In keeping with the theme of his first two albums Home Sweet Home and London Town, Kano takes the opportunity of his fifth studio album to once again rep his ends and celebrate the manor that made him. An honest depiction that doesn’t seek to change minds but jog memories, going beyond rose-tinted nostalgia, Kano beautifully recounts the story of playground tuck shops, bangers and mash, barbershops, and the music scene that gave him his name.
Much has changed in the 11 years since “Ps and Qs” shot to success; this album sees a more mature artist looking back at his experiences with a fresh perspective, often hypothesising on whether things were as he perceived them at the time. One such example of this is “Strangers”, which reveals the history behind his friendship with MC Demon. The reason behind the demise of their relationship is unclear as much to the artist as to the listener, but such a sombre reflection is exactly the kind of song that would have been unlikely to come from a younger Kano.
In this album Kano doesn’t just set the bar lyrically, he also brings an acute reflection on the roots and the identity of the genre at a time when grime and its followers are seemingly growing exponentially. From veterans like JME to newer artists such as Stormzy, there isn’t an artist on the scene who hasn’t benefitted from Kano’s work and a studio album of this calibre bears testament to a continuing relevance to his artistry.
Made In The Manor sits perfectly in a Kano collection, showing an undeniable level of consistency and a uniqueness of sound. Sticking to his jungle and garage roots on party anthems “New Banger” and bonus track “GarageSkankFreestyle,” his style is unmistakable. This album continues to embrace Kano’s ability to manipulate different tempos and styles from the abrasive and adrenaline inducing “Hail”, which is dark and invasive enough to resurrect a graveyard, to the pensive melody of “Deepest Blues”. In the final track “My Sound” Kano merrily boasts that his is the realest as he sings over a tune reminiscent of primary school xylophones.
Whilst always staying faithful to East Ham, Kano transcends post codes and boroughs from “T Shirt Weather in the Manor” to “A Roadman’s Hymn” painting a scene uncannily relatable to anyone who grew up in a area where kids were always “on road BMXing” or hanging around at the local leisure centre. Looking back fondly, he recreates the images and feelings so familiar to our generation without sugar-coating the realities of black working class communities in inner city London. Amongst the ice cream vans and family get-togethers are the neighbours, friends and family who lived off tinned spaghetti, were in and out of jail, or struggled to stay off drugs, all of whom played a role in forming the community that raised him.
Grime might be achieving chart success now but Kano’s memory is long enough to remember the “dubplates on acetate” genesis of the genre, when tracks was transferred in person on a vinyl playing on estate rooftops and pirate radio. This album is still imbued with that early grime DIY culture created by Kano and peers such as Wiley Kat and Dizzee Rascal. Almost all of the videos are filmed by friends, and the beats and bars follow suit. Collaborations come out of long term musical relationships or personal friendships like those with Giggs, Wiley and Damon Albarn.
Black people, in the UK especially, have long been accustomed to hearing our stories told in the third person, whether through art and literature fetishising our cultures, or through national news and its clunky analysis on our communities. We become so immune to it that we almost cannot conceive of how fresh a breath it can be to breathe in the words “us”, “ours” and “we”. Kano deliberately speaks on issues that are hugely identifiable for black communities such as his accidental non-acknowledgment of his father’s child on “Little Sis”.
“This Is England” redefines the country as home to “dark shubeens” where young black boys from the traditionally white working class areas of the east end would “spit 16s” until police were called.
From this album it’s clear that Kano was born, raised and will retire at 140 Grime Street. While the music that is generally defined as grime today does not necessarily abide by the 140 beats per minute regulation, or sound like a derivative of garage or jungle, it still retains the genre’s DIY culture. It’s not just an aesthetic, it’s a way of making music.
At a time when the failure to recognise grime is persistent, albeit embarrassing, for British music institutions such as the Brits, Made In The Manor is a necessary reminder that grime is still for us, by us and needs no further approval.
A linguist, nomad, activist and writer Zahra Dalilah stays locked into/enjoys/gets her kicks out of any and everything from Nas bars from ’94 and modern day black feminist thought. She keeps busy putting on music and poetry events in London and working on community projects such as Our Father and Us, a research project based in her beloved home town of Lewisham on Black British fatherhood.