K-OS: He's Not Hip Hop...Or Is He?

posted July 02, 2007 12:00:00 AM CDT | 26 comments

Long before Gnarls Barkley blew up making genre defying music, Canadian emcee/producer/singer extraordinaire K-OS has been drawing rave reviews for his incredible brand of music that just cant be categorized. After turning heads in the mid 90s with hits such as "Rise Like The Sun", Kevin Brereton took a long hiatus before returning in 2002 with the critically acclaimed Exit. This was nothing compared to the fanfare he would receive for his 2004 follow up Joyful Rebellion. The album went platinum in Canada as it appealed to listeners across the board with its jazz, rock, reggae, pop and straight b-boy influenced music. 2007 saw K-OS release Atlantis: Hymns for Disco worldwide, fueled by hit single "Sunday Morning".

HHDX: Being a fellow Canadian I know that Atlantis has been out here since October, how has the reception been for it from your perspective?
K-OS: I dont know man, its hard for me. Last record I had friends call me all the time telling "yo I just heard 'Crabbucket' on the radio." But now theyve gotten used to hearing me and dont wanna call me every time Im on the radio. But Ive kinda lost that gauge. All you can really do is walk around and live and see how often you hear the record, might be in a club or just some diner or caf around the corner. Touring always helps too, but its always kinda strange here. Like I was out in Victoria and did "Born To Rhyme" and kids loved it. I was just like "they know this?" Its a nice feeling though, for sure.

HHDX: Here they play your songs on hip hop radio, alternative radio, even on some adult contemporary stations. Do you think that youll be able to break the same way in the US and get love from every market?
K-OS: I dont know, the US is just a different market. Theyve got a different idea of what urban, black hip hop is and a lot of their minds are fixed. I dont think its that they ignorant, it is that the US has a musical culture that is hundreds of years old and we really dont. What other black artists have we really produced here? I cant even count four or five. So sometimes I think Canada just digs having a black artist that is pertinent for radio play so everyone is playing it more. I dont know if that is being over modest or anything but I try to keep perspective that while I know my music is good, Im also a minority in what Im doing here. I think it helps the aura of the music and keeps it a bit mysterious. In the US, given how many more artists there are, I just wont stand out as much. There are arent as many on the commercial level making music similar to mine, so I just really hope I can at least catch them lyrically.

HHDX: So is that the reason for the different release dates between the US and Canada? Just because they are vastly different scenes?
K-OS: Yeah, in my opinion I would have loved for this third album what I call the third of the trilogy cause after this record Ill probably go off on a completely different tangent musically I really wish they would have waited to release this album on the same day all across the world. Although it has worked out cause the album is (came) out (back on) February 20th, which also happens to be my birthday, which also happened to be the day I did the David Letterman show. I like when things line up like that. I never felt rushed or anything because the record was done, it just would have been nice if everyone was feeling the same song at the same time. Cause now, Im tired of hearing a lot of it, and tired of performing the same songs. Musically, I just need some new stimulus. Cause once Ive heard it 20 or 30 times I need something new. I guess the perception in Canada is that Im a bigger artist so they didnt need to prepare as much, but I wish they would have waited to release it at the same time.

HHDX: So can you explain the title of the new album?
K-OS: I was crazy when I came up with that title, Ill tell you that. I dont know what it means. I will say thisI dont really know why I came up with that title, it really just has to do with that color blue, I really love that color and I was really into aquatics at the time. Im an Aquarius and nearly a Pisces, I was listening to a lot of blues records, and Muddy Waters. Then, I happen to be at the hotel room and some old re run of a show called Man From Atlantis with Patrick Duffy comes on and I used to love that show when I was kid. It would blow my mind and I would wish I was that guy, cause it was on some Aquaman story. It was then I just laughed to myself and said "I gotta name this record Atlantis." Someone is trying to tell me something. As far as the disco part, that was just about me partying my ass off at the time and having fun with my friends. The thing was, I was having fun but I wasnt feeling good about myself. So I was constantly trying to listen to music that reflected how I felt at the time but nothing fit. So eventually I just decided to make my own and it was very cathartic and definitely therapeutic.

HHDX: I definitely found the concept of Sunday Morning interesting, it isnt a perspective you generally hear people take on partying.
K-OS: At the time I was vibing off of the whole Gnarls Barkley thing, not that I was trying to make a song that sounded like them. But as an artist, when you hear someone else making honest music it always makes you want to get in there and be honest about what you do. Cee Lo was so honest about what he said and it made me ask myself what I was feeling. When another artist makes a big song that the world is dancing to you can either submit and admit it was genius or get angry about it. I submitted, cause every artist wants to make a song that everyone is singing. So I was just dug deep and came with my sentiment. Once again the symbiotic, subconscious relationship of artists ends up creating great art.

HHDX: There are some definite similarities with your music and Gnarls Barkleys in that its all very genre bending. Does that encourage you that the market will be as opened minded with your music?
K-OS: Yeah I was definitely encouraged that I had a better chance to overcome the genre thing. Ive been making genre-twisting music for a long time, really ever since Exit in 2002. So it really confirmed a lot for me as they proved you could become large off that sound cause they seemed to have the same ambition that I have, even if the sound isnt the same. It was nice to see someone overcome the whole genre thing. At the same time its ridiculous what you have to deal with from some people when you make this type of music. There was a review of this record that points out Im rapping 15% less on Atlantis than I did on Joyful Rebellion. Why the fuck do you care how much Im rapping? Why is so important that hip hop is not an attitude and just about how much you rap? Otis Redding was hip hop, the Sex Pistols were hip hop. Why cant people just get off of it and realize that there are cats whove never rapped a day in their life and are more hip hop than everyone on MTV. How do you explain that? He doesnt make a rap record, he just loves the music; he puts on his kicks, puts on his headphones and bobs his head up and down to the music all day. But that is hip hop! Thats why I made this record, its a revolt against that attitude cause I know Ill wake up at 3 in the morning and start rapping a few verses from "Triumph" before I go back to sleep, I just hip hop. At some point though its ok to just switch it up and listen to The Police or Bloc Party. Its a rather defensive place to be but hopefully 10 or 20 years from now people can look back on this album and others out there and realize that its ok just to make the music that is in your heart and not worry about classifications.

HHDX: How was your approach to making this album different than from making Joyful Rebellion?
K-OS: Joyful Rebellion happened when I was about to take a break from music for a while. Then I was in my living room and made the beat for "Crabbucket" in about 3 or 4 minutes. Over the next couple days I did "Love Song" and "The Man I Used To Be" and it all just kind of came out. I sent it to my label and they said "yo youve got a record here" and it was all said and done in about 4 or 5 months. Then I went on tour for a while, got home and decided to go out to the woods for a while and try and write some new music. I got out there and tried to write some lyrics and had nothing. So I just started writing music and before I knew it I had 11 or 12 tracks done with no lyrics. Finally my engineer asked me if I was gonna put some lyrics to it and I said "nope." It was all about just making the music to get myself hype. Then out in Vancouver I just put it all down at once basically, just track after track. Some I wrote some I just freestyled. "Sunday Morning" is the only track on the album that I wrote the lyrics to before I had made the music. It always goes down differently.

HHDX: Youve said before that Atlantis is the third of the trilogy, so what is next?
K-OS
:Honestly dude, no boundaries. I know its kind of contrived and pretentious to say that but I can guarantee you thats how I feel. This record Im just gonna make tracks and see where it goes, I might not even arrange stuff. Sometimes I make stuff and I like it but then I think "oh its too long." If I go over 4:30 I know I probably wont get it on the radio. I always have both sides of my brain working when I make a song and I just wanna turn off the one side of my brain that deals with structure and just go at it. Im tired of intro, 16 bar verse, 8 bar chorus, 16 bar verse, 8 bar chorus, 16 bar verse, break down, 8 bar verse, outro, etc. Im sick of structure, what if the chorus just came in after 2 bars? It would drive people nuts if I did something like that! But I know I need to work myself up to that. I have to own that, I cant just do it cause its the cool thing to do.

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