British hip-hop was America's poor relation for years, but tonight Kano shows how far the UK has come since the millennium's turn. Still just 20, he grew up in the East End, in Bow, and made his name live and on pirate radio, before Mike Skinner's label signed him and stuck him on a remix of The Streets' smash "Fit but You Know It".
Live, Kano can teach most US rappers lessons in stagecraft and joyous energy. His dazzling performance at last year's Mobos declared his potential, but London has had to wait for this follow-up show, which was cancelled last year amid police fears of violence that have nothing to do with Kano or his music. Indeed, once you get past the policemen and metal detectors, the packed crowd inside are warmly excited and accepting. Kano then proceeds to show us what we've been missing.
He is a slight, happy man in a Muhammad Ali T-shirt, good-looking enough to draw screams from the girls. He throws in "Fit But You Know It" early, and by the time he plays the old underground hit "Boys Love Girls" the night's sonic template is clear.
A languid DJ occasionally drops a pre-programmed, rumbling bass-driven sound in and out. Kano then leads a quartet of MCs over it in intricate four-part rap harmonies. Each rapper has a different persona, physically and spiritually. The dexterous inter-cutting of vocal tones, from raw barks to honeyed sweetness, is drilled and skilled in a way that few US rappers even attempt live. Their words regularly buzz past at inaudible, tongue-twisting speed. Simple pleasure at, and respect for, the skill of their flow matters more than content. And, as the crowd prove by effortlessly singing "Reload It" themselves, everyone here knows the words anyway.
For all this democracy, Kano is the unmistakable star. He undercuts typical street-violent boasts with regret that his life, and his fans', can't be peaceful and calm. "Nobody Don't Dance No More" is typical, as Kano sits on the lip of the stage to tell his story.
His showbiz instincts are confirmed when, on "Ps and Qs", he leads the crowd in a cappella call and response, his fans happily, hoarsely cutting loose. "I ain't no gangster," he confesses on "Ghetto Kid", a fact that the closing ballad "Brown Eyes" proves. Instead, Kano may just be UK rap's first all-round entertainer.
Touring to 18 March (see www.ka-no.com)Reuse content