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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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.
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.
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?
“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.