Call it pre-celebrity rehab.
The danger of commodifying a therapeutic practice — and of pushing personal affliction into the public eye — is not the only way Toronto singer-rapper Ko Kapaches plays with fire.
His debut album, Let’s Blaze, also burns with optimistic energy. While lyrics focus on Kapaches’ background of drug abuse, homelessness and rehab, underlying the subject matter is a hopeful, singsong energy that blends Jack Johnson with Buhloone Mindstate-era De La Soul basslines (think Ego Trippin’ Pt. 2). Stories about the everyday charms of barbecues, radio, and hanging out with friends join darker tales about shuttling between rehab centres.
“I spent a lot of time being shepherded around from rehab to rehab. That’s how I got to know the U.S.,” said Kapaches. “Celebrity shows seem a little done up and sugar-coated (compared to the reality of rehab) … The most realistic show is Intervention. That’s exactly what it’s like.”
Kapaches spoke about being chased down by men on horses when attempting to flee a Boot Camp in Utah and enduring ‘scream therapy’ in Massachusetts. Before reaching his second decade, he’d lived on the streets of San Francisco and couch-surfed across Toronto. One of his songs — album opener Mountains — relates how his father caught him counting money made from drug dealing. Another eulogizes Kurt Cobain (Kapaches is a huge Nirvana fan, though he dislikes electric guitar) while condemning his actions.
Despite his material’s potential to devolve into bling-rap excess, Kapaches avoids braggadocio through a self-reflective stance that avoids glorifying the blunts and booze that infuse his stories.
“(Rehab) seems like a lifetime ago. Now I’m in Toronto, and met a friend who was in the same facility as me, and we talk about how we went through that experience,” he said. “It’s really hard to really explain what you go through to someone who was not there … It happened to me, but it seems so unreal.”
Now, Kapaches is happy to have visited San Francisco, New York and the Caribbean on holiday, as opposed to in therapy. One regret: trying to rap.
“Man, I hope no-one ever finds the tracks I was rapping on,” he said, laughing. “I remember being in the studio, hanging out with my friend, and telling him I’m not going to rap any more, but that was going to sing over guitar. He couldn’t understand it. But I knew I was never going to be a white rapper.”