Written by Kwesi Sekyi

While never shying away from the realities of his native Newham, rapper Kano managed to pulse an infectious joy and energy through the filled seats of the Albert Hall for the whole of his 90 minutes. Between reprising his role as Sully in the recently revived Top Boy and releasing his fifth studio album, Hoodies All Summer, the East London rapper has had a busy year. But if there was any Kano fatigue, it couldn’t be found in a crowd of fanatics who religiously rapped back a set heavy with his newest material. Kojey Radical, a star in alternative UK Rap, performed an opening set packed with his offbeat aesthetic and plenty of spoken word, including a moving tribute to his close friend, model Harry Uzoka, who was stabbed to death in 2018.  Kano came on to the violin strains of Free Years Later – he sounds just as natural on slower, more introspective tracks as he does on the frenetic grime beats he built his career on. The night quickly became a story of how seamlessly he could change the atmosphere – from the cold, thudding, nostalgic synths of Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil to the unrelenting hype of GarageSkankFreestyle, Kano lifted the show between tones with ease. Showing his true prowess as a live performer, the musical accompaniments never once felt gimmicky; the live choir gave tracks like the sardonic and politely named SYM the same loftiness as the studio versions, and his 2004 classic Ps and Qs – a track that needs no introduction or help – was elevated to an almost ethereal level by a brass band.

The definite highlight of the night was the performance of Class of Deja, a track so anticipated that it was teased, then immediately wheeled up, under Kano’s advice that “You’re not ready for that yet”, to be played later in the show. If there were any doubts that the Hoodies track has already cemented itself as a grime classic, being witness – and party – to the way the hollowed-out church erupted at its opening notes instantly evaporated them. Even while missing the song’s all-star features in Ghetts and D Double E, the experience alone of being one of 2,000 people perfectly recreating Ghetts and Kano’s incredible back-and-forth is almost worth charging separately. After an encore that included 3 Wheel Ups (a frantic track that the brass band again came on stage for), the house lights came on and the audience were ushered out to Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam – a Jamaican classic whose inclusion nodded to Kano’s proud heritage, as well as putting an emotional cherry on top of a show that, with its embracing of traditional grime set elements and Kano’s Patois-tinged delivery, had already felt so affirmed in its Black British identity. Kano’s reluctance to lean on his old material and the almost mathematical brilliance of his staging and performance continues to put him a cut above many of the grime originals who came up with him, and even the most surface rap fan will leave this gig feeling adrenaline from the hype, warmth from the nostalgia, and reflection from the grittier stories told, often within seconds of each other.

You can check KANO’s latest work here.