First Night: Kano, The Astoria, London

The pride of East Ham proves grime has its place in the West End
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The Independent Culture

For all the criticism they get when they leave out the soul or jazz categories, the MOBOs sometimes get it right. They certainly did when they gave East Ham rapper Kano the best newcomer prize two years ago.

Born Kane Brett Robinson, the 22-year old could have played pro football but lost interest in the game and soon became one of the big names in grime. With the N.A.S.T.Y. Crew, he developed a fast, flowing rapping style which earned him a solo deal with 679 Recordings, home of The Streets.

Indeed, Kano guested on Fit But you Know It while Mike Skinner returned the favour, producing and rhyming all over his protégé's single " Nite Nite", which sounded for all the world like a spin-off of The Streets' number one hit "Dry Your Eyes". Kano obviously has designs on the mainstream and recently collaborated with Craig David. , who sings the soulful chorus of the recent single "This Is The Girl" with the yearning of his own breakthrough hit "Fill Me In".

Skinner and David could tell Kano a thing or two about difficult second-album syndrome, now seemingly affecting urban artists too. While Kano's debut, Home Sweet Home, sold over 100,000 copies and spawned half a dozen singles, his follow-up, London Town, has not performed as well. The Astoria is less than full to capacity. Mind you, no one has told the bouncers who insist on frisking everyone on the way in as if So Solid Crew were about to show up mob-handed.

Wearing yellow T-shirt, shades and slack jeans, Kano has the casual style and flowing moves of the football pro he could have been, and a partisan crowd to rival even West Ham's. They like "Home Sweet Home" well enough, but they go ballistic as he launches into "Typical Me". With its infectious guitar riff, you can understand why the hypnotic track drew indie and rock kids to Kano. Not that they're much in evidence in a seriously "chavvy" audience, with the odd Skinner lookalikes larging it with a bottle of bubbly in the balcony. "Boys Love Girls", the grime anthem that got him noticed, has the fans joining in but, for my money, Kano works better when his backing musicians hit a funkier, dirtier groove and make like a grunge Cameo, as on "Sometimes" or the heady "Over And Over".

The rapper has an engaging presence and a dizzying delivery reminiscent of Eminem. The word "rainbow" keeps cropping up in his rhymes, and his beats are the ultimate melting pot with grime, garage, hip-hop, funk, soul, rock – and even the odd a massed choir on London Town' – all rising up at different times.

As if to prove my point, this grandson of Jamaicans turns "Police And Thieves", the Junior Murvin reggae classic made famous by The Clash, into "Fightin' The Nation". Then, someone throws a black bra on stage and Kano doesn't know what to make of his potential Tom Jones moment. He plays it down, in a manner reminiscent of his laconic attitude to interviews.

Dark shades off, water bottle in left hand, mic rophone in the right, he slides across stage and drifts into some choice rhymes from his mix tapes and ends with "This Is My Life". Kano on This Is Your Life? Stranger things have happened.

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