Commitment To The Craft: Kano KO'd The Royal Albert Hall

Commitment To The Craft: Kano KO'd The Royal Albert Hall

A night for the history books...

Everything in Kano’s life feels as though it has been handled with the utmost care and consideration. From his acting – a stellar role in Topboy – through to his interviews, he handles himself with a sense of exactness, as though an innate purpose runs through everything he puts his name beside.

So when the East London rapper decided to book up historic Victorian landmark the Royal Albert Hall, fans knew to expect something special. Arriving early enough to catch the last moments of a warm up set by seminal UKG collective Heartless Crew, Clash was able to take in the enormity of the occasion – the crowd rose up to the rafters, the vastness of the occasion matched by the palpable weight of expectation.

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Suddenly Kano appears, and the hype bubble bursts, replaced by searing reality. He’s a performer in his element, bobbing and weaving, treating the Royal Albert Hall as though it was any other show. Pushing himself forwards, it’s a set that leans on his exceptional new album ‘Hoodies All Summer’ while also nodding to the weight of his catalogue.

The highlights are almost too many to choose from. ‘Free Years Later’ opens the show, Kano dressed in white and backed by a full band, gospel singers, and a heavyweight string section towards the back of the stage. Claiming full ownership of the venue, he’s on electrifying form, at one pointing rapping “I’m Royal!” to a colossal roar from the assembled throng. 

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Swapping in highlights from 2016’s ‘Made In The Manor’ – a defiant ‘This Is England’ or the subtle swagger of ‘T Shirt Weather In The Manor’ – he looks effortlessly in control, even when the exultant crowd swell seems to overwhelm the music. Indeed, it’s interesting to note the age and make up of the audience itself.

It feels as though everyone here has grown up with Kano, from those early radio sets and his commercial breakthrough, to his return to the underground and creative rejuvenation.

‘P And Qs’ arrives just at the right time, a beaming Kano spitting those bars as though it was the first time he had ever performed the track. Still astonishingly fresh, it was a sign of his continued creative vitality, a sign that Kano remains at the forefront. The sheer breadth of the show acts as further reinforcement of this.

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From moving gospel passages through to ferocious rap onslaughts, Kano is seemingly able to raise and lower the temperature of the Royal Albert Hall at will. Lil Silva joins for a soulful rendition of ‘Got My Brandy, Got My Beats’, before Kano departs the stage.

The distinctive figure of D Double E – clad head to toe in ultra-colourful Stone Island – moves to centre stage, before the opening notes from ‘Class Of Deja’ erupt from the speakers. Kano hurls himself back onstage as his band wheel the track back up, thousands of gun fingers twisting into the air.

Ghetts then joins to complete the studio trio, swapping a single mic as though they were locked in the old Rinse studio for a radio set. It’s a bold move, but it works; translating the essentially energy of an underground sound into one of the grandest venues in the country.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Kano ends the set by leading the Royal Albert Hall in a cheeky blast of ‘SYM’ chorus ‘suck your mum!’ But it’s far from over.

Giggs joins Kano to blaze through the encore, two of the best MCs this country has ever produced following through ‘3 Wheel Ups’ to provide yet another iconic moment. Leaving the stage drained but exhilarated, grinning from ear to ear, Kano is the King of all he surveys.

It’s an astonishing performance, re-writing the history books at every turn. Amid a year of groundbreaking live performances from grime artists – Stormzy at Glastonbury, Skepta headlining Field Day – a set of this potency deserves to live long in the memory. 

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Photography: Ty Shots

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