“It feels quite sinister,” about the title of his exceptional sixth album, Hoodies All Summer. “But a hoodie’s also like a defence mechanism-a coat of armour, protection from the rain. It’s like we always get rained on but don’t worry, we’re resilient, we wear hoodies all summer. We’re prepared for whatever.” That description is fitting for 10 songs that tear down stereotypes and assumptions to reveal the humanity and bigger picture of life in London’s toughest quarters. On “Trouble” that means reflecting with nuance and empathy on the lives being lost to postcode wars and knife and gun crime.
“People become so used to the fact that these situations happen that they are almost numb to it,” he says. “Young kids dying on the street-it gets to a point where it’s like you lose count, and you just move on really quickly and forget a person’s name two minutes after hearing about it.”
Like 2016’s Made in the Manor, this is an album rooted in his experiences of living in East London. This time, though, the focus is less introspective, with Kano, as he says, “reversing the lens” towards the communities he grew up in. “I just wanted to speak about it in a way where it's like, ‘I understand, I get it.’ I'll get into the psyche of why people do what they do. It’s about remembering that these unfortunate situations come about because of circumstances that are out of the hands of people involved. Not everyone’s this gang-sign, picture-taking, hoodie-wearing gang member. That’s the way they put us across in the media. Yes, some people are involved in crime, and some people are not-they just live in these areas, and it’s a f**ked-up situation.”
Kano’s at his poetic and potent best here. Lines such as “All our mothers worry when we touch the road/'Cause they know it’s touch-and-go whether we’re coming home” (“Trouble”) impact fast and deep, but he also spotlights hope amid hard times. “I feel like we’re resilient people and there’s always room for a smile and to celebrate the small wins, and the big wins,” he says. “That’s when you hear [tracks] like 'Pan-Fried' and 'Can't Hold We Down'-you can't hold us down, no matter what you do to us, you can't stop us. We’re a force, you can't stop us creatively. I want more for you: I’ve made it through, I want you to see what I’ve seen. It’s about everyone having the opportunity to see more, so they’ll want more, to feel like they are more.”
If the wisdom of Kano’s bars positions him as an elder statesman of UK rap, the album as a whole confirms that he’s an undisputed great of the genre. Musically, it sets new standards in vision and ambition, complementing visceral electronic beats with strings and choirs as it moves through exhilarating left turns and dizzying switches of pace and intensity. “I wanted it to be an exciting listen,” he says. “Like the beat that comes in from nowhere in ‘Teardrops’—it’s like a slap in the face. This ain’t the album that you just put on in the background. I didn't want it to be that. You need to dedicate time out of your day to listen to this.