There’s been so much hype regarding the latest release from Kane Robinson, more commonly known as Kano, and the pre-release singles were so strong, that at times it seemed that the East Ham MC could simply never live up to the expectations that were placed on him. But Made in the Manor delivers on a level that has made it, alongside JME’s Integrity>, a defining album of this new wave of grime.
The album opens with last March’s snarling, Tempa T-sampling single, “Hail”, which demands instant attention, marching through the heaviest heartlands of the grime jungle, as does another previous single, “New Banger”. But whilst Kano has proved time and time again that he can stand up and be counted alongside his hardest-spitting contemporaries, it’s in his introspective commentaries on life, fame, friends and family that this album reaches its lyrical apex. “What will come first, getting rich or the dying, the tears or the violins?” he questions on “T-Shirt Weather in The Manor”, where reflective piano chords soundtrack the depiction of London in the summertime. Kano uses that backdrop to explore the relationships he has with his surroundings, his friends and how his fame has changed the way he can relate to those that used to be close to.
It’s a theme that pervades the album, and the dynamics of the MC’s changing relationships with those around him are discussed on almost every song. “Little Sis” explores the lack of contact that Kano has with his step-sister, and reflects on the possibilities that could have been if he had spent more time trying to contact her. The track provides maybe the album’s most poignant moments, as Robinson ponders the fact that the sister in question may already have a kid that “Uncle Kane can’t gift – tiny baby Stan Smiths” that would match his own; or that he wasn’t able to give her husband the “De Niro” speech, so that he knew to treat her like a Queen.
“Strangers” is another gut-wrenchingly honest crooner, that dissects Kano’s relationship with his friend Dean, and cuts open the reasons that their once seemingly inseparable partnership fell apart. It’s soul-baring from the MC, and will instantly touch the chords of anyone who’s ever dealt with the fallout of friendships falling apart. The Damon Albarn-featuring “Deep Blues” juxtaposes the day to day excesses of fame with the deeply personal events going on with those around him. “Billy lost a baby,” he poses to the listener, “and all I lost was a grand popping bottles, and a day’s sleep.”
It’s testament to the album that it needs exploring almost song by song to fully appreciate it in all its glory. January single 3 Wheel-Ups is based around a ferocious horn hook, and features verses from Wiley and Giggs that would put lesser MCs to shame, but alongside which Kano manages to shine even brighter. On a track that will surely be, as if to prove a point, a wheel-up track for the summer of 2016 and well beyond, Kano manages to deliver one of the most politically charged accusations of recent times – “If you’re in DSTRKT popping that Goose boy, you’re not a direct rudeboy.” More than news articles or hashtags, Kano has almost certainly done the most damage to the club’s reputation single-handedly with that one line.
“Endz” and “A Roadman’s Hymn” are further investigations into the MC’s relationship with the streets that raised him, the psyches of those growing up alongside him and how he’s stuck in the dichotomy of being famous enough that his friends are looking for assistance, whilst not being famous enough to give them what they’re expecting, and then letting them down. It’s a strange place to be, you imagine, stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea in many ways, and again, Kano lets his listener know exactly how he feels about the entire situation. Closer “My Sound” evokes the steel drum style of dancehall crossover that Jamie XX explored last year on “Good Times”, and ends the album on an upbeat note, reinforcing the MC’s belief in his own sound being “the realest”.
I’ve intentionally left what are perhaps the two standout tracks until last because they perhaps sum up the album’s sound best. “Seashells in the East” revisits the East End and features one of the catchiest choruses of the LP, again using the horns that have worked so well for Kano in the past, alongside some charged bars regarding how the MC moved above the illicit activities going on around him growing up, and a spoken word interlude that evokes a British twist on Gil Scott-Heron. That leaves only “This is England”, a track that can only be described as a grime symphony, with a brass backing track to rival “War” by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and a pre-hook reminiscent of The Streets’ Leo the Lion at his soulful best, Kano is freed to talk the glory days of the breakout grime scene with characteristic passion and unleashes his storytelling potential to its devastating best.
It’s telling that “GarageSkankFREESTYLE” and “Flow of the Year”, both rampant singles in their own right, are made into only bonus tracks on the album, and whilst they’re both brilliant singles and tracks in their own right, it feels like Kano has crafted an album here which he has fine-tuned his message on, baring his innermost thoughts, and exploring his relationship with his hometown, his friends, his family and his fame in what can only be described as an introspective, soul-searching masterpiece. It still has the hard hitters, the party anthems and the tracks to throw down during the shows he’ll follow this up with, but it feels like so much more than that – it’s a near-perfect album in its own right and deserves to be listened to as such. What Kano’s managed to produce then, is the first seminal and truly classic album of grime’s new wave, and in doing so, has cemented his place in the pantheon of the greatest British artists of both his genre and generation.