#ThrowbackThursday 'Home Sweet Home Season' Kano, Mike Skinner and Jay-Z
Author: Daniel David | Thursday 25th June 2020
Last time I looked at Typical Me, a rock-tinged team up with Ghetts about the problems with bouncers and then a trio of Mikey J songs which saw Kano get deep and introspective. Today we get a couple of sweet boy songs, then a salsa influenced and rock-influenced track. But more importantly, I get to look at Kano's relationship with 2 different artists who mean a lot to him, Jay-Z and Mike Skinner. Let's go.
Nite Nite feat Mike Skinner and Leo the Lion
And we have the first appearance of Sweet Boy Kano. With this one, Kano recruited label mate, the legend that is Mike Skinner to provide the beat and spoken intro. Mike Skinner was riding really high at this time following the release of his incredibly successful album ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free.’ Kano’s rollout coincided with the release of this album, the label using Mike Skinner’s success and fame to introduce their new artist to the world. Kano had star appearances on the remix to ‘Fit But You Know It’ and ‘Get Out of My House’ and an appearance on The Mitchell Brothers classic ‘Routine Check’ song.
By the time of the release of Home Sweet Home, Mike Skinner was a national treasure. ‘Original Pirate Material’ his debut album had skyrocketed him into the consciousness and ‘A Grand Don’t Come for Free,’ solidified his place, 'Fit But You Know It' was a huge hit, 'Dry Your Eye's became an anthem when England got knocked out of the Euro. He was everywhere.
But despite Mike’s huge mainstream, he was always one to reach into the scene and show appreciation to artists he enjoyed by featuring them on his albums and remixes. His second single ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’ received a remix from Roll Deep, which was so early in Roll Deep’s days, that a very young Dizzee Rascal featured. With the release of his second album, Mike Skinner released remixes to 4 different tracks off the album with a host of MCs including D Double E, Ghetts, Bruza, Tinchy Stryder and Donae’o. This run would continue into his third album, the Pranging out remix featuring Ghetts, Skepta, Wretch, Bossman Birdie, Frisco, Tinchy Stryder and the When You Wasnt Famous remix with Doctor and Bearman and then a mixtape ‘Cyberspace and Reds’ with features including Trim, Wiley, Ice Kid, Jammer, Scru Fizzer and Kano himself amongst others. That love for the scene has extended beyond features on his own music, as Mike has done production or features for people like Giggs and more recently Dimzy. And upon his return to music as The Streets, he has worked with Jaykae, Chip, Grim Sickers and will have features from Dapz on the Map, Ms Banks and Oscar #Worldpeace on his upcoming mixtape.
All of that is to say that Mike Skinner's appreciation for Grime and Hip Hop ran deep, his choice of features has always ranged from the bigger names in the scene to up and comers. Kano was actually someone Mike was interested in signing to his label The Beats. Instead, Kano signed to 679 recordings meaning they were label mates instead. The 'Fit But You Know It' video was Kano's first video appearance, and after that Mike Skinner took Kano on his first tour. This relationship has gone beyond just label mates. In a 2016 interview, Kano said of Mike "At the beginning of this album, I didn’t think to myself, I’m going to make an album like Original Pirate Material or A Grand Don’t Come For Free. But those are two of my favourite albums and Mike Skinner’s one of my favourite artists – he’s inspired me in many ways, On ‘Drinking in the West End’, there are bits in my flow where I hear Skinner in myself.”
So while I am sure the choice to have a Mike Skinner beat and co-sign on ‘Home Sweet Home’ was partly a label decision, it did come from an organic place. Mike was obviously a fan and that feeling was reciprocated. And the label decision worked, as Mike Skinner’s mainstream success gave Kano a chance to have a crossover hit. On ‘Layer Cake’ Kano spits “But I don’t think UK's ready, My tune's on heavy rotation cause it’s got Mike on,” alluding to the fact that ‘Nite Nite’ received more attention from mainstream outlets because of the Mike Skinner feature.
‘Nite Nite’ is one of the most memorable songs of the album. How many people had lyrics from this as their MSN screen name? The song also showed another side of Kano, that even though on ‘P’s and Q’s’ he said ‘girls like me but I ain’t a sweet boy’ this was a sweet boy anthem. And it stood out at a time where grime was peeking into the mainstream, as this felt like a genuine crossover attempt by a label. NME magazine mentioned that when they first spoke to Kano about working with Mike Skinner that he said it was going to be “on a tune called ‘Long Ting’, all about those girls who give it a bit of eyelash and then bugger off in a cab when you go to buy them a Bacardi Breezer.” But by the time the album was released, it had evolved into a tender tribute. Could that be because circumstances had changed, or again a label decision.
The relationship between Kano and Mike Skinner is that of mutual respect. Even though Mike was the bigger artist on a mainstream level, his reverence for the underground scene and Kano, in particular, seems very genuine. They always big each other up in interviews, even years after having last worked together, Kano in an interview said that ‘Original Pirate Material’ is his second most listened to the album, Mike said that Kano is "one of the greatest rappers this country has ever seen." Kano chose to cover 'Has it Come To This' for the BBC in 2016. In an industry where many friendships are manufactured by labels, it is nice to that Kano and Mike Skinner have maintained that mutual respect beyond the day when they were label mates. And now that The Streets is coming back, it would be nice to get another Kano collaboration at some point.
Part 2 of the foray into sweet boy raps, ‘Brown Eyes’ was the 4th single from the album after Nite Nite. The DaVinChe is very different from the ‘P’s and Q’s,’ the other beat he provided for the album, utilising sped-up vocal samples, a sound that had been popularised stateside by producers like Kanye West, Just Blaze and Heatmakerz for Dipset.
In an interview with Mike Atkinson Kano said: “You might get the impression of me from Brown Eyes and Nite Nite that I’m a bit of a romantic, a bit of a ladies’ man. I’m not really, you know. (Laughter) I’m not really! I’m maybe speaking of one relationship that I’ve had, and that one relationship out of the year that we’re living in is not much.”
A common trait of early albums from artists is that the label pushes them to release songs that try and cater to all markets. So an album has to have a club tune, a street tune, a girl tune, an introspective tune, a song with an R and B hook etc There are many reasons, for this, the label will have paid a big advance and will want a return on their investment. Labels feel like they're doing an artist a favour by signing to them, and try and make the artist feel indebted to them, so label involvement will be heavy on a first album. Grime was first bubbling and Boy In Da Corner had been a huge success, so labels wanted to capitalise on it but make it palatable to a mainstream audience. So it takes a while for an artist to establish themselves and able to have more say in the direction of their album. Kano has excelled at this. His most recent albums have been very concept-driven, allowing Kano to do things in his own way. This evolution of an artist is important. It’s not that these songs are bad, it just feels very label is driven, where Kano now is able to do his own thing completely.
The most memorable thing about this song is the video. Kano, Demon, Ghetts and Dangermouse catching a vibe in an off licence, sitting in a car with the licence plate ‘Buffers’ and getting the uncle who owns the off licence buss a little skank. The video is a fun and youthful, everyone looks so young, Ghetts with hardly any hair, boot cuts everywhere. This one reminds me of Roll Deep’s Shake A Leg which was released on ‘In At The Deep End’ a few weeks before the release of ‘Home Sweet Home’ Songs like these might not be the most lyrical or the grimiest, but they’re fun and nostalgic and give listeners an opportunity to let their hair down when experiencing an album. The final part of the album gets quite heavy and introspective, so something like this is a palette cleanser before we get to the main event.
I Don't Know Why
Hip Hop and rock music have a storied history of collaborations and sampling each other’s work with varying results.. This track here is produced by Paul Epworth and samples Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs.’ This is not the first or last time this song was sampled for a Hip Hop song. Ice-T sampled on the intro for his 1987 album ‘Crime Pay’s.’ Beanie Sigel rapped over a sample of it for his comeback album following his release from prison and his classic album The B. Coming for a track called The Day of The Solution album. Kano is in esteemed company.
This song sounds like an attempt to replicate the sound and success of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems. In the early days around this album’s release, when journalists wanted to box UK artists into comparisons with American artists, the one that Kano got most compared to was Jay-Z. In fact, some UK outlets tried to make Klashnekoff the Nas to Kano’s Jay-Z.
Kano, like all of us, is a huge Jay-Z fan, in a feature with The Guardian he said the album he has listened to the most is ‘The Blueprint’. And the respect has been reciprocated. Kano supported Jay-Z on his 2007 UK tour. And in 2010, in an interview with DJ Semtex, Jay-Z gave Kano a shout out following a performance at Madison Square Garden with Gorillaz.
To be compared to Jay-Z I am sure for Kano was a huge compliment, and it is interesting to see the similarities between Jay-Z and Kano’s careers and also to look at the potential for Kano’s career. Jay-Z is 50 and Kano is 35. Over the last few years, we have seen Kano spread his wings away from the music scene, acting in Top Boy. We are also reaching a point in the Grime scene where the first round of artists are now older and might look to establish themselves more as label executives. A tweet went around recently that Grime is almost 20 years, Hip Hop was 20 years old when you started to see more entrepreneurs and label heads also being artists like Master P, Jay-Z and Birdman. Wiley has recently been talking starting a new label, Dizzee had Dirtee Stank for years, will Kano follow suit and start to make moves in the record label industry? Kano has of late become almost like an elder statesman figure within the scene, the signing of an artist would solidify that.
Musically there have also been similarities between Kano and Jay-Z. Both of them have had periods were critics turned against them for various reasons. Vol 1 - Vol 3 Jay-Z saw critics make Jay-Z the embodiment of materialistic and misogynistic rap. Rap critics always admired Jay but mainstream critics turned against him. Then The Blueprint came out. That album was the solidification of the GOAT status for Jay which continued with The Black Album, American Gangster and 4:44 in particular. Similarly, there have been moments when Kano has fallen out of favour with critics. But it was ‘Made in the Manor’ which brought Kano back into the spotlight and people started recognising him as one of the best in this country. Now both of them are in a position where they can do what they like musically, no longer having to follow trends, albums released at their own pace etc.
And also there skills as rappers, Jay-Z is one of if not the GOAT. Kano is one of if not the best in this country. Both them have excelled lyrically, exhibiting wordplay regardless of where they have gone musically, both of them have a conversational delivery which allows them to speak to everyone at their own level. And both of them are respected by their peers. So while many of the comparisons to US artists were lazy journalists trying to box in UK artists for their audiences, the Kano and Jay-Z comparison, in the long run, might have been the most fitting.
Next we reach the end, and what a way to end it. I look at what bonus tracks mean for albums, the street life on ‘How We Livin,’ changes in dance culture on ‘Nobody Don’t Dance No More’ and the classic ‘Signs in Life.’