Grime’s profile has never been greater, its bond with hip-hop never tighter. At last year’s Brit Awards, Kanye West was flanked by a cabal of UK MCs — including Skepta, Stormzy, and Jammer — when he performed his single “All Day”. More recently, Drake announced on Instagram that he’d signed to Skepta’s Boy Better Know imprint. Grime artists are rightly scrambling to capitalise on this heightened visibility.
By no means a rookie, Kane Robinson — star of Channel 4’s crime drama Top Boy — has been hustling since the early-2000s. Known in the grime arena as Kano, Robinson grew up in a house on East London’s Manor Road. As a teenager, he joined the N.A.S.T.Y. Crew — which also consisted of Jammer, Mac 10, and D Double E, among others — a group that’s now etched in the annals of grime lore. Made in the Manor, Kano’s fifth LP, sees the rapper revisiting his childhood haunts in an attempt to come to terms with his past. In a Guardian documentary on the making of his latest record, Kano is candid about the stories that informed Manor. “I think this album is kind of about a personal journey and family,” he says. “It seems a bit cliché[d] to say, ‘If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.’ But I think there is a bit of truth to that.”
The record commences with a selection of certified ‘choons’. “Hail”, the opening cut, is an in-your-face fusion of arena rock and EDM. “New Banger” is similarly bombastic, with its obnoxious synthetic horns. Meanwhile, “3 Wheel-Ups” has an all-star lineup: Kano shares the track with Wiley — who he previously clashed with at Lord of the Mics in 2004 — and Giggs.
The structure of the record is disarming, insofar as the first few songs see Kano playing the part of the charismatic rogue, while the rest of the LP is all somber self-reflection. He treats the topic of estrangement on “Little Sis” and “Strangers”, which are about his half-sister and his former friend, Dean, respectively. “I knew if I… talk[ed] about stories that I lived through, and people that mean a lot to me, you know, you’re gonna have the good times and the bad times,” Kano tells the Guardian, “the nice side to the Manor and… the slightly more sinister side.” However, there really isn’t enough parity between these good and bad times on Manor. From the outset, listeners are positioned to expect an album of wall-to-wall hype tracks, but once the mid-section rolls around, it soon becomes clear that’s not what they’re going to get. Rarely is it a good sign when an album’s bonus track makes you wonder what could have been. Kano flows over a UK garage beat with supreme confidence on “Garageskankfreestyle”, a track unleashed on the world in 2015.
While his veteran presence allows him to sufficiently navigate his way through introspective material, Kano’s simply more commanding when he’s at the helm of so-called bangers. Consequently, Made in the Manor is an exercise in dashed expectations.