Next month, cult drama Top Boy will return to Netflix. The show, which started in 2011 on Channel 4, is a moving portrayal of life in the fictional Summerhouse estate in Hackney and become a crucial voice in British culture ever since. The same can be said about one of the show’s lead actors, Kano.
Since the grime star marked his arrival with seminal debut ‘Home Sweet Home’ in 2006, his six albums have reflected a similar creative voice with similar depths. No surprise then, that new album ‘Hoodies All Summer’, is a thoughtful, demonstrative of the relevance and importance of grime music, and is persistent in its aim to ask serious questions about the social direction of the country.
From the sombre strings which introduce ‘Free Years Later’ to the pseudo-lullaby chimes of final track ‘SYM’, Kano’s ‘Hoodies All Summer’ is an album which continually captivates. The latter track’s meaning as a darkly comic acronym is revealed by a surprisingly harmonious rendition of the tagline ‘suck your mother and die’ about 30-seconds in. Kano’s decision to follow this with an opening line of ‘that might be the hook I could retire after’ encapsulates his witty, self-referential nature.
Don’t be conned into thinking this is a record focused primarily on humour, however. Soulful and infused with confident, socially aware lyricism, Kano’s follow-up to 2016’s ‘Made In The Manor’ is fraught with emotion, and demonstrates an impressive maturation, even for an artist always interested in deeper, politically driven content.
‘Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil’ merges the reverberant chimes of old-school Eskibeat with the dense drum patterns which defined seminal Kano single ‘P’s and Q’s’, forming a backdrop for insightful social commentary. The opening lyric, a scathing indictment of community deprivation: ‘live and direct from the belly of the beast where we pour out henny for deceased / Numbers don’t lie, give a penny to the guy but they won’t give a penny to the streets’.
The album’s lead single, ‘Trouble,’ was accompanied by a harrowing, inspiring 17-minute video demonstrative of the cruelty and horror of knife crime in London. The film sees a heartbreaking funeral wake roll into a passionate, celebratory moment which highlights music’s ability to offer escapism, consolation and hope.
Particularly notable is the centrality of moving, blues-infused piano chords to almost every track. This motif was present in previous album ‘Made In The Manor’, but ‘Hoodies All Summer’ seems to represent the organic conclusion of this development from the classic grime sound of debut ‘Home Sweet Home’. Lil Silva’s (SBTRKT, Banks) production on ‘Got My Brandy, Got My Beats’ augments the album’s bluesy acoustic depth. With soft, garage-influenced drum patterns and chopped-up vocal melodies, further ambience is added to a thoughtful reflection on heartbreak and lost love.
The penultimate track of ‘Hoodies All Summer’, and the album’s other early release, ‘Class of Deja’, is blessed with powerful features from Kano’s fellow grime veterans, D Double E and Ghetts. Raw and brimming with heart and passion, this link-up may well represent one of the best grime collaborations of the last decade. A nostalgic nod to classic appearances on pirate radio station Déjà vu FM, the track is characterised by witty, deft lines: ‘see, I’m way too gifted/Kill an MC with bare different flows/I can kill an MC with presence alone/Level and tone/Timeless and definite flow/And try nuff a take a man’s throne/Make a man know/My man’s tekkers is cold’. An explosive lyrical release of pent-up rage and aggression, Kano and Ghetts’ back-to-back verse is perhaps the strongest moment of the album.
In an album predominantly interested in social commentary, Kano refuses to let us forget his ability to poignantly capture the painful realities of romance – his concluding line ‘now one finger skanks without me’ a perfect representation of the album’s thematic intertwining of music, loss, heartbreak and recovery. It’s not as if Kano’s position as one of the Top Boys of an energised UK grime and rap scene needed any further cementing, though ‘Hoodies All Summer’ has done exactly that.