Kano – Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

The shifting, buzzing synths and pounding pulse-bass that open Home Sweet Home announce the roots of its author; Kano is another in the recently surging line of grime artists. For the uninitiated, imagine American hip-hop distilled through a British accent with more abrasive, less-polished beats and obscure slang and equally indiscernible lyrics (“What the hell is “gell?” Oh, shit, he’s saying “girl!”). Probably the biggest name in the genre – and the only of its representatives to break through into the international scene – is Dizzee Rascal, whose debut Boy in Da Corner acted as the harbinger for the subsequent invasion of grime into the states.

It’s interesting to see how such a distinctly American phenomenon as hip-hop is treated in the hands of British youth – like Tony Blair wearing a cowboy hat or a McDonald’s selling tea. Thus far, grime has diverged from modern hip-hop in two separate tangents. First, the beats are decidedly harsher and more abrasive, consisting mainly of interlocking buzzing noises, sharp-as-glass snares, and skipping, synthesized handclaps. Second, the two biggest names in grime (as of right now, Dizzee and newcomer Kano) actually dare to inject rational self-reflection in between heavy doses of self-aggrandizement and chest-pounding.

But it would be shortchanging to Kano to pass him off as a Dizzee clone, and though it would perhaps be equally shortchanging to say he simply “waters down” the grime sound, it may be the best way to describe him. Kano approaches the middle of the hip-hop/grime spectrum, fusing grime’s abrasiveness with hip-hop’s polish. His accent is also far less impenetrable than that of Dizzee Rascal; his speech is clear and his enunciation is comprehensible, even for a Yank like me. The end result is something much more immediately accessible for fans of American hip-hop.

Album opener “Home Sweet Home” and second track “Ghetto Kid” successfully establish the tone of the disc with upbeat, light-hearted subject matter. “Typical Me” continues the trend, a guitar-driven beat providing the backdrop for Kano’s ruminations on why he always finds himself in trouble. “Sometimes,” though, takes a turn towards the introspective: Kano raps, “When I see the fans go mad / I think, ‘Why do they like me?’ / there’s about a thousand other boys just like me / spittin’ lyrics on the mike dressed in Nike / what makes me so special?” Further lyrics suggest a lifestyle much unlike those of more typical MCs: “When they say I’m the next one to blow I think, ‘Why do they think me?’ / all I do is stay in, mostly, and sleep / and all I do is watch Channel V and drink tea / why me?” Kano offers a refreshing alternative to the “because I deserve it” attitudes of his genre partners, instead seemingly reminding himself in his rhymes to maintain the requisite work ethic to succeed in music; on “9 to 5,” he raps: “See I will never have a calm day’s rest / till they sell my album in stores next to Kanye West’s / see I was supposed to be a footballer / but they always picked the other kid that was a foot taller / I got lazy and less enthusiastic / I stopped training and turning up to matches / … then I gave up / and now I’m in the music biz / and I won’t ever let my laziness ruin this.” No entitlement here, folks.

The bulk of the rest of Home Sweet Home consists of remarkably consistent light-hearted love and party tracks (the only miss is the tepid “Nite Nite”), but the good times are interrupted suddenly by the jarring strings of “Signs in Life,” perhaps the most outstanding track on Home Sweet Home. Kano enters next, multi-tracked in haunting chorus reminding others (and presumably himself) of the temporality and fragility of life. Though he makes a few anti-crime remarks throughout the album, Kano concentrates his rage against illegal activity more clearly on this track: “I bet you get about four for that crap / you ain’t so rich now / I bet you feel like a prick now / where’s all your fancy shit now? / where’s all your whips, chicks, and bitch now? / shit, you should’ve fixed up / fuck drugs, it’s the mike you should’ve picked up / and it was all for the big bucks / now you’re sitting in a cell doing sit-ups.”

Kano proves throughout Home Sweet Home that, above all else, he is different. He is different for his attitude and his willingness to take responsibility for his life; he is different for his ability to turn the microscope back on himself; he is different for his humbleness; but most of all, he is different because of his remarkable skill as an MC and his ability to appeal to fans of hip-hop and grime alike. In fact, Kano himself alludes to his eclectic style in “Mic Check:” “What you call it / garage? / what you call it / grime? / call it what you want, I’m fine.” Kano’s talent allows him to become the truest crossover act: having already crossed over genres with consummate skill, he’s now poised to make the next big leap across the Atlantic. This is the finest debut hip-hop album I’ve seen since Aesop Rock’s.