'Home Sweet Home Season' What is 'Home' to Kano?
Author: Daniel David | Friday 3rd July 2020
This last Saturday, we celebrated the 15th anniversary of Kano's classic 'Home Sweet Home' album. Today I finish my coverage of the album, the themes it touches on and I round it out with a general look back. Lets go.
Bonus Track - Boys Love Girls
Where do bonus tracks fall in the narrative of an album? Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut ‘Good Kid m.A.A.d City’ builds up to a whole story until the culmination of the track ‘Compton’ with Dr. Dre, a celebration of their hometown. Then for some of us, the next track is ‘The Recipe,’ for others it is ‘County Building Blues’ then for others it is ‘Collect Calls.’ These bonus songs scattered through various releases are not part of the narrative of the album, they don’t necessarily fit in the sound or the theme of the album, they sometimes will be throwaways, some are older songs, some are just incentives to buy the album in certain stores.
I say all that to say this, I am starting at the end today and that is the bonus track on ‘Home Sweet Home.’ This track, produced by Kano himself was one of the first songs Kano released and was a big hit on pirate radio. It is a boastful track, with Kano brimming with confidence, and it was the track that got Kano the attention that he deserved. But, I will be honest, it always came across as a bit jarring following the songs that preceded it. As I am going to talk about, the 3 tracks prior to this are Kano spitting like a man wise beyond his years, something Kano has continued to do since. So while this song is a banger and gets a reaction if played isolated, it’s a weird bookend to the album. But that’s why I wrote all that about bonus tracks, they are extras on the album, not part of the album narrative itself. And with that we move on to:
How We Livin
Last year Kano released ‘Hoodies All Summer’ an album, which looking at what is currently going on in the country, almost seemed prophetic. But Kano has always been able to speak from a place of maturity, without seeming preachy, a tough juggling act. In these 3 songs, starting with ‘How We Livin,’ Kano is speaking on the situation he sees around him, a broken system that forces people in to crime
“Slinging, 'cause that's all you can manage when you've been into prison,”
Disenfranchised individuals calling out for someone to hear them:
“Killing cos that's the only language people listen to”
But Kano goes beyond the social commentary and actually presents himself in this dilemma between getting caught up on road and staying clean, exhibiting his insecurities:
I'm dreading that my time's up soon, Might die with the nines up soon, Or do something dumb and get picked out of the line-up soon, Cos I'm in two minds and I know what's wrong and I know what's right, And i know I'm strong and I don't just say this shit when I write
This is why 15 years later Kano is so revered and respected. He speaks from a place of familiarity, he isn’t above anyone, when he speaks about racism or violence, he is speaking with experience, it isn’t theory. This authenticity is what has made his career so successful and why he is as respected as he is. The beat provided by Terror Danjah, is very mellow, giving Kano's flow a conversational edge to it, which is helped by the first bars where he is asking various parts of London "how we livin?" This conversational aspect to it again helps with Kano's relatability, he is having a genuine exchange with people as opposed to coming across judgey. Kano's career has seen him continually return 'home' in various forms, and this helps making him relatable, he isn't a superstar rappers with chains and jewellery and flashy cars, he hasalways been able to be relevant to everyone.
Nobody Don’t Dance No More
Grime was born from the youth, the youth who weren't old enough to get into garage raves. The music was less flashy, grittier and spoke more of the realities of inner city living. Grime was a phenomenon that came through and changed the UK sound, and it met a push back from a whole host of people: hip hop heads; garage heads; the establishment. This song exemplifies the conflict that was taking place between Garage and Grime at the time.
Garage was about getting dressed up, getting a drink, and having a good time. Grime was tracksuits, street reporting and gunfingers. Grime wasn't about having a good time, it was about what life was like on ends. This conflict caused many to turn on Grime as a genre and the artists that produced it. Grime was looked down upon by garage fans who saw it as too aggressive and UK hip hop fans who saw it as not lyrical enough.
There are two ways you can look at this track, is Kano speaking from a different place or is he speaking for himself? After all at the time of recording he would only have been 18, he was one of the early Grime MCs, this song might be reflecting the experiences he has had from older people, who see his music as nothing but noise. Or it could be Kano again being beyond his own years, providing commentary on the transition in the UK underground scene from Garage to Grime and the changing demographics.
This attitude towards Grime went way beyond people looking down on it. 2005 saw the introduction of Form 696, a form music promoters had to fill in to survey the danger of the event. The form included a question asking whether there would be ethnic minorities at the event along with asking the type of music that would be played. The form made it really hard for MCs and rappers to do their job, with events routinely being cancelled even after tickets had started to be sold. This wholly racist form was eventually scrapped in 2017 in London, but only after stunting the opportunities for many artists whose main source of income would have been performances and touring.
Fraser T. Smith laced this beat up, giving Kano a chance to kick things off over a garage beat, before it gets bassier, darker, leading Kano to lament on the fact that people aren’t going out for a good time anymore, instead going out to see “who they might move to.”
Signs in Life
Here we go, the culmination, the main event of this album. It is operatic, anthemic, sounding like something out of the end scene of a movie. This is Rocky music, this is training montage music, this is the perfect climax to the album, encapsulating so many of the themes Kano has spoken about on the previous 14 songs. With this one Kano is again presenting the conundrum that he himself and other people in similar circumstances face when they run out of options. On the first verse he articulates how crime can lead to being imprisoned:
“Crap, you ain't so rich now, I bet you feel like a prick now, Cos where's all your fancy shit now, Where's your whips, chicks and your bits now, Shit, you should have fixed up, Fuck drugs, the mic you should have picked up”
But on the last verse he admits that it’s not easy as just picking up a Microphone:
“And I'll stop crime whenever this grime decides to pay, grime ain't making me meals, So I'm picking up a 9 today, And spitting ain't getting me deals”
This dichotomy for up and coming artists who are trying to make it in the music industry but not making enough to get by is a real struggle that artists have. We have seen it now with so many drill artists, on the precipice of making it big, getting caught up in something crazy, and just like that they lose opportunities.
Kano really lays it all out on this track, something which has become a trademark of his career. Kano’s music has really stood out when he has got personal, whether it’s reflecting on his career on ‘Layer Cake’ reminiscing on the communal feel on hot summer days on ‘T-Shirt Weather in the Manor’ or revisiting many of the themes on this very album on ‘Endz.’
The whole theme of the album can be summarised by the closing bars on the first verse where Kano says
The ghetto lifestyles too much, If I bust, be proud of me, You can't take it out of me, So I'm a bit stuck, But, I got too much to lose now, Love my life, and I don't wanna lose out, I'm still about, I'm home sweet home, In the ends, like I don't wanna move out
The whole album Kano has been about struggling to juggle between the roads and the mainstream. He wants to make it as an artist, but only to the point where is comfortable, and no matter how much he might try and distance himself from the ends, it is still part of him. But the ends also can bring trouble, whether it is death or prison, Kano loves his life and doesn't want to lose out. This struggle is a perfect analogy for his career. With the release of Home Sweet Home, Kano was on the precipice of mainstream, but it was the next couple of albums that were real shots at getting mainstream success, with the “ends” feeling like he had turned his back on them. It was the return with the aptly titled ‘Made in The Manor’ that saw Kano reclaim his throne with the follow up ‘Hoodies all Summer’ gaining similar plaudits, and that is where Kano seems most comfortable. You see the videos from those albums, and home, East Ham, plays a major part in them. Kano’s inner struggles on ‘Home Sweet Home,’ making the decision between the two is something many people have gone through, but it was through his embracing of home that Kano was able to get the most success.
And with that, we have reached the end of ‘Home Sweet Home.’ An album that has achieved classic status in the UK. Kano has always been an exceptional MC and every release has exhibited that, but with this one it is the vulnerabilities and introspective tracks that really stand out. With his past few releases, Kano has been a fully grown man, his career established, having received all the plaudits he deserves, speaking from a place of wisdom. But with ‘Home Sweet Home’ it’s a teenager, baring all of his vulnerabilities and insecurities for the world to see. All the questions that come with being an 18 year old along with the pressure that comes with signing to a major label, navigating your way through the industry while still staying true to your roots.
The album soundtracked many people’s summers in 2005, P’s and Q’s one of the first singles got a lot of play, Brown Eyes and Nite Nite became the MSN screen name generator for all the sweet boys. ‘9 to 5,’Sometimes,’ and ‘Signs in Life,’ did the same for the pseudo deep thinkers. It has soundtracked key moments in people’s life, for example, just over 3 years ago now, I met my future brother in law to discuss marrying my now wife, we sat in his car and on his playlist came on ‘Signs in Life.’ Hearing the songs on this album immediately takes me back to 2005, I was in year 10, so everyone had it on their phone sending around via bluetooth or infrared.
The sound of the album was hotly debated, Kano made his name but his musical roots were in a range of things, and this album reflects that. From garage and jungle, to rock and hip hop, Kano shines no matter the backdrop and that is something that has continued throughout his musical career, and something he has done seamlessly.
'Home Sweet Home’ was a perfect launching point for both Kano as an artist and Grime as a genre. With it we saw that Grime goes beyond a 140 bpm, it is about an attitude. There are some artists from that time period who turned their back completely on Grime, but Kano never did, he has always gone back to that, because that is also his home. I mean ‘Class of 07’ with Ghetts and D Double E isn’t just one of the best tracks on ‘Hoodies All Summer’ but it is also one of the best grime tracks in years.
You can find a ‘Home’ in many things, from actual physical homes, to areas, to music, to people. The ‘Home’ that Kano keeps going back to are the artists he continues to work with, the sound that made him so revered, the East Ham area he grew up in. Kano’s wings have spread since the release of his album, but he has always returned home.