The sophomore album is always a tricky thing to pull off, especially when your freshman effort was the seminal Home Sweet Home.
It may have taken a guest appearance from Mike Skinner to push Kano firmly into the public domain but trust me, that’s where he belongs. As a teaser the streets were left salivating with the creatively titled The Mixtape earlier in 2007 – promising a darker and grimier sound from an artist comfortable embracing the sounds coming from across the pond.
Tracks like I Feel Like and The Come Up, as well as a remix of Jay-Z‘s P.S.A did nothing but generate a buzz unheard of for a British rapper. Strange then that This Is The Girl was chosen as London Town’s lead single – of course the addition of Craig David (who incidentally takes co-production credits on a couple of tracks on the album) resulted in a an excellent track, but it isn’t by any means representative of what the album is about.
Intro track The Product is what London Town is about. It’s a dirty beat with equally dark and threatening lyrics, perfectly delivered with the continuity of Home Sweet Home’s modesty and honesty. The album’s opening verse contains the words “Look I’m for the street, fuck the awards/ I’d rather win best flow of the year/ Look I’m for the Ps, yeah get, get more dough”, ending with an acappella that closes with “I ain’t promising shit…I’m a product of my environment”.
It rolls seamlessly into London Town’s title track which “sounds like grime but a little slower”. Actually it sounds like a well thought out narrative of urban London as the press want it to sound. While Fighting The Nation and its acoustic guitar strains presents the picture in a softer way, it’s a different angle of the same photo – while different, it is creatively just as good.
Bad Boy samples Buju Banton‘s Too Bad, which neatly follows dancehall star Vybz Cartel‘s appearance on Buss It Up, which turns the lights out and the bass up to rat out WAG types, with Kano’s self-confident, borderline arrogan raps turning the heat up. Feel Free is arguably London Town’s peak, as Damon Albarn adds his Gorillaz vibe to another track centred on the nation’s capital. This time though, the message is far from localised: “it’s deeper than music / now sing along to it”.
Sleep Tight allows Kano to come over all introspective after an iffy piano intro sends the listener down a soulful blind alley before the beat kicks in. The poignancy and potency of a pseudo-tormented citizen rather than rapper is a powerful parallel to Home Sweet Home’s 9-5. The freshness and vigour of the latter is lost in Sleep Tight’s tale of self-preservation and self-awareness: “Still watch my back when I’m in the ends/ �til my time in the limelight comes to an end/ It looks sweet when I’m in a Benz, backseat just done with Press/ Head back east/ They see and get mad about it/ Fuck it, I might as well brag about it”.
London Town manages to finish strongly with the exception being Kate Nash‘s extremely unpleasant whining inexplicably finding its way on to Me & My Microphone. Minor vitriol aside, the album gets a resounding thumbs up. As the title track proclaims “I’m a lot wiser, a little older” and it shows throughout the album.
The album oozes quality, and gives Kano a firm identity – experimental but controlled, and ultimately artistically aware of what works. London Town isn’t specific to those embedded in the capital’s grime scene. London Town is generic hip-hop, which is the highest compliment I can pay to a British rap artist.