Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Kano – This is England

Grime veteran and actor gets hyperlocal…


Maxwell Cavaseno: After a string of still respectable singles while rolling with the legendary N.A.S.T.Y. Crew (an easy top 3 contender for greatest MC collective out of the UK, even without Dizzee’s temporary affiliations), Kano released Home Sweet Home in 2004, which remains the defining moment of his life, for better or worse. Since then Kano’s made several albums, each promising a return to form and each worse than the next. His former friend and protege Ghetto aka Ghetts has run laps around him creatively, and his former rivals Wiley and Dizzee have grown in stature. As a result, his newest album is like the 140 Grime Streets or Jack Bauer mixtapes of years before: “THE BEST THING HE’S DONE SINCE HOME SWEET HOME”. And it’s still not that good. “This is England” is just patchwork marching pride, stiff punchlines, a rubbery flow meant for garage skip ambling through open-ended boom-bap nonsense. And no matter how hard he tries, Kano will still be asked once this song and its supporting album is forgotten, to try and top Home Sweet Home.

Alfred Soto: Like the Clash song with which it shares a title, “This is England” purports to give the definitive front page story about The Way We Live Now. I too hope the masses rise, and with a horn chart like this one why not. But the sweet vocal intoning “wheels keep on turnin'” is a touch of treacle.

Thomas Inskeep: The new theme of Visit England (it could be, at least): solid, inoffensive grime praising Kano’s home nation.

Jer Fairall: For a wannabe anthem, or at least a wannabe TV theme, the horns provide the necessary forward momentum, stalled only by a brief, maudlin refrain that nevertheless reveals a lack of confidence at the heart of the whole thing. It is understandable why Kano would want to hedge his bets, though; as a rapper, he’s enthusiastic but technically amateurish, and what is good here still isn’t good enough to overcome that.

Iain Mew: This is not the song on his new album which has Damon Albarn on, but the dense brass fog with its nostalgia and edge of corrosion is a little like if Kano had guested with The Good, the Bad and the Queen instead of Gorillaz. The force of his initial line drawn from Reggie Kray and the moment when “get the party gassed” pivots into CS gas are the only moments where the lyrics tell a better story than the backing, but Kano does sardonic well enough to cover up some less inspired bits.

Brad Shoup: He starts by jacking Cam’ron, and from there… I don’t know. UK rap means the present to me, maybe the future. Never the past. So Kano talking about Suge — hell, even the getting rich/dying dichotomy — is off to me. “It’s not a hip hop party without a butt twerk,” says Kano, “It’s not a real rap song without a cuss word”. I can’t tell if he’s gotten conscious. Maybe that Sam Cooke reference is a clue. Melted horns are the sole provider of drama; it didn’t occur to anyone to find a surging R&B passage to loop.

Anthony Easton: The brass on this is forward enough that it makes an argument more poignant than Kano’s self-loathing and odd nostalgia for an England that never really exists. Also, about a minute too long. 

Scott Mildenhall: When you make a statement as sweeping as this, the important question to cover is just what is England. The answer: still predominantly London, but even then quite loosely. It’s understandable, and nothing new, but then not much else besides is. Half of the less specific references — Burberry, ASBOs, “face bothered” — are right out of 2005; even This is England is a decade old now, and so nothing really captures the imagination like it could. The brass deserves more and the chorus does too. There’s an ambition about this that is nowhere near realised.

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