How Kano’s “Signs In Life” Helped Me Rethink My Own

Words: Jude Yawson

The other day I lost my door keys on a pandemic-inspired, 5K run, something that had never happened before. I wondered where and how I lost the keys, my mind feeling the brunt of this mounting rage that paved its way to ruining a good day. As soon as I noticed I’d dropped them, I retraced my steps. The anger infiltrated the peace and hard work that through exercise, occupied my mind. The 5K run turned into 6, spawning stamina from the pits of rage. I went back home, picking up a spare key from a family friend nearby, physically shattered with my good vibes in bits.

Then, I persisted on my way back to where I came, studying the floor with the hope my eyes wouldn’t ignore a small glint of a silver-puzzled stain. Soaked in rain, treading upon slushy ice—missing the Man U vs Liverpool FA Cup game in which we conceded thrice—the day was seeking sleep as the sky beckoned the night. It was also blitz! I found myself miserable by this point, until my ears caught the echoes of a song with familiar lyrics bumping along in a car.

There are lots of signs in life, some that you may not like
You could be living this minute, the next minute you are gone away
Hold up your head my brothers, be conscious my sisters
And by your works you shall surely be paid

Immediately, I returned to a state of calm. It was if my mind farmed this feeling; one I hadn’t allowed myself to engage with for a long time. It was a feeling of reducing the stress that preoccupied me. The imposition of the state of things. A peace of mind—a clarity on the existential potency of life—that I associated with a now unfamiliar, triggering, and disturbing time. I thought to myself, ‘Rah! Swear down he just plagiarised Kano’s work like that?’ But it soon became clear that Kano had in fact sampled a tune. As you do, I did my Google search and found out that what I’d heard was reggae star Sanchez’s “Never Dis Di Man” from 1995, which Kano interpolated for “Signs In Life”—a tale of life in the ends and my favourite track of his to date.

Shit, you should have fixed up
Fuck drugs, the mic you should have picked up

But let me rewind. It’s 2005, and Home Sweet Home becomes a soulful lullaby of mine. Kano expertly glides over his debut album, expressing a range that—in my young, impressionable mind—many in the ends forbade. It wasn’t necessarily the cool thing to be so conscious of your surroundings, making sense over the impulse of fast money and risk. He had foresight, at 18, and was on a mission to survive and prosper through his art despite the madness of his environment.

Up-and-coming MCs big up you man
The doors open but I ain’t through man
I’mma ball through like a cue Dan
Watch me, ain’t gonna let no-one stop me

As my brother put the CD into the drive, and the computer screeched as if it writhed in pain, Windows Media Player opened and played Home Sweet Home for the very first time. Limewiring old-school grime sets and watching my olders find the right frequency for pirate radio, I was already familiar with Kano’s greatness. But this project was a statement, and “Signs In Life” stood out like a sore thumb. The beat shed a melancholic essence, invigorated with the buzz and kick of grime, with the hard-hitting lyrics making my young mind question the lifestyles me and my peers were accustomed to at the time.

But, I got too much to lose now
Love my life, and I dont wanna lose out

In 2005, my mind was sullied with the media’s perceptions of young Black people. It was a scathing and dictating picture of us that I now understand was a form of racism and being from a working-class background. Not to mention the decades of racialised stigma attached, stemming back to an immovable colonial weight. We weren’t afforded the luxury of great expectations and things in sight, despite having them as aspirations from an early age. With my Walkman CD player and a spread of burned CDs, I would listen to this song religiously.

Stack to buy out the stores and that
Didn’t give a shit about loads of that

Always worried about materialistic losses, it was important to see someone so great, like Kane Robinson, affirm it within that vulnerable mindset of mine. Because in the ends, in our youth, the idea of success was somewhat vacant or projected as having money and power—things to be respected by. We were deteriorating within damaging systems, subjugating our ambitions, with many falling victim to the grooming and inspiration of criminality as a way of living.

But this rhyming shit is for me
I live this, drink this, eat this, shit this

We weren’t surrounded by great visions—people had to pave their own way. Despite living in Newham, surrounded by gang life, drugs, theft and violence, Kano and most of grime’s pioneers crept to prominence through an undeniable work ethic. K-A articulated this brilliantly, showing my young self that ability serves the future more so than the immediate gratification of money, ego, and lack of foresight that enabled the hood.

Today I saw the signs again, and it’s not a good look
But ‘that’s life’ they say, crime pays
And I’ll stop crime whenever this grime decides to pay

The perseverance and vision of Kano gave me belief in sticking to a moral code. He was mature beyond belief—a young man with an old soul. Having dabbled in things I am not proud of to get by, I still managed to write for a decade without getting paid once. The first time I got paid was for an interview I did with the producer of this song, Fraser T. Smith, who told me that Kano, Stormzy and Dave were his three favourite artists to work with for the ideas and passion they implemented into their craft. I was shocked, fanning, but elated at the full circle journey of me. Hence, I hail such people as pivotal inspirations in my life. I couldn’t MC, but I could write.

Every now and then, I listen to “Signs In Life” to tell me that everything will be okay. The meaning of it transitioned over time, from a star-gazing kid to a reasonable adult, acknowledging the quotes as some sort of sermon to live by. It has become therapeutic, as much as it was pensive the first time, to a point “Signs In Life” shuffled in my head on my key search. Overcoming the dread, patience allowed me to find my keys. Heeding Sanchez’s original, I realised the amazing degrees in which songs like these exist. Maybe losing my keys and revisiting this classic was another sign in life for me.

Posted on February 08, 2021