This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
“Motherfuckers want their cake and to stuff their fucking face”—so says Kano on the freestyle he delivered on BBC Radio 1Xtra’s 'Fire in the Booth' yesterday, swiftly taking an idiom you thought you knew and making it a million times better. And that’s kinda the tone of his whole internet exploding freestyle: shredding everything you thought was sacred. It’s like a book burning, but a really good one, not like an oppressive regime one.
The desire was there to cover this the moment it came out, but such was the amount of content in this one freestyle, it felt like a crime to just write about it immediately. It needed to be watched two, three, four more times. Not in the office, but alone. Sit with it. Think about it. Then watch it again this morning. Cos it’s like… fuck. Speechless is a word.
Kano raps uninterrupted for ten minutes, over the same hypnotising J Dilla beat—“Let the Dollar Circulate”—which, as any 'Fire In The Booth' regulars will know, is a pretty chance occurrence, as Charlie Sloth is usually angling to either reload or change that instrumental. Yet Kano basically freezes him in time, like some sort of grime Magneto, levitating his immobile victim in the air with a solitary hand.
There are at least four different flows in there, maybe five, maybe 25—it changes every time I listen. He switches between piercing preacher inunciation to slowed Jamaican inflections, like a speeding Porsche changing lanes on the M1. At times, it feels like he’s got himself so worked up, he might explode like some sort of cartoon kettle, but then he abruptly drops the temperature and starts the build all over again. By minute three or four, he’s enjoying himself, circling the mic like a dancing Muhammed Ali, waving his fingers like he's carving an ice sculpture. All the while, his themes skip from serious to cheeky, conscious to fierce, philosophical to vivid. Read these bars and tell me you do not have the exact vision he intends in your head, like some sort of twisted Last Supper panorama.
“Sip wine with the Mrs, break bread with my niggas
Table full of winners, do dinners, group pictures
With some big villains, wig splitters, brick dealers
But do due diligence, not one goon with us”
He references his own work poetically, with smart nods to Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson: “Home Sweet Home was my Off The Wall, but still I got a Thriller in me, everybody warned." He references MC’s with respect (“Never could I diss Bizzle, he is a king of this / I just wish I had a ‘Fester Skank’ on my hitlist”) and jibes others empathetically (“All these rappers Draking, bet he wish he had the patent”).
He doesn't miss a beat with bars about the London club DSTRKT which was exposed for its racist door policy late last year: “Too black for DSTRKT but the money too pinkish / So they'll turn a non-color blind eye for our business / So we can get in long as we're spending like niggas? / Just as long as we don't bring our sisters.” And he gives the whole scene a health check like some sort of eagle eyed elder: “Too many gangsters, not enough gentlemen / Too many bosses, not enough apprentices.” Of all the words above, two sum it up best: it's lit.
So is it the best 'Fire in the Booth' of all time? The debate will no doubt make the EU referendum look like a small claims dispute. Kano ended his performance with the line, "Now whose is better: me or Wretch?", and Twitter has divided into camps already: of those still backing Ghetts, those praising Wretch's incredible December freestyle, and the new converts to Kano's. The UK Grime Network are running a poll between Wretch and Kano, which has Kano edging it at 51 percent, but it changes every time you glance.
The truth is, there is something particularly special about Kano’s freestyle. Not because it beats Wretch’s bar for bar, because those freestyles are two different beasts. But because of the context around it. Wretch decided to make his 'Fire in the Booth' appearance a poignant and damning re-announcement of his importance to the scene, pulling the rug from beneath anyone who thought that the pop singles had made him a blunt tool.
The build up to Kano’s was different. We expected Kano’s to be good, in fact, people kinda demanded it. It also had to be good, to promote the release of his first album in ten years, Made in the Manor. He turned up amid a mixed atmosphere of: “Okay, they say you’re one of the best, let’s see it then?” and "What is Kano in 2016?" As he said himself in the bars: “Giggs told me I was scared to bless this booth / Ghetto even threw in his two pence and all / But that's the banter when the legends talk.” He didn’t just respond to all of this, he turned it to fucking dust.
You can't base much on Charlie Sloth's reaction—the man would get more excited for an early bus than you would for your first born child—but if the long animalistic shrill he lets out for around ten seconds at the end is anything to go by, then he hasn't seen much like Kano's freestyle before. He finishes up by congratulating him for doing it in one take. To which Kano replies: "They aren't all one take?"
That, in itself, has caused a whole load of truthers to take to Twitter about what past 'Fire in the Booth' freestyles have been one take and which ones were second, third or fourth tries. The fact is: Kano’s was. And until something else comes close, it doesn’t really matter whose was and whose wasn’t. For now, this picture says it all.
Watch the full freestyle below: