k-os Reveals Work With Drake, Talks Natalie Portman
Exclusive: Preparing for the U.S. release of Yes!, the experimental emcee offers insight into the onetime beef between recent collaborator Drake and Kardinal Offishall.
If you don’t know the name k-os, rest assured you will be well aware of the spitter/singer and his addictive fusion style within the next few months. Following the U.S. release on February 23rd of the Toronto native’s hypnotic Electro-and-Rock flavored fourth full-length, Yes! (led by its latest single, the catchy and comically-titled “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman”), k-os will be further exposed to the stateside masses via several recent recordings with fellow Canadian export Drake.
k-os revealed during his discussion with HipHopDX this past Tuesday (January 26th) just what he and Aubrey Graham have been working on together of late. The 15-plus-year veteran of T-Dot’s music scene also provided to DX some interesting insight into the disdain some of his countrymen have for Drake, but why all of his fellow Canadians should “take notes” from the most successful Canuck in the states to date.
HipHopDX: The first most obvious question is…why is Natalie Portman so dope? [Laughs].
k-os: [Laughs]. I’m a huge Star Wars fan. And…the character she played was very interesting. It was like a woman who wanted to basically be domestic and…just have a regular life. But…Anakin Skywalker a/k/a. Darth Vader was so caught up and possessive…that he couldn’t see that. He was very blind to some simple things that he could’ve just indulged in and maybe had a different life. So, for me I really related to that character, kind of the Darth Vader aspect, like the whole idea of wanting to be great but at the same time just knowing that the most simple things come from family. So I kinda fell in love with her character. From there then I followed her and I went back and checked some of her catalog. And then I saw a lot of the great things she was doing in the world and I thought, “Wow.”
The song’s called “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman,” [and] there’s undertones [of her in the song] because people see her as a symbol of things, and she’s a beautiful woman. But it’s more of like the whole character of that type of woman… So, Natalie Portman’s one person, [but] I’m sure there’s lots of women out there who are like her or who have the same ideals or motives or goals. But, I think for me the song was more about wanting to meet somebody like that.
It really was just a last minute kinda [title], because [Saukrates] was gonna put the song out under the name “On The Run” and my publisher called and said, “Yo, so you can’t call it ‘On The Run,’ what do you wanna call it?” And I was like hung-over and I just said “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman.” [And he was like], “Are you serious?” That was the first thing at the end of my brain, and sometimes when things just come like that to my brain – much like when I’m writing music – I just go with it so…
DX: Do you know if she’s aware of the song?
k-os: Yeah, actually she did an interview last year for Entertainment Tonight and they played it to her on the air… She seemed pretty humble and embarrassed about it. But it was kind of cool to see the interviewer play it off his computer and [say to her], “Have you heard of k-os?” And she was like, “Yeah.” And he was like, “Well he has a song called ‘I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman,’” and she just kinda laughed in an embarassed way. So it was cool.
DX: Have you gotten any sense up to this point if your genre-bending style is harder to swallow for the normally spoon-fed-by-radio U.S. crowd?
k-os: I think it is. I mean…I think that it’s all I can do [though], ‘cause I love so many different types of music. But, I do believe the world is changing, and I believe that iPod culture [is changing it]. To me, the iPod is the most secret place you can listen to music ‘cause no one can see [what you’re listening to] – before you might have to pull out a CD, pull out a tape [that everyone could see]… Now everything’s on this little machine that basically only you can see, and I think in that everyone’s listening to things that maybe they shouldn’t be.
So, I feel like yeah, maybe four or five years ago it was harder [for some] to follow [me], but I feel music’s changing. And I feel that the more you see Katy Perry doing something with Timbaland…even if the songs aren’t what people are into, those collaborations, just trying to see like the Black Lips and GZA [working together], BlakRoc or something, these [collaborations] are showing that [music’s changing].
DX: Why do you think [fellow] T-Dot native Drake has been able to break through the U.S. radio matrix in a way no other Canadian has?
k-os: He understands, man. ‘Cause his father’s American and [so] he understands; he gets American culture… People don’t know a fact about [the ‘90s-era Toronto-based crew] Figures Of Speech…who are Figures Of Speech? Kardinal Offishall, the great Marvel, Saukrates, Solitaire, Tara Chase. Hip Hop heads will know these names. [But] they don’t know that these were the type of guys that used to spend summertime’s in New York with their cousins, [and then] come back to Canada with like the dopest tapes and the dopest shoes. So that’s why they were actually ahead at the time too, ‘cause they got it. Anybody who spends time in America and hangs out in America and then comes back to Canada as a child, they seem to get it a little bit more.
But, for me, I grew up in the suburbs outside of Toronto. [And] my culture’s very West Indian. I lived there. If anywhere I spent more time in Trinidad more than America. So, I think Drake has a very good – He’s an actor and he understands culture, the culture of America. And he’s embraced it, and they embraced him. And then he’s had a lot of lucky things happen too like Lil Wayne and being around those guys and being in the studio with those guys and seeing how they put together tracks. Like that is an amazing teaching thing, so…he’s a very unique case. He’s a charismatic guy as well so there you go. It’s like, it was gonna happen sooner or later [that an emcee from Canada succeeded in the states]… It’s an amazing thing to watch, and I hope people in our country take notes on how he’s doing it. ‘Cause I myself, from being in Canada so long and actually having a crazy career here and an amazing career here, I’m now a bit more open to America because of guys like him. Because I’m seeing him do it, and it’s like a possibility now [for Canadian rappers to have success in the U.S.]. It’s like kinda how when Maestro came out, it was a possibility, [and] now there’s a possibility [again].
DX: It’s interesting you have that sort of humbling [stance], ‘cause it looks like your fellow countryman Kardinal Offishall doesn’t share the same fondness for Drake…
k-os: The thing about it is, people need to understand Kardinal. Kardinal is a firey guy. And so he speaks his mind. And I think at the end of the day I don’t think that it’s [beef anymore]. What people don’t know about Kardinal is when my song “4, 3, 2, 1” [from Yes!] came out I called him and I was like, “Do you wanna be on this remix?” He was like, “Yeah, who’s on there?” I was like, “Me, Drake and Sauk’s.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I’m down.” And this is way after all those things were said. So, people hold on to things and they publicize things, but…there’s no real beef I don’t think. I just think that people are kings for a while in the city and they’re the most popular thing, and then something comes along – And you gotta see Canada [as a whole] as a certain way too. You could have Kanye [West], Kid Cudi, Lil Wayne, there could be like six, seven, eight, nine, 10 rappers at the time [in the U.S.] who are all doing well, living life, making money…and it’s cool. But in Canada it’s like they only allow one rapper [to be successful] at a time. If it’s not Choclair, then it was Swollen Members. If it wasn’t Swollen Members, then it was me for awhile – which was cross-genre but… And then if it’s not [me], then it’s Kardinal. Our country’s small where it’s like you’re the only rapper for awhile, you can’t have five, six, seven, eight rappers on the radio [at one time]. So it’s almost like when one guy’s doing well it’s almost like everyone simultaneously has to kinda stand back because Canada doesn’t embrace five, six, seven [rappers at a time]. They’re not ready for that yet. We’re still very much a Folk-Rock & Roll country. There’s like a lot of Rock bands on the radio. There’s twenty [successful] Indie-Rock bands, but there’s not twenty rappers. So, that’s another reason why people are so quick to make beef between certain people - K’naan and k-os, they [blew] it up [a few years back] because it’s like there’s only one dude so you almost feel like the one guy’s being replaced by the other guy. And I think it causes that kind of paranoia and maybe fear when an emcee hears that you only have a certain time and then that’s it… But that mentality of a shelf life I think some people it gets into them, and people kind of use that and psychologically press people’s buttons. [But] I think [Drake and Kardinal] are fine.
DX: That remix, [to] “4, 3, 2, 1,” has that surfaced?
k-os: I got everyone’s verse…[but] Drake didn’t do a verse, ‘cause we just didn’t get him. But, I have a plan to [still] put together what Sauk’s and Kardinal sent me, which is amazing… The story goes with a guy like Drake, he has so much music out there, [so] it’s like he tries to just chill for a bit because there’s so many songs with his voice on it, so I get that. But, quiet as kept we have a track called “The Two,” it’s gonna come out later on this year, me and Drake… There’s lots of stuff in the files to come out…
DX: Speaking of, one of those records I heard it’s called “Faith” that you and Drake did but I can’t find it anywhere online… Do you know where that’s gonna surface?
k-os: We’re thinking we’re just gonna drop it on iTunes or as a single like after his record comes out - so April, May. We’ll see, but I’m excited about it. It’s hard to hold it in, ‘cause everybody who has heard it…they love it.
DX: Is the sound of the record more in that mellow, R&B-ish lane that Drake’s normally in?
k-os: I would say it’s like Al Green meets – It’s very soulful. It was a track that was already created [that] he had a verse on, then I jumped on and I added some stuff to it… It has this kind of soul element to it, so I think for him…for both of us, people are gonna be surprised musically what it sounds like for him, and they’re gonna be surprised lyrically and style-wise what I come with. ‘Cause, people consider me to be the abstract, conscious [emcee]. [But] this is my moment to show, yeah I can do [something different]. So it’s fun; it’s gonna be great. I’m excited.