Back in the day when American and British music acts collaborated, we the music fans didn’t always believe these miraculous musical marriages .
On the one hand, we loved that our acts were being recognized by their American peers, but the cynics in us knew that somewhere down the line there was money passing hands and possible payola deals to feature on each others records, which back then was the norm.
Most industry folks would assume it was a behind the scenes, record label staff concocted deal, to enable both acts to make an impact in each others territories. This would result in awkward, hastily thrown together songs and remixes featuring each other. I mean do we think that the following couplings of artists who collaborated were or are good pals that met randomly? P Diddy and Skepta, Low Key and Immortal Technique, Shystie and Azealia Banks, Lupe Fiasco and Sway, J Spades and Wacka Flocka, Dizzee Rascal and Bun B, D Double E and Snoop Dogg. Exactly.
However this past week a different anglo-American relationship began in London. Reggie Ossé, also known as Combat Jack (CJ), who is a former hip hop music attorney and executive, and also a former editor of The Source, came to London to record one of his podcasts for his well received The Combat Jack Show.
In the past CJ’s line up of conversationalists has included Big Daddy Kane, Marley Mal, Chuck D, LL Cool J, and Spike Lee amongst many others. The show also highlights cultural icons, and behind the scenes movers and shakers like Kevin Lilles, Dame Dash, and Russell Simmons.
He’s just one of a few hip hop historians who have come to the forefront in recent years, with his knowledge from the early days of hip-hop culture, to modern day 2016. His enthusiasm to give a platform to the current day names as well as old skool legends is refreshing for his mixed Internet audience.
This week CJ flew into Brooklyn Bowl in London’s O2 dome, where he and British grime MC and actor Kano sat down for a chat in front of a London audience, who were all clearly big Kano and Combat Jack fans and the two-hour conversation revolved around Kano’s life behind the music as well as his latest, fifth studio album Made in the Manor released earlier this year.
In the UK Kano is a BIG deal.
1. He’s hip hop establishment. He started out on pirate radio in his youth alongside his peers like Jammer, Ghetts, Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and more.
2. His debut solo single ‘P’S &Q’s’ was a massive underground hit and is still a classic in grime and beyond.
3. He is a Brit Awards nominee and a MOBO Award winner.
4. He is such a champion of London that in 2005, Kano was announced as one of “London’s Heroes of 2005” by Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.
Kano is well known for tracks that showcase his endz. His city. His environment. ‘Made in the Manor’ adds a lot of retrospection and nods to the East End state of mind. About his tracks that showcase his part of London, during his convo wit CJ, he referenced singles like “Ghetto kid” from his 2005 debut solo album ‘’Home Sweet Home. ‘’I always want to put London into my music and so we’ve been been known to record the actual traffic in the city and lay it down under my vocals. I gravitate towards these kinds of songs’’.
Kano was on top form as CJ questioned him about his Jamaican roots which he noted had led to him loving rappers like Biggie, Jay , Busta and Nas for ‘’their JA swag’’.
K ”My mum and bro came over on a boat from JA. It took six weeks. They docked at Southampton and went to Canning Town. You can imagine the cultural shock from Jamaica to Canning Town! The day they got here it was snowing. They thought it was sugar!
They came to east London. They were first black family in these parts. They had a hard time. They had to fight just to walk to school. My uncles were into music and played reggae all day. They – Eric and Everton (the wrong un). One was a dj, the other an mc and I took a lot of it on. You hear it in my roots Jamaica and East London.
My mum took me to Jamaica every year of my life. I saw acts like (dancehall musician) Tiger and was inspired by acts like him so that style of music was in me. But it wasn’t until I was older and I heard Heartless Crew that I got into it’’.
Much to the audience’s amusement Kano also revealed that he had never had a real job.
‘’I once convinced my local barbers that I could cut hair. He let me work there for a day. I ended up there for half a day!’’. Quick as a flash CJ retorted ‘’that was your grand opening grand closing!’’
Kano added that he felt the pressure in his early days of writing well and competitively ‘’I had to write well as I had to turn up on a Monday and meet my other MC mates and compete lyrically. I used to write in science classes. Sharky Major and I would just spend hours writing lyrics and making tapes and go to shows. I used to make tapes at a mate -Gingers – house. D Double E once left his notebook there one day. I looked after it for him. Lol. (I may have peeked) he really does write boo roo boop boop”. Writing well was important. I couldn’t sleep if I thought I’d half stepped it. I recall going to raves and feeling didn’t have enough lyrics that were simple enough for the crowd to sing along to. I didn’t think I was great. Lethal was the best. And Wiley. So I went back to the drawing board. I feel I never really had a club tune till this album till Garage Skank and Three Wheel Ups!”
Kano admitted that when he did (garage/grime music events) Sidewinder and Eskimo Dance, those raves were key to him and his peers breaking through as artists, but that when the defining term ‘’grime’ was coined ‘’At first we didn’t like it’’.
Garage and grime era’s are very different and Kano described the difference between the two genres like this; ‘’you’d get dressed to go to a garage rave and drink champers. Grime was a tracksuit hoody trainers thing. Like jungle was an off-key Moschino thing. The kids were on OUR thing’’.
Kano alluded to the fact that he has that certain magic touch if you wanna be a Grammy winner ‘’people keep working with me and winning Grammys after me”.
In hip hop culture; it always causes a debate when people list their top MC’s, so of course CJ went there. Kanos? ‘’Mike Skinner’s (The Streets) probably the most influential artist on my career. Going on his tour and watching showed me a whole new way of being a music act. It was the way he commanded the stage. It also helps when most of audience knows your songs. He was always in control and composed. The music was elevated to another level at his show and made me want to have a live band. And the level of professionalism was top. There was only laughter AFTER the show. He’s just a whole diff machine and I wanted to do it on that scale. The guy’s a poet with classic albums. He’s a super-supe!’’
Kano dropped classic stories of how the rest of his grime peer star’s strong armed him into recording his solo Fire In The Booth (a brand led by Charli Sloth- the UK’S biggest grime/hip hop name who has his own show on BBC Radio 1).
‘Let me tell you about our grime Christmas with Giggs… we were all out one night. Me, Giggs, Wretch, Bashy. Tinchy. Ghetts. Sneakbo and more. It was like grime Christmas. Ghetts ,who is my mate, says “aint it funny how one person here ain’t done a Fire in The Booth?!” Giggs says “yeayyy …man must be scared!”. I said “do u lot think I can’t spit on a beat?!”
Wretch came to my defense. But Giggs didn’t believe I hadn’t done one so he googled it! (Kano does a BRILLIANT Giggs impression). Then after I left it kept repeating in my mind until I eventually called Giggs and said “OK I will do one when the next albums coming” and I’m not one to give myself titles but that (Fire in The Booth) verse was alright though wasn’t it!’’ Kano adds modestly to the audience’s delight.
About his LATEST BORN IN THE MANOR ALBUM kano revealed;
K I feel I’m being extremely true and honest to myself with this record. With Fraser (from his music team), and I making this album we got into the studio and we didn’t even make any music at first. We just talked for ages. Fraser said “you’ve travelled so much and your world has grown so much since your start so now we need to reflect that in your music. Also, the piano’s really important to the consistency of this record.
CJ questioned that fact that one of his new songs – T shirt Weather in The Manor– was an awkward, real revelation, about one of his broken friendships with one of his close old homeboys, who called him after hearing the song;
K He rang me when the album came out. We spoke for 93 minutes. We hadn’t spoken in years. I had to get out the story of our friendship going sour. Apparently his mum text him and said “you need to call your friend”. He sent me a pic of the Gold “Home Sweet Home” plaque on his mums wall. (To show he still valued our past friendship), so we put it aside and it was all love.
Kano’s recent Garage Skank video had a lot of excitement as fans from all over the world, sent in clips to his personal e mail, which were then turned into the final video ….
K ‘’I’ve been doing a lot of work both in front and behind the camera, Garage Skank looked like a lot of hard work but we did it in my kitchen. It took me about 5 hours to write everyone’s e-mails in the box and it wouldn’t go so I sent every e-mail one by one! I got school classes; Polish people, a man and his dog, EVERYONE was sending in video slips of them lip-syncing to my song! Initially I thought it would just be a lil slideshow. But I got thousands of e-mails! I got to connect with my fans in a real way. It felt good”.
TOP BOY is a British TV series on Channel 4, that has enraptured the younger generation as well as American stars like Drake, who has been championing for a new series to be made.
K ’’ With TOP BOY it came after my forth album. I wasn’t doing anything. My manager told me they wanted me to read for the part. I never read it. I had insecurities. I wasn’t a trained actor etc…. I didn’t trust that it wouldn’t be bad. I’m protective of my brand. You have to prove to me that you’re in it for the right reasons. No gimmicks. It’s gotta be quality. In the second audition I was told in confidence that it was nearly my part and that they knew I was capable of being calm but could I also really lose it? A crew member whispered to me that “Everything in that room can be replaced”. So I went in there and did it. Smashing stuff up. Afterwards I wondered “did I just go too far?”
K Acting is about telling the truth of your character and I took that ethos to my latest album. I told the truth of who I really am. In hindsight Top Boy was good thing for me to do, and a highlight of my career. I hated the experience of acting though. Hated it. The eraly mornings, late nights, really, really hard work. But as Robert Di Niro once said, and I’m sorry to sound like a cheesy actor, he said “if it feels like fun, it probably no good”. (I sound like a real actor now right? Lol!)
About UK MC’s that used to rap with American accents;
K ”yeah, there was a time in UK hip-hop where we rapped in American accents. People loved it so much that they emulated it to fit in. but I don’t think an American wants to hear an English person trying to be American. I think you wanna hear about our authentic street stories. I think though that we got over that and are now proud of the music that WE make just being ourselves!”
And Kano is right. Now seems to be the most commercially successful time for grime acts that are headlining music festivals all over the world and cashing in on their own terms.
Regards the ‘’Combat Jack meets Kano’’ evening it was a fun and interesting moment, and obviously great for fans to hear their fave star speak in person in a relaxed surrounding, however I did feel there was some slight disconnect.
It’s a nice idea, but the first rule of media is to know your audience, and it’s always a teeny bit awkward for a media creator to be making content for two different audiences. This recording was for Combat Jacks global podcast audience, so he was naturally starting with the basic get to know your beginnings questions about growing up, environment, favourite early rappers and so on. Much of which, the live audience already knew all the answers to.
Similarly Kano had to break down the definitions and early history of garage, grime and hip-hop in the UK for CJ, and on a few occasions the audience had in a good-natured way, pick up CJ on pronunciations or facts. Overall however it’s a brand that can be tweaked and as a starter it ticked all the main boxes and that’s all that matters. Anyone shining a light on hip hop culture across the globe is a hero to me.