Toronto hip-hop artist k-os immersed in pop culture on joyful new album
For a guy who has always projected an easy cool, Toronto hip-hop artist k-os admits he's actually been a bit out of touch.
TORONTO - For a guy who has always projected an easy cool, Toronto hip-hop artist k-os admits he's actually been a bit out of touch.
In fact, the Juno Award-winning artist says he purposely buried his head underground and ignored what was going on in pop culture when putting together his last album, 2006's inward-looking "Atlantis: Hymns for Disco."
Then he bought a TV, and his fourth disc, "Yes!" - which dropped Tuesday - reflects a totally different mindset.
"I just watched 'Sex and the City' for the first time two months ago," said k-os, whose real name is Kheaven Brereton, during an interview at a downtown coffee shop. "I called one of my friends and I was like: 'Yo, this show is pretty good.' And she's like: 'You JUST watched that?'
"This record is definitely me being affected by watching television and listening to the radio."
Indeed, "Yes!" is the work of an artist with his finger on the pulse, or at least a remote control.
"I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman" samples Phantom Planet's "California" - the theme to the once-popular teen soap "The O.C." - and reappropriates some of its lyrics, while "4,3,2,1" is a sly reference to the Feist hit with the inverse name.
"There's something that happens when you're watching like '30 Rock' or these things, something happens in your pen, you're a bit more aware," he said. "'Yes!' is more about what's happening around me, and it feels good to be affected by the collective consciousness again."
In fact, "Yes!" - true to its exclamation point - is a joyful, sun-streaked summertime record with some deep grooves.
The record also finds k-os returning to his hip-hop roots after wandering slightly astray on "Atlantis," and yet somewhat paradoxically the album features no shortage of chunky guitar riffs.
"It's schizophrenic music," he said. "The iPod changed things, because now you could listen to Britney Spears right after you listened to Mars Volta and no one would know. That's kind of like my music."
His touring plan is similarly unorthodox. On April 30, k-os will launch a 10-date Canadian tour that will allow fans to pay whatever they want to attend the shows, with some of the proceeds going to the David Suzuki Foundation.
"Somebody might actually wake up that morning, it's a sunny day, and go: 'Let me go down there, see what happens,"' he said. "The money element makes it a bit more spontaneous, and my music's a lot about spontaneity."
That's certainly true of "Yes!" Aforementioned first single "4, 3, 2, 1" is one standout, featuring a memorable melody spun from a stand-up bassline and a bedrock of vocal samples. K-os says the track - aside from being a cheeky answer to the Feist hit - is about gender politics.
"The battle of the sexes - the world is more about that kind of battle than it is about anything else," he said. ""The battle isn't about America vs. whoever, it's about Dick vs. Jane."
And as far as repurposing the hook from another track?
"What do they say? Good artists plagiarize, great artists steal," he said. "So I kind of took her thing and made it my own."
On "Burning Bridges," k-os - who recently switched record labels and shuffled his management - declares his newfound immunity from the influence of critics or any other industry types.
"I found myself being affected by other people's opinions of me, and that's really sad for a guy whose music comes from a core of not caring about that," he said. "That can make you kind of lame as an artist, when you start depending on your relationships to make good music.
"(But) I don't need to make sure that all my relationships are in check to make a good record, I just need to make a good record. If you pump it or dump it, that's your business."
K-os still resists classification - "I am not indie rock," he announces on opener, "Zambony" - and on this day, calls himself "prog hip-hop" then a moment later, "songwriter's hip-hop." He says hip-hop artists should be afforded more room to define themselves.
"In rock 'n' roll music, you can have everything from Thom Yorke to Kid Rock, and that's still rock 'n' roll," he said. "But in hip-hop, if you're different, you're no longer hip-hop.
"Hip-hop needs to be allowed to have more parameters."
Meanwhile, he's excited - and completely unapologetic - about the unbridled pop of "Yes!"
"Canada's always had this thing where if someone's in the mainstream, they're not cool," he said. "Canadian artists remind me of gazelles who have to cross the crocodile stream and nobody wants to be the first guy across. But somebody has to. Every time you watch it, there's one gazelle that goes, and then they all go. You might get eaten, but who cares? I feel like I'm one of those gazelles. I gotta get across, man, I gotta graze on greener grass.
"They can't take you all down, so let's all just go together."