With 2005's Home Sweet Home LP, then-teenage prodigy Kano announced his arrival amongst the first generation of grime MCs seemingly set to rule the future landscape of British music. Of course, for a list of reasons, it hasn't quite gone this way and just over a decade later, with perhaps his finest work since, Mr. Robinson's Made In The Manor album goes some way as to revealing why. Heralded as the MC with no weaknesses, Kano's ability to do it all, ultimately his ability to mean something to everyone, now appears to have been largely reductive. Measured against his early running mates, he appears too meticulous a thinker to operate on impulse like Wiley, too conscious of reception to disregard the opinion of early fans like Dizzee, and altogether too gifted to keep rehashing the same style like Lethal Bizzle.
Since the release of his debut, Kano has had to contend with calls for more “Brown Eyes”, more “Nite Nite”, more “P's & Q's” and more “Signs In Life”—for the ladies, the radio, the rave scene and hip-hop heads alike—a task he's undoubtedly struggled with throughout his career. Neither the following albums of painful compromise, or the often rushed and uninspired mixtapes, fully managed to satisfy any section and, subsequently, the MC with no weakness would become the MC with no devoted core. Made In The Manor is Kano's lasting rejection of being titled as a grand spokesperson for 'London Town', or even as a '140 Grime Street' resident; it's an album rooted in a decision to return to his essence on a much more personal level.
Album opener “Hail” sets the tone as Kano raps this is real East End theme music over clashing drums and wailing guitar riffs, with a Tempa T sample thrown in for good measure. It's a neatly packaged presentation of his sonic influences and tendencies. “3-Wheel Ups” soon follows and brilliantly pits the contrasting styles of Wiley and Giggs, sandwiched in between Kano as something of a lyrical go-between. The album will disappoint those who imagined it as a return to his grime roots, but it in fact suggests his roots tread further back than the genre itself, drawing on experiences from the late '90s and early-00s. Where previous efforts failed in direction and intimacy, his latest soars above and touches on family connections on “Little Sis”, broken friendships on “Strangers” and the album's undoubted high point: the tortured and introspective “Endz“.
Kano's refrain on Home Sweet Home's “Sometimes”—my manager said this is the quickest deal ever, I said eighteen years ain't the quickest deal ever—wonderfully highlights how a rapper's greatest chance of going for gold often lies with their debut. The ability to draw on a wealth of lifelong experiences up until that point can often channel subjects and an overall passion that an impending career of stardom eventually cuts off access to. A decade ahead, despite his 30 years still being relatively young in musical terms, Kano's approach now comes from a different perspective. Illustrated by an appearance over the weekend at Eskimo Dance—on-stage in a buttoned-up shirt and winter coat—Kano embracing of his status as one of the elder statesman of the scene adds a growing dimension to him as he whipped up the crowd with the album's bonus tracks, “Flow Of The Year” and “Garage Skank”.
Ten years on, rather than pandering to one section of support that rose from the success of HSH, this album exists as Kano's realisation that widespread appeal is only useful if derived from a place of true personal acceptance. On “Endz”, Kano demands play this on the way to the club and not in it, made in the manor so it's fuckin' authentic, and for the first time since his now-classic debut, he's calling the shots on how he wants himself and his music to be received.