top of page
  • Writer's pictureMartin Vaux

Album Review: Hoodies All Summer by Kano

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

With Hoodies All Summer, his sixth full-length studio LP, East London’s Kano delivers a sweeping sonic journey teeming with pain, wit, splendour and calamity.

The record is replete with swagger and flourish, further cementing Kano’s position as one of the Britain’s premiere lyricists. It's a dizzying listen and an astounding accomplishment in many ways – yet the album repeatedly sees Kano rejecting the idea of traditional chart success in favour of looking inward.

Hints of this idea were plain to see in the lead-up to the album’s release. Rather than a grand marketing campaign or tightly polished, punchy debut music video, Kano quietly released Trouble, an impressionistic 15-minute short film on his YouTube channel earlier last month which details a fictional story about a boy stabbed to death not far from his home, including the ensuing funeral and wake.

The film may have been soundtracked in sections by two songs from this new album, but even then the songs were barely audible. Played in part and not whole, half-heard out of crackly radios or barked in a sweaty live performance thronged with mourners in the dead boy’s front room, the music was pushed into second place to foreground a difficult key message.

An elder statesman of Grime music, the short film signalled that Kano is not focused on lining his pockets and going platinum – something which drove much of his patchy early recording career. But for fans, this should come as a no surprise. Indeed, one major criticism might be levelled at Hoodies All Summer is that the album assumes listeners have at least some sense of what has come before it.

Cards on the table: Kano’s previous album, the Mobo-winning Made in the Manor, was my favourite album of 2016. It may have been overshadowed in that year’s Mercury Prize campaign by Skepta’s crowd-pleasing, banger-heavy Konnichiwa, and it may have also received a few lukewarm critical receptions, but I was fairly-well obsessed with it.

Part of the reason I so adored Made in the Manor was that it marked a sea change – not just in Kano’s career but in the journey of Grime music, the nascent subgenre of British rap born on London’s pirate radio stations in the early 2000s.

Rich with a big brass bands and end of the pier cheek, Made in the Manor spoke of issues such as the rich tapestry of Englishness at a time when the Brexit campaign was ripping the country apart; a song like This Is England could not have been more timely.

To many though, it seemed incongruous for an artist like Kano to have taken a 6-year break from a musical genre so defined by braggadocio and in which cash is often seen as king to return unbothered by such concerns, wrongfooting them with sincerity and really unusual work.

There were few songs on that album designed to fill dancefloors or please radio DJs. It was musically ranging, brimming with uncomfortable disclosures, and with the exception of the ridiculously daft New Banger it was a was a personal, thoughtful, mature album that called for attentive listening.

This was all rather unusual for a Grime record – a genre of music where albums are rarely designed as little more than excuses to package meaty singles in disposably flimsy filler.

This is and was because Grime is rooted in UK garage, jungle, and classic hip hop. It was always meant to be a bit tacky, a bit raw, and a bit raucous. It was punk rock for poor inner-city kids – young people who have a very different sense of sophistication to the average listener (such people who, back in the day, might have terrorized their own parents with artists like Alice Cooper, The Sex Pistols, or even Frankie Goes To Hollywood).

At the beginning then, Grime tracks were homebrewed, rebellious and rough. And while some of Grime’s progenitors, including Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, have gone on to become chart-topping acts and household names, many of the scene’s most enduring and celebrated all-stars remain somewhat obscure.

Much loved Grime artists like D Double E, who appears briefly on a track here, Class of Deja (named after pirate station Deja Vu FM on which Kano and D Double both performed as members of N.A.S.T.Y Crew), have been grafting for two decades, and yet D Double only released his first album last year, independently and to little fanfare.

And it’s not that Grime music is unlistenable to the average punter, but it is designed to be dissonant, reflecting subversive attitudes including political disenfranchisement, economic vulnerability and social repression.

With this in mind, one of Kano’s challenges in recent years has been that he is no longer trapped in the system. He is friends with Damon Albarn, is a successful actor, and his new tour will take him to the Royal Albert Hall where he will be accompanied by a full orchestra.

Rather than raging against the machine, he is part of the establishment.

His is a rare story. Through hard graft and keeping his nose to the grindstone, Kano escaped “the hood” and on Made in the Manor expressed some guilt about his new suburban life – the lost friends and distanced family, the jealous community who saw him as a traitor, and his sense of hopelessness around helping those he had all but left behind.

He emphasised too that he wasn’t ridiculously loaded – just successful enough to buy a new car (the aforementioned New Banger), and could afford to go on holiday or qualify for a mortgage.

This was knowing, self-deprecated, original stuff, and three years later Hoodies All Summer sees Kano continuing in a similar vein, even if he has narrowed his focus somewhat.

Although the album does feature a bleak break-up song in the self-excoriating Got My Brandy, Got My Beats (a song that might sound like one thing but which quickly reveals itself to be quite another), the rest of the record is dedicated to trying to inspire children to be better people.

Again and again, Kano emphasises that good times are important, and that he likes a party as much as the next guy. Likewise, he is keen to reassure listeners that his fellow onetime rascals, now global popstars (people like Stormzy, Lethal Bizzle, Ghetts and so on) are not an alien species; they have all made mistakes, and keep making them, and still experience discrimination.

Again and again he reiterates, too, that the system is unfair, and explains that it continues to be unfair no matter how much money you have.

Most clearly though, he emphasises that black kids need to stop being divided and squaring off against one another, as when they work together and team up then they are far more likely to succeed.

It could be argued that the topics discussed are too tightly focused, and that there is not enough thematic variety here. But Kano is clearly a man on a mission. Moreover, there is no doubting the brilliance of the poetry Kano writes on the topic.

Frankly, the man is a lyrical genius, juxtaposition complex, ambitious, polysyllabic word choices with street slang and gutter-level obscenity. In English rap, his vocal delivery and grasp of flow are unrivalled, evoking someone like Busta Rhymes - the rapper's rapper and guy who can do it all. Like Busta, Kano's understanding of the rhythms of words and phrasing, his control and mastery of pace, and his grasp of 'vibe' are all second to none.

That he is a technical master on a microphone is not news, however. This is part of what made him so successful in the first place – look no further than his breakthrough hit, 2004’s P’s & Q’s and compare it to something like Dizzee Rascal's Fix Up, Look Sharp. Dizzee might have character, but Kano loves words. He uses them with assured judgement and impact, and is better with them on this new album than he has ever been.

Aside from the lyricism and clear message though, what has really changed on this album is the broadening of Kano’s musical palette. On this record, he does use some familiar tricks – squeakily pitch-shifted vocal hooks, reverb-heavy pianos, and big basslines, but alongside them he deploys epic string sections, steel drums, acapella, and soaring gospel choirs - often in mid-song switch-ups for clear artistic effect.

Several songs on the album switch pace midway, and seem headed in one direction before taking left turns; it is impossible to get bored, and the vast array of musical inspirations and instrument choices are impressive, tipping their hat to Grime’s past and its place in the wider canon of modern pop while also pushing into new territory.

Admittedly, part of what made Grime so refreshing in its earliest days was its simple shamelessness; it emerged at a time when internet piracy had left the recording industry on its knees, and when the concept of the album as a cohesive musical form was undergoing a re-evaluation. In response, Grime came into being as a live music form, with artists freestyling and ‘clashing’ live on air or at house parties and in dingy clubs in scary London boroughs.

Growing out of this clash-culture, the imperative for Grime’s earliest artists was to make money. They released White Label instrumentals over which it was intended others would rap, and singles were broadly released to fill dancefloors and, if possible, prompt riots to raise awareness of them.

Kano was part of that scene, and his destruction of Wiley in the first ever Lord of the Mics is the stuff of legend.

As such though, it is hard to call Hoodies All Summer a Grime album. It is too diverse, encompassing dancehall, pop balladry and ambient house.

Those looking for something more traditionally 'Grimey' should look to Skepta’s latest (and, in my opinion, rather boring) album, or to rising star Slowthai, whose debut Nothing Great About Britain from earlier this year follows the traditional Grime template to the letter.

This album is more akin to something like Brian Wilson’s Smile, or The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. It lacks the narrative through-line to make it a full-blown concept album, but it is certainly progressive, and bears comparison’s to both Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Chance The Rapper’s Colouring Book.

It is not, ultimately, a record that you are likely to pop on and start grooving to straight away, if ever. But it really rewards repeat listening, is extremely rich, and does not waste your time.

Indeed, Kano has been a professional musician for almost 20 years now, and as he says on closing track SYM, between the piano, glockenspiel, gospel choir, swirling bass and rising, dissonant drums, “This isn’t for the culture, it’s for the connoisseur.”

10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page