scene in the UK is so highly regarded by music fans, critics, and, let's be honest, hipsters.
But how would Home Sweet Home fare in the States, Max wondered several years ago when he came across a copy at the local library? Although I am admittedly lacking when it comes to the UK hip hop scene (although I'm trying, honest), I was familiar enough with The Streets and Dizzee Rascal (one of the leaders of the grime movement) to know what I was getting into, and what I found was...well, there's probably a reason why I never bothered to pick it up again before I came up with the idea for this stunt week.
So I'm going to revisit Kano's Home Sweet Home.
1. HOME SWEET HOME
Home Sweet Home kicks off with its title track, one that immediately draws a line in the sand for the listener: Kano is essentially warning the audience that those unable to appreciate heavy British accents and beats that occasionally wind up on this side of experimental may as well turn this shit off. Mikey J's instrumental is too inaccessible for any audience, be they mainstream or hipster d-bags, to actually want to ever listen to: its challenging nature overrides everything else “Home Sweet Home” may have going for it, primarily a semi-flexible Kano who gamely tries to play around with his flow while doing his best to keep everyone around him engaged. Had it not been for that migraine-inducing beat, this could have worked. As I had forgotten about that crappy instrumental before popping this disc in, I'm now worried about the rest of this write-up.
2. GHETTO KID (FEAT. GHETTO)
Even though everyone knows it exists (especially those of you who have had the pleasure of watching Attack The Block), most people don't automatically think of London when they hear the word “ghetto”. Our host aims to let everyone around the world know that lower-income housing developments aren't exclusive to just America, and thanks to the beat (credited to something called a Fraser T. Smith), he's much more likely to grab your attention. Hip hop still exists as a mode of delivery for rappers to discuss society's ills, and Kano proves himself to be just as observant as rappers twice his age. Still, I was left wishing that there was more to this than the same old shit every artist has already written about.
3. P'S AND Q'S
This was one of Kano's early singles, and it holds up fairly well today, much more so than the rest of the album so far. Our host lets his bars flow like water in a babbling brook over a DaVinChe concoction that reminded me of early Timbaland before he opted to aim for the mainstream with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake (speaking of Timbaland, have you heard his production on the two new Missy Elliott songs? It could be the nostalgia talking, but I thought they actually sounded pretty good), and even though the hook was too wordy, it still doesn't distract you enough for you to not enjoy this effort, filled with the clever wordplay, boasts, shit-talking, and confidence that I seem to remember from this project. Hope I'm not getting my British rappers mixed up.
4. RELOAD IT (FEAT. D DOUBLE E & DEMON)
Features early production work from deejay Diplo, who is now better known for his work with M.I.A., Santigold, his side project Major Lazer, and, fucking hell, Chris Brown's “Look At Me Now”. And true to form, the music is catchy enough, and it would easily translate to a club setting if necessary. Kano bounces around the music and somehow never gets tired, even managing to shift his own tone to mirror the energy (or lack of, at times) of Diplo behind the scenes. Fascinating stuff even today, although it never really bores its way into your skull as well as I had wanted. Me, I'd rather go back to listening to Major Lazer's “Original Don” on repeat. That song has nothing to do with this post; I just wanted to mention it randomly at some point, and now I have.
5. TYPICAL ME (FEAT. GHETTO)
This was released as a single, and I just didn't care for it. I thought it was pretty shitty, actually. Kano approaches something resembling humor throughout this tale of a night out, but he's trying to goddamn hard, and I'm just going to end this sentence.
6. MIC CHECK
Over a damn good Mikey J beat, Kano goes in for a single verse, dominating the track with his boasts, skill, and boasts about his skill. Unfortunately, the song actually consists of two verses, and the second one tanks the entire track: the dude sounds like he phoned it in (I didn't mean for that statement to be a reference to the phoned-in skit-like “hook” that fills the dead space in the song, but here we are), as though he used up all of his good rhymes during the first verse and was gasping for air in the booth. If it were possible to only recommend a single verse on a song, I would.
I liked this alright, because it features an emotion that not a lot of rappers allow themselves to feel: nervous. Kano uses his two verses (and really long chorus) on the Mikey J-produced song to boost his own confidence (getting signed to a record deal at the age of eighteen didn't do that already?), but he ultimately comes across as more self-aware than vulnerable: at one point he even questions what makes him so special, which, if you have to ask, then you must not be all that special to begin with. (That's one of the lessons in my new self-help book, Max's Guide To Life And Shit, available in stores never.) “Sometimes” is far more accessible for an audience unfamiliar with the hip hop sub-genres garage and grime than everything else thus far, but Kano proves malleable enough. However, I will admit that it's weird to hear him discuss whether he should stick to his roots or aim for the mainstream after having heard six previous tracks where he aimed for the fucking mainstream. Just me?
8. 9 TO 5
The music doesn't fit the overall theme of Kano's need to stand out instead of blending in (that would be why he refuses to work a regular job: he's rather stay up late writing lyrics), but this one-verse wonder (complete with a hook at the very end) still manages to get the overall point across. The working man's frustration with the grind is only hinted at during Kano's verse (at one point he states that he would never let his inherent laziness get in the way of the music business grind, and the average worker would probably not like to be likened to a “lazy” rapper, even indirectly), which may lose him a few fans, but fuck it, the guy was eighteen or nineteen years old when he recorded this shit: he didn't have any life experiences stored up yet.
9. NITE NITE (FEAT. THE STREETS & LEO THE LION)
Mike Skinner, better known as The Streets, produced this love song (of sorts) as though he were specifically trying to create his own version of the beat from Kanye West's “Slow Jams”, on down to the sung vocals (from guest star Leo the Lion) and the chipmunk-soul samples. He also introduces the track, but the rhymes all belong to Kano, who delivers the first real song for the ladies on Home SweetHome. The sentiment is sweet, but the execution was too cheesy, and now I believe I may be lactose intolerant. Also, all of the singing (including the chipmunk shit) kind-of got on my nerves: if we could strip all of that fat away from this track, I would probably be okay with leaving the song running on my iPod even though I may not actually be listening to it.
10. BROWN EYES
Kano sticks with the “song for the ladies” theme, albeit in a slightly cruder fashion this go-round. DaVinChe's instrumental is simple and could easily slide onto mainstream radio playlists on this side of the pond, and the high-pitched chipmunk sample parachuted in throughout is nice enough to not annoy the fuck out of you. The trouble stems from Kano's flow: when Home Sweet Home first dropped, he wasn't quite as experienced behind the mic, so he sounds more than a little bit insincere on here. When he repeats during the chorus that he doesn't want to fall in love, you'll believe him, but for all the wrong reasons.
11. REMEMBER ME
Wait, are we one hundred percent sure that “Remember Me” isn't a song by The Streets? It sure as fuck sounded like one, from the repetitive (but catchy) beat to Kano's verses, all of which focus on a drunken night out with the boys where he hooks up with at least one bird but has such low self-esteem that he's convinced that they may not actually remember fucking him when the morning comes. That's my interpretation, anyway. Still, for a song with such a limited scope, Kano comes through with some nimble wordplay, which was unexpected.
12. I DON'T KNOW WHY
Well-regarded producer Paul Epworth, who just this past year won four Grammy awards for working with Adele on 21, crafts a beat which approaches old-school hip hop with caution, as it approximates those early Beastie Boys and Run DMC tracks that were built solely around snatches of sound swiped from rock songs (this one being “War Pigs” from Black Sabbath). At least until the drums go nuts during the hook, anyway. Kano's own bars are firmly stuck in the present day (well, 2005), though, and that clash of ideals doesn't work as well as expected: hell, the song actually sounds pretty terrible. Kano seems game for nearly anything, though, which is good to know, even if this song is beyond salvation.
13. HOW WE LIVIN
Using a Terror Danjah beat as a foundation, Kano launches into a missive that will cause listeners to actually pay attention to his skills behind the mic, because on here he actually sounds pretty damn good. Yes, some of the lyrics were shortsighted, but again, the dude was a child when he wrote this shit, so don't hold that entirely against him.
14. NOBODY DON'T DANCE NO MORE
The Fraser T. Smith production pulls a clever-enough bait-and-switch: after coming across as some weird hip hop bastardization of house music, Kano begins to rap, and then the beat undergoes puberty or some shit, because it flips into something far more constructive. Kano uses the track to complain about kids today, which is weird, since he was a kid when he recorded this: he's not exactly courting membership with the “get off my lawn” party here. Interesting enough, though.
15. SIGNS IN LIFE (FEAT. DON RICARDO)
I quite liked the instrumental, but Kano doesn't take full advantage of it, choosing to spit bullshit positive platitudes and unconfirmed boasts instead of ripping it to shreds (which, admittedly, he does seem to lean toward at times). There was no real reason for this song to linger on for more than six minutes, though.
The final song on Home Sweet Home is labeled as a bonus track.
16. BOYS LOVE GIRLS
Our host threw this on as a bonus track because it was his first solo single, recorded and released three years prior to Home Sweet Home. I wish Kano had intended this to be some sort of backwards tribute-slash-cover of the Blur song “Girls & Boys”. That would have been cool.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I remember thinking that Home Sweet Home wasn't really for me when I first heard it a few years after its release, and I still feel the same way. And before you state the obvious, it isn't the accent: Kano may use some slang that I'm not quite as familiar with on this side of the planet, but his bars come through loud and clear otherwise. But it's clear that he didn't have much to say in the first place, and stretching that nothing into sixteen tracks (and no skits, thank fuck) takes a lot out of the listener. The ongoing theme on Home Sweet Home is the battle between appeal of the mainstream versus the credibility offered by staying true to yourself, but the messages are mixed at best, since Kano frequently employs beats that wouldn't sound out of place on pop radio, some of which are alright but most of which sound just plain meh. Ultimately, Home Sweet Home is a project that would need to be saved by its lyrics, not necessarily the content but the delivery and enthusiasm of the host, and on that front, Kano just isn't up to par just yet. However, the dude shows plenty of promise, at least enough to warrant me eventually following up to see how he sounds now. Not sure if I'll want to write about that particular excursion, though: I really have too much on my plate as it is.
BUY OR BURN? I didn't really hear much of a reason for anyone to want to hunt this down. A few of the songs are worth listening to at least once or twice, but do you need to own this album? Naah. And if you disagree, well, everyone should know how the comments section works by now.
BEST TRACKS: “P's & Q's”; “How We Livin'”