The scene of the grime

Kano comes to Strad­bally fresh from his Mer­cury Prize nom­i­na­tion. The MC and ac­tor talks to Shilpa Gana­tra

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Six years for an al­bum is a wait by any­one’s stan­dards, let alone in grime: an ado­les­cent genre with the growth spurt to prove it.

Not that Kano is wor­ried. Af­ter 2010’s Method to the Maad­ness was suit­ably com­mem­o­rated, he side-stepped into act­ing for two se­ries of ac­claimed Channel 4 drama Top Boy, set on a fic­tional hous­ing es­tate in East Lon­don, where Kano grew up (the show counts Drake as a fan).

“I don’t think peo­ple ad­vise hav­ing breaks in mu­sic. Ev­ery­one thinks if you don’t do some­thing for a cou­ple of years, you’re for­got­ten about,” says Kane Robin­son. “But I was con­fi­dent enough in my­self that I could take the break, and then come back and do an­other al­bum.

“I hated the act­ing process at the time, with the lack of con­trol, but it was a wealth of knowl­edge in a dif­fer­ent area. And I’m proud of how it turned out, it was like two clas­sic albums.”

Free of a record com­pany and the pres­sure that brings, it took an­other three years to cre­ate his ac­tual clas­sic al­bum, Made in the Manor. This was “not be­cause I spent that time chill­ing and f**king about”, he’s quick to point out, rather be­cause it was an ar­du­ous process to fig­ure out.

The turn­ing point for his fifth al­bum was T-Shirt Weather in the Manor, a then-and-now re­flec­tion on his suc­cess (“I buy the same Mr Whippy 99/But now I got just as much prob­lems and a Flake ain’t one”). As sug­gested by the ti­tle, the theme car­ries across the al­bum, from Strangers (a touch­ing open to let­ter to his es­tranged friend) to Lit­tle Sis (on his half-sis­ter) – it’s even found in the videos he di­rected and the cut-out child­hood pics on the cover.

“It was a dif­fi­cult al­bum to make,” he says. “It was a tough process, and to be hon­est, it was frus­trat­ing at times. It wasn’t ever a party in the stu­dio. But I took my time to get it right, and it’s come from the heart.”

His per­fec­tion­ism has paid off: re­leased in March, it de­liv­ered his first Mer­cury Mu­sic Prize nom­i­na­tion five months later. Vin­di­ca­tion for the blood, sweat and tears?

Body of work

“Yeah but the val­i­da­tion came when it came out and it went down well,” he says. “But yeah it’s cool. I felt like a di­nosaur, mak­ing a full al­bum. I was try­ing to make a body of work that was [a] co­he­sive and proper piece, and then you see a bunch of peo­ple that put a track ev­ery week or so.

“I feel like peo­ple don’t give a f**k about albums any more. It’s part of our throw­away cul­ture, with TV and that, that they make other things but not a full al­bum. But it’s what I do. So I’m happy for this nom­i­na­tion, it feels like there is hope.”

Both he and fel­low grime leader Skepta are in the mix this year, along with strong con­tenders such as David Bowie and Ra­dio­head – it’s enough to prompt ques­tions about a re­birth of the genre.

While Kano doesn’t con­sider Made in the Manor to be strictly a grime al­bum (“it’s just an al­bum, man”) he be­lieves there’s some­thing in it. “It does feel like we’re get­ting more at­ten­tion. Look­ing back over the years, Dizzee Ras­cal won it in 2003, and since then I haven’t thought, Oh my god, why hasn’t this al­bum been nom­i­nated for the Mer­cury?

“Maybe the at­ten­tion is be­cause there are a cou­ple of good albums now, and you’ve just got to make good albums. And make more albums, peo­ple aren’t in­ter­ested in them any more.”

At the very least, the mere talk of re­birth sug­gests that grime is a long-stand­ing fix­ture in the UK’s mu­sic scene, as some ques­tioned when Kano, Dizzee and Wi­ley emerged in the early 2000s. For Kano, it was never go­ing to be a fad.

Not go­ing away

“From the out­side look­ing [in at] it, you might think it’s a fad but ev­ery­one in it knew there’s a whole cul­ture and scene around it and it’s not go­ing to go away,” he says. “The thing is it’s only around 10 years old. You’ll get ques­tions at the start of any genre – soul, rock’n’roll, hip-hop – but they’ve grown and de­vel­oped, and grime’s go­ing to do the same.”

In­deed, the first signs are ap­pear­ing that it’s fi­nally spread­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally; aside from Drake and Kanye West’s sup- port, Elec­tric Pic­nic rep­re­sents Kano’s first Ir­ish show, and he’s planned his de­but Aus­tralian tour too.

“There’s the start of an au­di­ence in a lot of places,” he says. “Peo­ple find own­er­ship in their own way. It was like that with Nas talk­ing about Queens­bridge [the pub­lic hous­ing project where he grew up] and Jay-Z on Brook­lyn – you don’t even have to go that far away, even when Mike Skin­ner [The Streets] showed a com­pletely dif­fer­ent life to mine – you’re brought into their world and you learn about dif­fer­ent places and dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences. In terms of lan­guage, the slang, it is what it is,” he says. “You’re go­ing to have to fig­ure that out.”

While wede­fer tour­ban­dic­, we won­der if we’ll see him re­turn to the screen? “If I was a bet­ting man, I’d say we’d see an­other se­ries of Top Boy,” he says. “But I’m not do­ing any­thing else while I have this al­bum. I want to con­stantly get bet­ter at act­ing, so I want to have the time to do it.”

Could he see him­self in the di­rec­tor’s seat in the fu­ture? “Yeah, I’m half-dread­ing it be­cause I know I want to do it, but I know what it takes,” he says, with trep­i­da­tion. “I liked do­ing the mu­sic videos I di­rected, but it stressed me out ev­ery time, and I know a pro­gramme or a film will be on a whole other level. But it’s some­thing I def­i­nitely see hap­pen­ing.”

I feel like peo­ple don’t give a f**k about albums any more. It’s part of our throw­away cul­ture, with TV and that, that they make other things but not a full al­bum. But it’s what I do

“It was a dif­fi­cult al­bum to make . . . I took my time to get it right, and it’s come from the heart”

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