When you bare your soul on a project, what left is there to give? Kano faced that exact predicament following the release of 2016's Made in the Manor album. As a godfather of the grime scene, the East Londoner began to look outward and survey the systemic social issues plaguing the U.K. for his entire adult life.
"I realized it's not about me, it's more about we. Once I refocused, that opened so much up," he says of the inspiration behind what came to be his Hoodies All Summer album. "The Britain and London areas are dealing with a lot right now, so it was the perfect time to have a dialogue and an open conversation."
The 34-year-old MC realizes he might not have all the answers just yet, but asking the right questions is a great start. While getting brutally candid on hot-button issues such as housing gentrification, knife crime, police brutality, and gang violence, Kano also balances the scale by celebrating the culture's wins throughout the compact 10-track effort.
The last month of summer is a busy time for the multi-hyphenate entertainer, who will also revive his role as Sully for season three of Netflix's Top Boy, which returns on Sept. 13. The crime drama series had been dormant since 2013 — that was until Drake went on a crusade to bring the show back to life. Kano credits Drizzy for playing an integral role in making Top Boy's Netflix deal come to fruition.
"When the old season got put on Netflix, that spread it around the world," Kano explains. "From there it was like, "This has to happen." When I finally got the call, it was just exciting. That excitement quickly turned to, "If we're going to do this, it has to be made with the same integrity as it was before."
Check out the rest of our interview with the East Londoner below, as he dishes on the politically-driven Hoodies All Summer, the state of East Ham, Top Boy, and his conversations with Drake.
Billboard: What made you title the project Hoodies All Summer?
Kano: On "Teardrops," I say, "When it rains it pours, so we're wearing hoodies all summer." I feel like it always rains on our community. We're always getting shitted on, but the hoodie is our protection and the resilience. It's like a defense mechanism.
With this album, it seems as if you're looking outward at your community, rather than with the last project, where you looked more inward to assess yourself.
That's a very accurate assessment. When I initially started, it was three years ago, going to the studio and not really knowing what to say and what more I could reveal about myself. Especially with the times we're living in now, I feel that it's a very crucial time around the world. I didn't want it to feel like I was preaching or talking down on people. It was just this genuine conversation.
That reminds me of a quote I heard from Run-D.M.C., "Music succeeds where politics and religion fail."
That's a great quote because it's not telling people how to think, it's just sharing my perspective and giving my opinion. I get it because I also understand your point of view too. I've been where you've been and I'm not judging. Even if you catch it some years down the line, it's something that just had to be said now.
When I was watching your interview with Akala, one quote that really stuck out to me was when you said, "I'm making songs in the moment, but not for the moment."
Yeah, people follow trends. Music changes every year, but some people are great at riding waves and then they're doing something different next year. It's like me doing a drill-inspired tune because U.K. drill is popping at the moment in the street. That's not what it's about to me. The aim is to speak about today, but have timeless music.
You touch on a ton of heavy social issues plaguing London such as police brutality, housing gentrification, knife crime, and gangs. What changes do you hope to see around the city?
Yeah, these are things going on across the country and it's a lot to deal with. I think music is great at posing a question. It doesn't always have to give the answer, but it can open the dialogue. I hope that people take something good from it. I also hope that I inspire with what I'm doing and people look up to me. Not that I want to alter a generation, but I want to inspire.
I talk about all the stuff you just mentioned, but I also mentioned the stuff we need to celebrate. There is reason for optimism and hope, because so much good is happening as well. People that came before us might be like, "Yo, you've got it great." But we don't want to be complacent. We've got way more to achieve now. It's about bigging each other up as well.
Do you see yourself as a bridge between the older generation and the youth?
I don't go into the studio with that aim, but they know what kind of place I'm coming from. It's real and it connects with people. If my way of connecting with the younger generation was to do what they do, they would see through it straight away. I have to keep it real to be who I am, and I think they see that. Maybe I can help bridge that, but it all stems from being true to yourself.
One of my favorite bars from the album was on "Can't Hold We Down" when you say, "You can take the kid out the ends, but you can't take the ends out the kid."
We grew up and I feel like we're achieving a level of success through music that's allowing us to see the world. I want that for people where I come from. I want them to achieve that same thing through their passions. It's important that when we reach these places, that we still are who we are, and we never forget where we come from. I will always be that kid.
I think that a lot of the social issues you touch on are also prevalent in America as well. Even if that wasn't your original intention, Americans can also relate to what you're saying.
As much as I'm talking about London and Britain, it's really going on around the entire world. Most definitely, Americans can relate to it. They're going through the hardest times. We kind of know the Americans, but I don't know if Americans know our struggle as much. We heard what Public Enemy was saying way back when, and they were teaching a lot of people over here.
You mention LeBron James' house being vandalized with a racial slur on "Teardrops." Was that just to signify no matter how rich or beloved someone is, they're never above racism?
That's the thing — they always want to remind you of who they think you are. No matter how high you get in this world, you're always going to deal with this kind of oppression. That's a shame, but that's reality. There's always room for improvement. We have to change the narrative. We can't let them tell our story because some people don't see us as shit.
Why end the album with "SYM?" Is "suck your mum" a popular saying over in London?
Yeah, I don't know what the American equivalent is, but it's one of the worst things you can say. That's immediate fighting talk. Laughs.] It's the harshest thing to say. When you're listening, you realize that it's not funny and it's actually serious. We're in this predicament because of hundreds of years of oppression, and it's kind of celebrating the generation that came before us. It's bigging them up because of the fight they had to go through, so we could have a say now. But it's also about taking that bat and moving forward and making progress.
You're a pretty busy guy right now. With Top Boy premiering on Sept. 13, speak to me about getting that call to reboot the show and how you feel heading into episode one.
It's a busy time right now. About a year since my last album was solely dedicated to Top Boy. I'm excited for it to come back. It's one of those where it's been six years since the last season. After a couple years, you figured the talk was going to die down, but every year it just grew. I think having more episodes is good because we can really dive into more characters and start peeling back the layers. You can spend time and really humanize this person. In four episodes, you just don't get to show all of that, but with ten, we did.
What was Drake's involvement with the show and what were your experiences with him like? Was he on set at all?
He wasn't on set, but we met beforehand. He was quite integral in getting the Netflix deal done. He's a fan of the show. First, he wanted to know if there was going to be another season], then he asked if there was anything he could do to make that happen. That's when the Netflix deal happened. He said, "I don't want to get involved too much. I want you to make the show you always did. You don't need to try to dress it up for an American audience. It needs to be exactly the same. If you need me, I'm here. And if you don't, cool." He was really cool about it and I respect him for that.