Kano has always done things at his own pace. Yes, the grime artist born Kane Robinson has released six albums, one of which received a Mercury Prize nomination, and yes, he’s been the brooding heart of the searing gang-crime drama Top Boy. But the 34-year-old hasn’t exactly chased stardom – if anything, he seems to have actively avoided it. Unlike his peers, Dizzee Rascal, Skepta and Stormzy, there have been few starry collaborations – no Drakes, no Ed Sheerans – and no particular “breakthrough moment”.
Tonight he’s performing at the Royal Albert Hall on the final 2019 date of his Hoodies All Summer tour and the latest chapter of an intriguing career. While the show – held in the opulent west-London venue – might seem like an odd kind of homecoming for his gritty, east-London sound, he has the gravitas and vibrancy to match his surroundings. This is a breakthrough moment.
Dressed in all-white and flanked by an orchestra, choir, decks, keys and a roaming brass section, Kano is full of energy from the off. His delivery on “Free Years Later” is a pneumatic drill of precision and dexterity; the messages in his lyrics are stern but also redemptive. The gospel-influenced “Trouble”, which opens by sampling the late campaigner Darcus Howe, is somehow uplifting despite its themes of government oppression and police brutality. Kano’s face frequently breaks into a wide grin, as he gazes up at the fans in the eaves of the venue.
As the rain begins to pour outside, he brings a summer vibe indoors with the steel drum sounds of “Can’t Hold We Down”, then again with “T-shirt Weather in The Manor”, the piano-heavy cut from his Mercury Prize-nominated 2016 record Made in the Manor: “You gotta love London in the summer, bro.” On a night of highs, the apex is undoubtedly Hoodies’ old-school “Class of Deja” – a nod to pirate radio station Déjà vu FM – where Kano brings out fellow grime veterans D Double E and a typically hyper Ghetts.
There’s time for Hoodies all Summer’s closing track “SYM”, a bitter history lesson on immigration. The choir members take their place by Kano’s side, and into the revered, almost holy setting, they sing the immortal words: “Suck your mother and die.”
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