So what is Canadian Rap star k-os doing tooling along the 401 at 6:45 in the morning, heading for an early appointment at Toronto’s Breakfast Television show on CITY TV to promote his sixth studio record, `Can’t Fly Without Gravity’. Well it’s the kind of thing you do when you are heading up an R&B, Rap dance movement that has now hit the mainstream of Canadian contemporary music.
With the likes of Drake, The Weeknd and Classified also crossing over to dominate mainstream radio play lists as well as established urban formats, it’s k-os, a Toronto native who has been active since his debut “Musical Essence” single release in 1993 who is currently being recognized as the artist who has quarter-backed the credibility of this genre.
“My lawyer, Chris Taylor calls me `The Godfather of Alternative Rap’ and I got emotional when he said that,” noted k-os over the phone. “I look around at Drake, K’naan, The Weeknd and Classified and I think to myself, `are they now doing what I have been doing for the past 10 years? Sometimes you just need to hear that you are somebody who has influenced the Hip Hop scene.
His latest release, which is a stand-out merger of R&B, Rap, Reggae, Dance and even alternative rock tracks reflects the variety of influences Kheaven Bereton was exposed to growing up in suburban Whitby, Ontario. “I’m somebody who listened to all kinds of music including The Ramones, early U2 and the Police but my kind of thing was The Clash. Their sound is a hip hop sound in the way they worked in that reggae style. I still hold them in high regard.”
With tracks full of positive messages, intelligent lyrics with only one song (“Wild 4 the Night) containing certain mild expletives, k-os has released a radio friendly record that should appeal to a mass audience. The a fore-mentioned “Wild 4 the Night” track, the record’s lead off single, nearly triggered an anxiety attack for k-os who was committed to release a song which illustrated just how far Rap music has progressed. “I wanted guys who had memories of singing along to “Crabbuckit” when they were kids to now listen to “Wild 4 the Night” and think `Wow this guy is way cool!”
A song k-os is especially proud of is his “Boys 11 Men,” track which samples Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and features a bunch of cameos by key Canadian rap artists whom k-os has known since they were all kids, hence the “Boys 11 Men” reference.
“I was so excited that Whitney Houston’s estate gave me permission to sample that song,” enthused k-os “My Mom and I used to sing along to Whitney Houston CD’s in the car when I was a kid and Houston directly influenced my vocal style. The end result is an ode to her and the way her life played out.”
Utilizing an ASR-10 sampling machine, k-os set about constructing a track in the style of how bands like A Tribe Called Quest and The Wu-Tang Clan used to recorded songs with those chopped beats. “It took me like 10 years to get my head around that style of producing. The end result is a little off key, a little dissonant and jazzy but it definitely captures that street hip hop sound from the Nineties.
It’s a song which allowed k-os to feature several of his fellow Canadian hip hop artists on the track with the likes of Saukrates, Choclair, Kardinal Official, King Reign and Shad all contributing vocally. “I am so proud of that track. It’s not just about me rapping; it’s me producing all the other guys. These are guys I grew up with as kids and are now fellow performers. It kind of sums up where we’ve all come from”
The CD image for “Can’t Fly Without Gravity” is a spoof on the National Lampoon,` Vacation’ posters with k-os depicted as some mighty Canuck warrior brandishing a hockey stick while a beaver shoots down an American Eagle with lasers firing from its eyes. “It’s an obvious spoof. Everyone in rap wants to be the King, they want to be at the top of the heap, they want to run things, they want to make the most money,” explained k-os. “But nobody thought about being the king when I was growing up, you were considered more of a street person than anyone else, Rap music used to be the CNN of the street. Now, to have a rap profile you’ve got to depict yourself like you’re a demigod, so that’s what I am spoofing. You want a demigod? Here’s a guy with a hockey stick”.
That’s not to say k-os hasn’t himself chased the American dream but the cost of compromising himself wasn’t worth the sacrifice. “My first record deal (for ‘Exit’) in 2002 was with Capitol Records Los Angeles. I played an acoustic set and they signed me on the spot. Then I got passed along to Astralwerks and then Virgin America and it was always the same. I’d release a record in Canada, would fly down to the States to discuss a U.S release date and meet with some big fat cat who would say; “I love your record, you’re a great artist but can you collaborate with this person or I need a song I can play on U.S radio. And they realized they couldn’t get me to do that because I don’t make music like that. I am not a musical scientist; I’m more of a cultural opportunist.”
k-os actually took a break from recording after his 1996 `Rise Like The Sun’ single release saying he had become disillusioned with the rap scene at that time and felt his own material was pretentious and derivative . “It has to be fun for me to record music, I am not into writing protest songs or being controversial yet that was the scene at the time, so I had to take a time out to evaluate my own direction and what was happening to rap music overall.”
k-os re-emerged in 2002 with his Exit debut which failed to make an impression but his 2004 follow-up `Joyful Rebellion’ release created a stronger impact thanks to the success of “Crabbuckit”. The release went platinum (100,000 plus sales) and earned him three Juno awards and since then he has been on a course of steady development with three more records; `Atlantis Hymns For Disco (2006), `Yes’ (2009) and `Black On Blonde (2013), all laying a solid foundation which has continued to grow as EDM and rap have pushed their way to the forefront of the domestic music scene.
As for the future, k-os claims he is considering a country music record with top producer Daniel Lanois. “Daniel and I have talked about it,” he allowed.“Every time he sees me, he’s like some teacher in the school hall way. “Kheaven, what about that country record”? I am not saying it’s going to happen but those are the type of ideas that inspire me right now.”
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