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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 08:32 GMT
Sound of 2005: Kano
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

London rapper Kano has come third in the BBC News website's Sound of 2005 poll of influential music pundits to find the talent to watch in the coming year.

Tips from more than 100 critics and broadcasters have been compiled into a list of artists to watch in the next 12 months.

We are revealing one artist from the top five every day this week until Friday, when the winner and full top 10 will be announced.

Kane Robinson, better-known in the capital's garage clubs and on pirate radio stations as Kano, is hotly tipped to follow the likes of Dizzee Rascal and the So Solid Crew from the underground to the mainstream.

After working his way up the ranks of east London's garage world for four years, Kano, 19, has emerged as one of the most distinctive voices and most talented homegrown rappers yet.

London's garage scene, and its spin-off grime, may still be in their infancy compared to US hip-hop - but with a style true to his roots yet influenced by his idols from across the Atlantic, Kano could be one of the first to bridge the gap.

To win fans on the underground is hard work - it's skill and dedication
There was a glimpse of his potential in November when he appeared at the Smash Hits Poll Winners' Party - normally the domain of pure pop starlets rather than underground rappers - after coming second in a vote for viewers to choose their favourite new acts.

"It was a bit mad," says Kano, who had never heard of the Smash Hits Poll Winners' Party before appearing at it.

"It was a different kind of experience - a crowd I'd never played to, little kids, and parents and all of that. The song I was there with, it's not even a crossover tune, it's an underground tune."

He puts his unexpected success down to the video for his first single, Ps & Qs: "A lot more people see your video than would turn on the pirate radio, so it gets you out there to the wider audience. That's always good."

Kano grew up in a reggae-loving Jamaican family and a garage-loving area where rap battles were a part of normal playground rivalry.

He was a promising footballer, playing with Chelsea at 11 before joining Norwich, and his cousin, Jon Fortune, plays for Charlton.

But he did not pursue that career and he also turned down a place at university. "I'd done the school thing, I'd done the college thing, I'm not really a big fan of uni," he says.

The street fans were our first fans and they heard us on pirate radio
Instead, he concentrated on making it to the top in the highly competitive arena of MCing, where the crowd is fickle and every new pretender wants to knock the star off his perch.

"To win fans on the underground is hard work," he says. "I wouldn't say it's something that's just happened - it takes time, and it's not like an accident or luck. It's skill and dedication.

"A lot of the time, the kids really decide - they have a favourite MC for one week and then they like someone else. It's changing all the time. I've had a lot of favourites come and go."

He has won over the fans, he says, with meaningful lyrics about real life - the "turbulent inner life of Britain's excluded urban underclass", as his press release puts it.

"To me, the lyrics are the most important thing," he says. "Sometimes it seems like a lot of people are not making sense or they're not trying hard enough or the lyrics sound a bit simple and basic."

That matters when lyrics are the only thing separating different MCs who are all rapping over the same beat on a pirate radio station. And most of his fans so far heard him on those illegal DIY broadcasters.

"The street fans were our first fans and they heard us on pirate radio so that's the most important thing for us," he says.

But the mainstream is now calling after he was signed to The Streets' label, 679. He now classes himself as "an artist" rather than just an MC because he makes the complete musical package as well as rapping.

Rap idols

When asked whose careers he admires, the first names out of his mouth are American rap superstars Jay-Z and Dr Dre - but they are followed by less familiar names from closer to home: "Ghetto, Demon, Kalashnikov."

Their very British urban styles will "one day" gain a foothold in the home of rap, the US, Kano says.

"You have to remember Jay-Z's had nine or 10 albums and Dr Dre's made about a million songs, and they're older than us. We're 19s and 20s and they're all 35s," he says.

"So we've got a long time but our time will come. Hip-hop's been going for ages and our music's kind of new. It's been going for a few years.

"So maybe 20 years down the line we can be at their stage. They might be another 20 years along the line as well..."

  • The Sound of 2005 survey was compiled from the tips of more than 100 impartial music critics and broadcasters, who were asked to give three names of artists they thought would be successful in 2005. The artists with the most tips were then ranked to compile the Sound of 2005 list.

    Kano: Ps & Qs


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