Words by: Nazeema Hamdi
There’s no place like home and for Kano that’s Newham and he represents the area to the fullest.
It is not clear who coined the phrase ‘home is where the heart is’. However, it is an immemorial proverb that has been uttered by many people, including myself. It is about belonging, familiarity and warmth provided by what we call our homes. So, what is home? Honestly, it can be found in memories, be found in a place or even in a person. The meaning home carries is beyond the buildings we live in, buildings made of bricks and mortar. Home is where the heart is. But, for Kano, home is where the art is.
Kano has been huge for as long as I can remember, it is safe to say he was Grime’s star-boy during its emergence. Grime is a sub-genre of Rap that incorporates Jungle, Garage, Reggae and Hip-Hop. But it is a division of music that is unlike anything else with its immense hyper-speed and boisterous lyrics. Born in estates around East London, it is a sound that Kane Robinson, musically known as Kano, has managed to dominate for many years.
Beyond Grime, it is well-known that Kano is arguably the best rapper to come out of the U.K. You can even ask Jay Z if you need further clarification. From pirate radio days with the rest of N.A.S.T.Y. Crew in the early 2000s to a present-day Kano with a more structured musicality, producing some of the best critically acclaimed albums of all time. With all of these notable achievements, I often think about Kano and the legacy he has built for himself. Where has that legacy come from? The answer is Newham and has always been Newham.
Sometimes you can tell where someone is from as soon as they begin speaking, but Kano’s musical tone is a wonderful adventure, an adventure that boasts a cockney accent intertwined with patois and Multicultural London English (MLE). If you could not tell that he is an East Ender, I am sure his discography will point it out for you. It was only recently that I realised the message of home is consistently weaved throughout his music. Almost every song he has links back to the environment he found himself within. Thoughtful sentiments of the ‘ends’ and what it means to be an East Ender has been sustained from Home Sweet Home to Hoodies All Summer.
His debut project Home Sweet Home was a significant introduction to who he was as a fully established artist. He wanted to affirm who he was and where he came from. First-time listeners can refer to Home Sweet Home as ground-breaking and honest, an album that is listened to regularly, reflecting on the golden age of Grime and an era that Kano had worked on pioneering.
His most recent album Hoodies All Summer shows growth in his character and integrity. It is evident that Kano’s authenticity shines beyond his music as he set up funds to help struggling Newham residents last year. The YouTube series and GoFundMe fundraiser he produced centring Newham and those affected by COVID-19 shows much his area means to him. Songs like ‘Free Years Later’ and ‘Can’t Hold We Down’ stand out as songs that feel like battle cries, the title ‘Hoodies All Summer’ refers to protection and resilience. There is a poetic strength in Kano’s catalogue, it is potent and honest music. Yet he can still make you want to dance the night away with his bangers.
Newham is not the best area to grow up in, a borough struggling with acute levels of poverty, crime and suffering. Yet Kano’s discography that contains songs of rebellion, hope and solidarity make it easier to understand the environments we come from. He subtly and sometimes not so subtly aims to convey the meaning behind the strength in community and all of the ideas associated with it, translating what it means to be from Newham.
Music is a medium that Kano used for self-expression and exploring his identity. There is a lot to the areas we have grown up in and Kano has always managed to reinforce the importance of home and belonging. He is one of the most introspective and self-aware rappers of our time and someone I will never hesitate to write about with the utmost respect.