Well, it's that time again/ The Mercury Awards are coming up which means the contributors of The Blog get the chance to review stuff that would normally be out of their respective ranges. My experience of this has lead to the awesomeness of Young Fathers and Benjamin Clementine, which was a bonus. I've since been given the task of blogging Kano, who I understand to be one of the finest practitioners of 'grime', a genre of music that apparently originated in London from both the UK Garage and Jungle scenes, not genres I've had much experience with. In fact, the only things that emerged from the UK Hip Hop scene that I've really listened to were The Streets and Gunshot, although that was more for the remix of 'Mind Of A Razor' which was done by Shane 'Napalm Death' Embury. I also used to listen to Silver Bullet (in fact, I've still got the album - it's the guy who did the song with all the samples from the movie 'Robocop' on it - 20 Seconds To Comply) but that is going back to the late 80's, so my knowledge of British rap is sorely lacking. Mind, I'm not a rap connoisseur, sticking mainly to NWA, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, stuff like that, really.
This is Kano's fifth album, the guy has been going for about 16 years. His debut solo album came out in 2005, this was after a stint in a grime group called NASTY. Success came his way, which has lead us to this album. I've already had a quick skim of it and first impressions are that it is very unlike anything I've heard before in the Hip Hop genre, whereas the majority of music within that scene is taken from the funk sounds of the 70's, this seemed very sparse, dark and a bit foreboding. It also sounds like it could have been on the soundtrack to movies such as Kidulthood (and it's sequel, Adulthood), Harry Brown or any of those reality TV shows which go undercover to talk about British gangs or something. Possibly presented by (former DJ) Goldie. Another thing this album has is multiple producers - something I don't usually agree with due to the "Too Many Cooks..." thing. Turns out one of them is Damon Albarn, who has experience in Hip Hop thanks to his Gorillaz project, although, if we're honest, that (virtual) band covered pretty much everything and anything genre-wise. Mr Albarn is also the nemesis of one of the contributors of the blog. Not mine - my nemesis is *edited on legal advice* because they're a *edited on legal advice*. Anyhow, let's have a proper listen and see whether we can find anything else to comment on...
The first track is called "Hail" and has a bell tolling while a nasty - in a good sense - mechanical riff goes off in the background. Slow beats only add to the general sense of foreboding. At least it's not one of those 'skit' tracks which were like barnacles on a ship's hull for rap albums for a while. Possibly a dubstep influence somewhere, which is surprising as I didn't think people were still bothered about that genre. The rap is quite furious and name-checks Koko B. Ware (a shit wrestler who became cannon-fodder for the up and comers) which is interesting. This then becomes a bright sounding song called "T-Shirt Weather In The Manor", an ode to summertime. The beats alternate on this one, becoming a bit more funky in the chorus with a rhythm that is akin to Jamaican dance-hall. Nice piano melodies which are a sharp contrast to the harshness of the first song. "New Banger" is the next track and aptly starts with a banging snare drum beat before going into a stuttering beat song with what sounds like a kazoo ensemble for the melodies. Not too keen on this one as it doesn't grab my attention as much as the first couple of songs. Shame, as the rap is good. Definitely some talent there. "3 Wheel Ups" contains contributions from Wiley and Griggs, it's a decent little song, better than the last one, all jarring keyboards and scattering rhythms. Very good. Next up is "This Is England" and it sounds like more traditional Hip Hop, straight ahead funky rhythms and raps which start off talking about East London traits (jellied eels etc) before talking about their peers, particularly Lethal Bizzle. "Little Sis", the next track, is quite laid back in both music, beats and raps. Probably the closest thing in Hip Hop to a ballad or something. It's rather good. "A Roadman's Hymn" follows on from this with...more laid-back stuff musically but rather biting raps, with a hint of tuneful singing. it's ok but one doesn't notice the bit where it segues into "Drinking In The West End" which is another slow one which is quite melodic - although the squawk sample which permeates the song gets a bit repetitive. I like this one,
"Deep Blues" is up next and this features Mr Albarn. Nah, I'm not keen on this one as it goes nowhere very quickly. Very slow and not very inspired. Can't hear Mr Albarn anywhere, unless he's doing the back-up vocals. They're quite low in the mix, but atmospheric enough, I guess. "Endz" has some decent beats but I've a feeling we've hit a lull as we've got more lazy piano music for the melodies. "Strangers" doesn't really rectify this musically...more piano based melodies and no beats. I'm hoping that "Seashells In The East" rectifies that - it does, to a degree, as it reclaims the albums balls. Biting raps about the darker side of life in London's East End and although there is yet again a piano melody, not only does it sound 'fuller' than the previous songs but it has a bit of urgency behind it, as do the beats. "My Sound" is apparently the realest, good for you! It's not too bad, to be fair. Could have been better. Which sums this album up, really.
After what I felt to be initial promise, I felt a bit let down by some of the latter tracks for this album. Seemed to be an over-reliance on slow beats and piano melodies - which would be fine if there was a bit of oomph to them but I couldn't hear it. The first few tracks were great and showed real promise, but ultimately, this was a very front-loaded album. Kano is certainly a talented rapper whose lyrics, rhymes and delivery are great but some more consistent beats and melodies would be nice. The overall effect was like listening to some stuff by Ice-T and then following that up with (New Jack clowns) Color Me Badd - which actually happened on the "New Jack City" soundtrack. Hopefully, this will be rectified on the next album.
6/10 - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
Top Track - "Hail".
This album is available on iTunes.
Mortal Kombat (C'mon, you didn't think I'd miss that, did you?)