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Who is Kano? The post-grime pioneer who wants all the smoke

Who is Kano?

You may know him as Sully from the Netflix show Top Boy. But if you’re from the UK, Kano is much more than that. Born Kane Brett Robinson, the actor from East Ham, London is considered one of the main players who stand at the gate of the music genre called “Grime,” in the UK.

Grime was born in East London circa the early 2000s. The genre combined electronic dance beats with reggae and fast distinctively English style rapping. Kano is among the circle of early founders of Grime which includes Skepta, Dizzee Rascal, and Wiley.


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The Rise

Before becoming a giant in the grime genre, Kano was a kid from East Ham, London. Multi-talented but quick to lose interest, he played football as a kid. He even had trials for big teams like Chelsea Football Club and Norwich FC.

Kano was also a good student, achieving nine GCSEs and briefly going to study Graphics at Greenwich University. He dropped out to pursue his true passion, music.

He was always into music, spittin’ on his brother’s decks. Much like Grime in general, Kano is heavily influenced by Reggae having spent several summers in Jamaica with family from a young age.

It was this at-home music-making that led Kano to create his first-ever single “Boys Love Girls.” After being encouraged by Dizzee Rascal, Kano recorded the track professionally. The song saw immediate success and airplay on Déjà Vu FM a legendary pirate station.

This got him into the infamous N.A.S.T.Y. Crew.

The N.A.S.T.Y Crew is an East London Grime Crew. The acronym stands for Natural Artistic Sounds Touching You. The members of the crew have changed over the years but around Kano’s time, D Double E, Lil Nasty, Footsie, Monkey, Mak 10 and Sharky Major, Hyper and the late Stormin were on the roster.

The Switch-Up

Kano saw greater success after he dropped his 2005 album Home Sweet Home while signed with 679. P’s and Q’s was a hit single and has since become one of the artists’ most recognizable songs.

The “Home Sweet Home” album had distinctly slower tempo tracks, out of sorts with the traditional grime genre. Kano says he feels that calling his music grime is lazy because he’s departed from the genre so much.

“It’s not that I don’t want to be associated with grime; it’s just I don’t believe it’s accurate anymore. It’s lazy to call it grime. Because that’s not what it is. I don’t know what to call it.”

His change in sound from traditional grime values allowed for deeper lyricism, with social commentary. Kano’s interest in telling the stories with few representations in mass media was a perfect fit with the cultural impact of show Top Boy.

The Return

In 2011, Kano took on the role of Sully who with fellow rising drug dealer Dushane sought to survive and grow their business in the fictitious Summerhouse housing projects.

The London street life was raw and never before portrayed in such an authentic manner on national UK television. Channel 4 canceled Top Boy, but then the epic show was picked up by Netflix.


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The revamp became so popular, Drake decided to revive it for another season.

In 2016, after a six-year hiatus from music, Kano dropped Made In The Manor to huge success in the ever-changing music industry. Then Kano returned this summer with recent release Hoodies all Summer, staying true to his subject matter of representing his roots. He told Vice,

“I didn’t want to look back in ten years’ time and to have not made a record like this. If I looked back on 2019, in ten years’ time, and I’d only made club tune after club tune, what’s the purpose?

Mans continued,

“Especially in this time. To me – and I’m hard on myself – to have not made this record would be an embarrassment to the creative songwriter in me.”

Tap in, fam.

J Hus puts himself and London on the map with ‘Common Sense’

In the last couple years, London has emerged as a hotbed of hip-hop, with artists like Stormzy and Skepta getting worldwide recognition and respect in the American hip-hop scene.

There were the token Drake features and Noisey documentaries, and Stormzy and Skepta have become legitimate stars, but the whole grime scene appears, at least from across the pond, to be pretty monolithic.

Of course, with any burgeoning music scene, the stars of the genre will drive the direction of the sound and the aesthetic, but grime has been pigeon-holed, at least in the States, by Skepta, Giggs, and Stormzy’s success.

Skepta and Giggs in particular make sense to an American ear; this familiarity has translated to worldwide success for these dudes, but grime is a much more diverse and multifaceted genre, than Skepta domination and Atlanta trap cosplay.

That’s where J Hus comes in.

The East End MC from Stratford, London has been active on the grime scene since 2015, with releases like “Lean and Bop” and “Dem Boy Paigon” showing a promising young MC having some fun over dancehall beats, but neither of these releases pointed to anything beyond making fire music for the club.

J Hus got the approval of grime godfather Stormzy, appearing on February 2017’s Gang Signs & Prayer‘s “Bad Boys” along with Ghetts.

But J Hus’ new album Common Sense, might be the most interesting U.K. hip-hop record in recent memory.

The kid from Stratford combines elements of grime, U.K. garage, dancehall, Afrobeat, hip-hop, and R&B seamlessly, all punctuated by piercing wise-cracks and boastful roadman rhymes.

J Hus shows his complete diversity as an artist throughout Common Sense, announcing himself as the new torch-bearer for a burgeoning genre trying to escape Skepta autonomy.

On “Did You See” J Hus is at his boastful best, rapping “Came looking like a ganja farmer/
Your daddy betta hide his daughter” over a springy, steel drum-driven beat, and a bouncing bass. It’s safe to say Stormzy is a fan.

The instrumental on “Did You See” could easily stand on its own in any dancehall or garage setting, shit just belongs in the club.

“Common Sense”, the eponymic second single of the album exhibits a pretty big sound, sounding very early 2010’s Maybach Music, for the typically minimalist genre. But J Hus isn’t the typical grime artist.

“Clartin” is a banger about drive-bys and ‘opps’ and could be held up to any Chicago drill or Atlanta trap, but it isn’t an attempt at copying that sound, rather a response to it. It’s London’s answer to drill and trap, not a replication of it.

After we emerge from the dark streets of London’s East End, J Hus takes us inside the crib on “Closed Doors”, a love, or perhaps more accurately a sex ballad, with some jazzy live horn instrumentation and a smooth as fuck drum kick.

The production on Common Sense makes it one of the most diverse hip-hop albums in recent memory, especially in the sometimes monolithic grime genre.

From the dramatic strings, reminiscent of early 2000s era G-Unit on “Goodies”, to the post-dubstep drums on “Plottin”, London-based producer Jae5, who produced the whole album, has created the canvas for J Hus to paint his lyrical art.

Listening to Common Sense, you get the feeling this is a record that could only be made in London at this particular moment in time.

J Hus, the son of a Gambian mother, brings in elements from across the world to make a truly global-sounding album. Common Sense is representative of the cultural tapestry of London, drawing from the litany of styles and subgenres that have popped up in the clubs and neighborhoods throughout London in the past twenty years.

But ultimately, the most crucial aspect of Common Sense‘s success the album’s basic authenticity.

There’s no token American rapper feature, no Skepta or Stormzy appearance, although both have endorsed J Hus. Common Sense makes no attempt to appeal to American audiences or craft a crossover hit to find a way onto Hot 97 or a tour with Drake.

J Hus has announced himself as a very serious force to be reckoned with, not only in the U.K. grime scene, but in the hip-hop genre as a whole.

Common Sense is a special record made in a very specific time and place. We’ll be banging this shit all summer.