Time Out finds out how grime star Kano is adapting to the pressures of success and why he doesn’t care about breaking America.
You might expect a 23-year-old whose fanbase includes musical heavyweights Jay-Z, Nas and Outkast’s André 3000 to be somewhat obnoxious and a little big-headed. But London grime artist Kano is far from it. He’s not even upset to have missed out on the chance to party with Kylie and Denzel Washington at the Atlantis launch last month. ‘If that was the guestlist then I don’t belong there,’ he says from his London home. ‘They’re megastars.’ We don’t mention that UK talk-show host Vanessa Feltz had been invited too.
Born Kane Brett Robinson, Kano started out making beats and rhymes in his bedroom for fun, before joining the Nasty Crew, an East London-based Grime team, who gave him credibility and, more importantly, valued air time on the Déjà Vu pirate radio station. Three years later, he found himself with a record deal. ‘That was an incredible time for me,’ he recalls in a thick East London accent. ‘That’s when it became a real job. Before that I never thought I’d be able to make a career out of music. You see success happen to other people, but you don’t think it’ll happen to you. But I stayed strong and pursued it.’
Since releasing his 2004 debut solo single, ‘P’s & Q’s’, Kano has bagged a Mobo award and a Brit Award nomination, and was even named one of London’s Heroes in 2005, by the city’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone. And now, as his steady climb to the musical top continues, Kano’s opening himself up to other opportunities. ‘I would be interested in making a movie if the right thing came along and there has been some interesting stuff that is being talked about. But until it’s confirmed, I can’t say any more,’ he explains.
Not that he’s been in a hurry to hit Hollywood. ‘I wasn’t sure about branching out before. I think it’s important to establish yourself in the field that you’re in before you can test out other avenues.’
So now that he has three albums under his belt – 140 Grime Street was released this year – does that mean we’ll be wearing Kano fragrances and threads any time soon? ‘Everyone always asks me about Hugo Boss asking me to do a campaign, but it’s not true. They never asked and it’s not something that appeals to me anyway,’ he reveals. ‘And it’s not my ambition to have a fragrance, either.’ Nor is the fame-shy MC fussed about breaking the US. ‘America isn’t the be-all and end-all,’ he says. ‘I think there are so many people who are interested in the UK scene and we have a unique sound. Not many genres that come from outside of America are able to break into that country.’
This realistic, down-to-earth attitude is perhaps what has helped Kano avoid the pitfalls of other young stars. He still has his old, pre-fame friends and doesn’t like to hang out with the celeb set. ‘I’m not trying to get in with any in-crowd. The majority of my friends are ones I’ve always had and you’ll find my brother and my cousins backstage at my shows.’ Even when we probe him about Jay-Z being a fan, he coolly replies, ‘Well apparently so. And I did open for him on his last UK tour.’ That said, he does admit that Jay-Z would be his dream collaborator. ‘He’s one of my favourite rappers and has been for a long time, so when the time is right maybe it’ll happen.’
The world according to Kano.
Kano on: minding his P’s and Q’s. I’m polite when I’m happy. Unless it’s in front of my mum – then I’m always polite, because she wouldn’t put up with anything less. Kano on: what he’s asked Santa for. I want the Kanye album. That’s something I haven’t had the chance to buy yet, so that would be cool. Kano on: celebrating New Year’s Eve. Unless I’m performing somewhere, I’ll be with friends and family at someone’s house having a quiet one.