From a standpoint, one may enter the music industry and find themselves pondering which genre he or she will be categorized under. In another light, one may find a way to blend the vast styles of music without restriction and become the multi-genre artist.
Thanks to my mentor, my boss, the Editor in Chief of HipHop DX, Justin Hunte, I was able to squeeze in one last interview before departing Los Angeles and officially ending my internship with Cheri Media. This one last interview was with emcee k-os and let me tell you, I was inspired!
K-os confidently travels through the realm of music and creates what he is feeling at the present moment. Through the years, he has proven possible to leap into multiple musical scenes.
After conversing with k-os over the phone and reflecting over what I had just learned from this unique artist, I just had to recognize him on my website and share parts of what he had to say.
J: Can you explain the meaning behind your alias k-os? I heard it’s an acronym for “knowledge of self” and I also heard it’s an acronym for “Kevin’s original sound.”
k-os: Yeah, well, that was the original acronym that I had but I, also, I think it’s at a certain point... Hip Hop was at a certain point when I was developing my rap skills where it was just like the music period I was like, I was attracted to the aspect of doing something different and standing out as somebody who was trying to bend just the genre of Hip Hop. I think I was really really affected by names like Brandy B and Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, everything like X Clan, like the early movement of Hip Hop that was like completely conscious.
That’s when a friend of mine one day, actually in a band called The Rascals, that was a very eminent band in Canada, Hip Hop band, and I met this guy for the first time in an elevator and he asked me ‘You’re k-os, what does that stand for?’ and I just off the cuff said ‘knowledge of’ I lied, I was like ‘knowledge of self’ because I kind of knew that I didn’t want to say ‘Kevin’s Original Sound,’ it sounded kind of corny to say that and that it meant that. So I just, I think anyone out there can relate to when you kind of say things that are, you don’t know if it came from you or why you said it but it definitely is something that kind of was channeled or was really spontaneous. When I was put in that specific situation ‘cause he was like ‘well what are you about?’ is basically what this guy was gonna ask me and I was like ‘yo, my knowledge of self,’ that kind of shifted my path and my musical ideas from there because I feel like having that sort of name keeps me in check a little bit. Hip Hop is a fun thing, it’s a fun thing, it’s about peace, love and having fun. I feel that’s the core of it but I think that if the acronym meaning sort of holds me where ‘okay cool you have to sort of say something.’ You know, maybe not every song or all the time but just to be a little aware that you’re speaking to a lot of people and you should actually say something that has some pertinence beyond just your egocentric idea, what you’re tryna get or the come up, as people would say, that’s important too but I feel like having some kind of intelligence about yourself and knowing yourself will probably help you say something that has a little more permanence I feel. So that’s the bottom line of it, not to drag the intro too long but it proves that we all start on an ego level and I’m not saying I’m not on that level now but that was definitely the core of when I was tryna be like the dude and make music that’s being a part of, you know rap music development it was a bit more like, sort of a musicians are still observing and people who have to serve the public as well. So that’s where that comes from.
J: Speaking of shifting paths, I read that you took a break [from the music industry] after releasing your song “Rise Like The Sun” in 1996, I heard it’s because you wanted to find your true sound as an artist and a few years later you reappeared in the industry when releasing your album Exit. Can you tell me what your sound was then and what you describe your sound as being now?
k-os: I think, now in retrospect I can, in this question, I can be honest about it, I just think I sounded like a lot of people and I didn’t like it. It was frustrating that I had taken in so many peoples raps that when I went in the studio I really didn’t have an original voice of my own. Like and you said, I think it’s just like, in other music, like rock music, there’s days you wanna like study Erik Practon or Jimi Hendrix and you play their solos continually, that’s sort of accepted way of learning rock music ‘cause music is really composed of being standard, where you actually have to show you can play someone else's music to show that you have the chops.
Hip Hop’s not like that. They call that biting, well not anymore because I don’t think, I think that word doesn’t really get thrown around in Hip Hop that much but in that era I came up in, if you sounded like another person it wasn’t a good thing and I know everyone that, maybe the people that are reading or are gonna hear this interview don’t know right now because everyone sounds like everyone and they think that's cool. But from where I came from, you’re not really supposed to sound like the next man, you’re supposed to be original. So it just comes back to the old ‘Kevin's Original Sound’ thing and realizing ‘Yo, I’m not that original really though,’ you know what I mean. I have to get like, you just sound like different dudes and so, I took a break sort of to be like ‘well what are you about?’ You know like, you’re this kid from the suburbs of Canada, you’re not from Brooklyn, you’re not hardcore so what are you about?’ and at that pose of sort of just pretending to be something I wasn't, that break was sort of just to see ‘What do you have to say to the world? What do you have offer?’ And there’s so many people tryna rap, there’s so many people who are good, why should someone listen to me? Unless I say something that brings something to the table that original so... or at least real from where I’m at, so that’s what that break was about. It was like a kid kind of knowing, and I didn't know it at the time, I kind of made up all these excuses like the music industry is messed up, I don’t like the music industry and I broke up with a girl at the time and I made up a lot of these other things but I think I was the person that knew that he wasn't really going with him and giving the real part of himself and needed time to sort of figure out his story and what he’s looking to say to the world.
J: I noticed that, and I'm sure that a lot of your fans notice that you have a wide range of styles in your music like “The Dog Is Mine” is more like rock, “On The Run” I felt like had a reggae-type vibe and the video that we posted on our site “4 3 2 1” is like a good feel, question humanity type song. Is that [experimenting with music during his time off] where your interests in incorporating all these genres in your music comes from?
k-os: Yeah and I also just get bored very much. I have music ADD, in the sense that it’s very difficult... like right now this record is probably the most Hip Hop record I'm working on. I've had twelve songs and eight of them are just straight Hip Hop tracks and I can't believe it. But that’s what I’m feeling right now. The attention that I'm paying and the way I feel about life right now, I'm really, really into where Hip Hop is and what I'm doing and it’s a real feeling. But for most of my life, I couldn't really spend more than two or three songs in a genre without being like ‘Okay I’m sort of investigated out of the record, what else do we got’ so I’m just gonna say I'm this guy that's tackulatingly mixing my styles, that’s what’s happening.
I investigate something till I'm bored of it and I move on. And I usually spend two to three songs on a record so by the time I've done my third, kind of someone would say an ‘underground song’ that’s maybe the quote unquote head song, like I'm done. After two or three songs, I'm like ‘Okay I did that, lets just put the code on the record.’ I just don't feel to do that anymore so instead of like... I just saw Andre 3000 in September and we were just talking about how sometimes you just have all these songs with verses on them and you never go back because you just move on. He’s had many albums like that. He had it for so long, he just had a verse on it and then later on he finished it. There's a lot of that going on too in my music where it’s like, you just gotta… you just investigate something and you move on and I think once you put out an album man, and it's been two, three, four, five years between now people, you know... fortunate for me I created a type of perception of me as an artist that I can go do rock song but imagine being a Hip Hop artist and you've done three Hip Hop songs and that’s all you can feel and people expect you to do the same.
You just have to wait ‘till inspiration hits you because that's what your are known to do but for me thankfully enough I set it up that if I go do a reggae song or a folk song just on the guitar, people wont be like ‘oh this is not him what is he doing?’ So that gives me more. That’s why I can put out album after album after album, next thing I'm on my seventh album now, sixth or seventh album, because I could just keep creating without the limit of a genre just to kind of limit me. I feel lucky about that. If anything people look at record sales or this or that. I’m proud of myself that I created an image where I don't have to stick with one kind of music, it’s really extreme for me. I thank myself for doing that. That’s one thing I could pat myself on the back and say ‘well at least you have the courage not to say ‘I'm just this’ because now you can do so many things and you can keep putting music out without having to be like ‘oh it’s not hip hop so that's why I gotta chill for a bit.' This is not my quote unquote stand, won’t expect for something sell with something like that. It’s just I’m in a position where I could just do whatever and I think that’s while it’s given me mobility and more options for creativity.
J: Yeah that's really cool ‘cause basically your fans can expect you to be playing around with a bunch of different genres and it won't come unexpected if you come out with a rock album or come out with a hip hop sound, ‘cause when Lil Wayne, you know, he’s been rapping his whole career and then he comes out with rock and people were kind of like ‘What's going going on here?’
k-os: My exact example, he wanted to do something creative and different and God bless him but people are like ‘what are you doing?’ They get kind of thrown back that he’s doing something like that and same thing with the rock, that dude from Soundgarden, if you do your little research Chris Cornell did a record with Timbaland. This is a guy who's in a band called Soundgarden and deciding ‘okay I want to do an R&B record’ and the whole world was like ‘what are you doing?’ I know it didn't do well. But an artist should be allowed to do the fuck they want, they should be allowed you know?
That’s what the cover song was about back in the day, in the ‘70s, you cover somebody's song because you like what someone else did and you wanted to sort of investigate that and the cover song was a way of kind of nodding your head and going ‘well okay I know this isn’t me, I’m gonna try something different’ and that’s also sort of dead too. People don't do that much anymore, where they can just go and do something different.
So I think that that could be power in music, people having this perception of themselves as a certain way, almost like a marketing thing. Where it’s like, ‘I only do this type of thing.’ You know a lot of people put this out, tell them I'm not gonna do it and then you know it’s the same when people think you become their prisoner. So now you're kind of locked in this thing where you care so much what people think that now you have to do what they say and then your fans rule you. That’s not what you get into music for. In life you want it to be creative and you wanted you to say what you wanted to but then people find themselves in the situation where they constantly keep creating something for these other people, I can't do that. And if that's what other people are doing, more power to them but that’s not really my path.
J: I know you produce, and write a lot, most of your work, and you also directed this ["WiLD4TheNight"] video. Do you write everything? What’s your process in creating your music?
k-os: A lot of it, it comes from just experience. I could sound fancy and be like ‘I do this’ or ‘write the lyrics’ but I’m getting to the point right now where I feel something and it just comes out of me. And I think that’s why people relate to what they hear, they always relate to a song that’s spontaneous. If you write a song in two, four, five minutes it’s probably going to be more impactful because you could be writing for years, months, weeks and you can’t express this thing and in one studio [session] it just comes out of you. And you know what you’re expressing that for everybody in the world and that’s why people like your song. Because you said that thing, that’s what poetry is, saying things that can’t be said. So at this point in my career, I would say yes back in the days I’ll be like ‘yeah I made the beat, have the beat on my headphones, listen to it, walk around the city, listen to it. I could go through that whole thing, get a soundscape’ but now it’s just not even like that. I don’t even make music like... I don’t wake up and make beats anymore ‘cause if I have nothing to say, I don’t say anything. When I feel something then I make music. Like okay, you know it should be about Madonna, a certain artist that I look up to, or doing big things, or spending twenty minutes writing a song getting into it and I get that because I did that in my life too. I just mess around with a genre like we talked about, experiment. Once you’ve exhausted those options then you have all these songs that are okay. You know, they’re not like bangers, they’re just stuff, they’re just like paintings that you made for yourself but then you start to realize that the best songs you made happen when you have something to say to someone, or someone pisses you off, the world rubs you the wrong way, and then you get to say that exact same thing that everyone else is feeling. That's the magic of a hit song, why quote unquote it hits people. Because you said this thing this whole generation wanted to say.
J: What would you say "WiLD4TheNight" is inspiring?
k-os: Freedom. Being black in a way that’s not American. A lot of Canadians feel like... see a lot of Canadians when they touch the pop or they feel like they have to approach it, they make it so American like they have to like... and there’s nothing wrong with that ‘cause you guys started the genre, America started the genre but it’s just my way of being like there’s a different way of being black, there's a lot of ways to be black. You could be a Swedish black person and you may be a teenie bit black that no one knows, that no ones seen yet. It’s whatever's exposed. Now the internet allows this kid to be this video, you're gonna air it to some two hundred thousand people and they get to see hey this guy gets down and he's not from America but loves Hip Hop. I think that’s a beautiful thing. You know so it’s inspired me to have confidence with that and not feel like it’s something you have to hide or assimilate, going back to the whole beginning things of genres, having a distinct personality that you feel like you have to keep playing into. Being Trinidadian is just a way of being like ‘well I'm black and I’m urban but I'm not American and there’s nothing wrong with me, there’s nothing to be weird about that.’ People need to respect that just as much as they respect LA. Like when Snoop came out, I remember when Snoop came out and no one was really rapping from America from the West Coast in a big way like Snoop and he exposed that culture. He had a southern drawl, he dressed differently, he had this slang and everyone was like ‘whoa,’ ‘cause up to that point it everything was about New York ‘cause that’s where Hip Hop started. Then the South came out and then Outkast came out and people were like ‘who are these dudes,’ you know, ‘why are they dressed like that?’ Andre said, in his verse ‘oh y’all talk funny, from the islands’ you know what I mean, ‘no I’m from Atlanta baby’ and then you know... so it’s like people weird with it too but now the whole world, the whole southern rap go north, but what are north people? They're Canadians. Like are they from Canada? No we’re from Trinidad, we’re from Diana, we’re from Jamaica.
J: Where do you want to take your music? What can we expect from you in the future, aside from the upcoming album [Can't Fly Without Gravity] that’s coming out next year?
k-os: You know what, you live in a time where you gotta just let time do what it does. You live in an era now where you can’t calculate too much and people know if you’re calculating, ‘cause everybody’s calculating. Back in the days when, you know, you had a street team on your record label will go out there and promoting and taking pictures, now the average person is self promoting so they can smell when you’re trying to make things happen, everybody does it now. It’s just the way it is, everyone put a picture on Instagram. What the difference between an artist who puts a picture up and a regular person from Conneticut? Nothing. Everyones grabbing for attention.
The internet has made the world flat. And in that way when I say flat, everybody is just on the same level so its like... I think as an artist to say this is what I want, you get a little bit pretentious. I want this record, probably I want this record if I could be honest to reach America more than any other of my records ‘cause I know people know of me there and they’ve heard of me and if you say the name they’re like ‘oh yeah I remember something’ but I’ve mostly stayed away from my music. I’ve almost kind of sworded my music not being heard from America because that's a form of insecurities as well. You don’t understand from it until you stay away from it but the more I understand myself, it’s a more natural and relaxed than it being heard by anyone else and not feeling a way about it. In China it doesn’t matter what, Thailand or Australia, I don’t care. I just, at this point just be myself and let the chips fall with the name.
As far as my life, yeah I wanna to go to a university. Go back to a university, maybe in the fall, not this year but the next year. Not next year, but yeah, during 2016 I wanna change something but I don’t know. I smell it. I’m in Toronto walking through the University of Toronto campus, I'm like yeah I could see myself going back to school and taking some courses and learning something new. Take a new direction. Not to quit music or anything, but just to stimulate my brain in a different way so I kind of have my eye on that, of going back to a university in 2016. I've been saying it and my dads been like ‘you’ve been saying that since 2011’ but it’s just so much to do with music but I definitely wanna. I think its never too late to try something new, and keep you young and fresh to like keep your brain cells moving, you know and keep pushing that through your system, your blood pumping and learning something new so that’s sort of the future for me, I feel.
J: Is there anything you’d like to add?
k-os: Nah man, I just think that we live in a time where Hip Hop has become a factory and that’s unfortunate. It’s okay, everything has their time but there’s more to Hip Hop than just it being a fashion statement, or I hope that anyone who reads this interview, if you’re out there and you’re coming up as an emcee you take into consideration that you have a responsibility, be intelligent about it. Have fun, wild out, be good to people don’t be a dick, don’t be an idiot. But you know at the same time like say something. That’s basically what I would hope for the next generation of Hip Hop is like, say something man. Like inspire people beyond… it’s not just about you, it’s about you’re speaking. If your goal is to speak to a whole bunch of people than have something got tell them that’s about it. Otherwise I’m done with my preachin’ but I have to say that because it’s a little bit frustrating when I turn on the radio and everything sounds the same.
Speaking with k-os made me assure my beliefs that art is never limited to one thing. Art is freedom and k-os embodies that. He stays true to himself with his music and by doing that he stays true to his fans and for that I thank you.
Recently signed to Dine Alone Records, k-os is slated to release his sixth studio album in 2015, Can’t Fly Without Gravity.
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