k-os: The Fourth Fugee [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – “k-os that actually ends up on the record maybe is sometimes a bit ahead of his time.” That statement rings true of his latest mixtape release, The Anchorman. As soon as Will Ferrell beckons you to listen on the intro he is eclipsed by Peter Tosh exclaiming that he’s “going to kill all the f*ckery out there”. An unlikely match-up, but not too surprising considering the artist in question. What follows are 12 varied cuts that suggest k-os is yet again on to the next. He draws on some ethereal energy source to produce a piece, a mixtape mind you, which surpasses most of his contemporaries’. Kevin Brereton has come a long way since rocking over guitars and finger snaps.
His music is encrypted. Beneath the hip-hop puritanism, penchant for b-boy-isms and boom-bap drums are echoes of a spiritual character that’s amassed wisdom of several lifetimes. Believe that.
So we talked about The Anchorman, music, his earlier work, apocalypse, and collaboration. He weaves endless run-on sentences, seemingly on the destination to nowhere when he suddenly gift-wraps a perfectly tailored answer to your question, summarizing all his points in a dexterous demonstration of eloquence. After all, he is an MC.
He’s outspoken and brazen, but communicates his points with intervals of laughter that reveals his humble and self-effacing nature. Still, he doesn’t hesitate to son me, albeit in a way a sensei would do a pupil, when he senses my sneaky roundabout question about his past situation with K’naan.
I’d been trying to track the man down for weeks. When his publicist informed me of his availability I scrambled to the cafeteria with cell, laptop and recording equipment in hand. Just off of touring Japan, he was three blocks away from his home in Vancity when I began…
HipHopCanada: I want to start off with the Anchorman theme. There’s a lot of dark theme that you’re tackling with the mixtape that you’re sort of shrouding with comedy. Did you want to touch on that?
k-os: First of all I got to give you props for recognizing that… You hear some things like Owen Wilson and Jim Carrey are manic-depressive guys you know what I mean? Some of the funniest dudes in the world are dark guys. The reason why they’re so funny is it’s a cathartic way to get out their frustrations or whatever. They could be sad deep inside. For me I’ve always considered myself a thinking guy. People say conscious MC and all that stuff; I’m just a thinking man. In the sense I think a lot about what’s going on around me. The vignettes and the comedy and the sound bites gave me a chance to frame the songs, than if I just put them on the record with no commentary. Strangely enough, sometimes the songs started to make the interludes mean something different. If you watch the movie some of the things we took out of context – DJ Lil’ Jazz took a couple of those quotes too ‘cause he’s a fan of the movie too – he sent it back to me and I was amazed at how the songs would change based on someone picking a different interlude. The most positive part of the whole process was approaching certain frustrations – certain things I love even, it’s not just the negativity and the darkness – but using comedy across the board in a summertime kind of way to offer something to the people so they can enjoy it and not really have to think too much when they listen to it but still get a message you know? They can listen to it ten, twenty, thirty forty times and maybe pull a different meaning every time ‘cause it’s kind of like really subversive and subconscious it’s not direct.
HipHopCanada: On “Start Me Up”, I think that’s the first song, you say “Get off the block, off of Lucifer’s jock, onto what you is it and off of what you is not/Planet is getting hot with earthquakes in the T-Dot”. Did you want to elaborate on that, especially the last little bit? It’s seems like you’re tackling or saying we’re heading towards some sort of apocalyptic scenario or something.
k-os: You get influenced when you listen to these guys on the radio and maybe you start writing something, framing yourself or creating a character that’s a little more street oriented. I’ve done that before. So I have to wheel back and say this sounds good and it’s fun but is it really me? Is it going to throw some people off or glamorize something that I’m not a part of? So when you hear that kind of character come out through me going “get off the block, get off of Lucifer’s jock”, 90% of the times I’m talking to myself. 90% of the time my music is a full blown, if you want to talk about the old school guy walking who’s got an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, a lot of the times my drafts are those two guys battling. So that whole is telling me it doesn’t matter what these young guys or whoever is rapping about, be who you are Kevin. When I say “Lucifer’s jock”, [it’s] the idea of being something you’re not, or fake, or selfish. Lucifer doesn’t just represent the devil; it represents to me anything that is not authentic. So there’s that and the “earthquakes in the T-Dot” part is just basically, well, there’s so much more serious things to talk about. That’s a big thing; no one’s mentioned that in hip-hop. Hip-hop’s supposed to be the CNN of the streets. It’s like that’s the stuff we need to sort of wonder what that really means for us. So again, maybe it’s how I see my music, but I feel like I have to address those things. Even if I just say “with earthquakes in the T-Dot”, and just leave it at that, and people think about it or talk about it if they want but I least I reported it right. So 20 [or] 40 years from now, someone might actually listen to the song and go, “Wow! That happened?” Or someone who was in the earthquake would remember that moment. Hip-hop a lot of the times is like a time capsule you know?
HipHopCanada: The connection I drew was that it seems to be like there’s an emergence of dialogue around our troubled times, so to speak. From those line, and if you go on to “Joni Mitchell Peelin’ Out” when you say, “All alone, floating out there/me and the microphone, in the atmosphere/who’s on the thrown, are you come down here/G-O-D help us please”. Those are very strong words. It seems like you’re calling on a messiah or God to intervene. I don’t know if it’s a personal thing or talking about what you see going on in the world.
k-os: I can’t believe you know those lyrics because a lot of the time we turn it down in the mix so when people catch it it’s amazing. Yes. Definitely, that song is called “Joni Mitchell Peelin’ Out, SOS”. So yes, I would say you put it best, all that stuff is true. It’s really also about hip-hop, the state of hip-hop, in the sense of everybody wants to be the number one dude in hip-hop. That’s cool but at the same time hip-hop is also a collective and group sport. So when I say “who’s on the throne are you coming down here?” even if you are the number one guy whether you’re Snoop, whether you’re Jay-Z, whether you’re Drake, whether you’re the number on guy, let’s get involved together. Let’s all of us get involved together, “G-O-D help us please”. G-O-D being the God in heaven, but g-o-d also being the MC, “Help us please.” In other words, everyone come down off your throne, I’m here alone with the microphone. That’s cool, being the only MC. Sometimes I feel like that. I think a lot of rappers feel like that. I know Sauks feels like that, I know Kardi sometimes feels – we all feel like sometimes we’re that last man standing from a certain generation of hip-hop. So there’s a whole bunch of stuff involved in that. I would say primarily yes, it’s also a gospel song in the sense of “God help us”. When I see the world and technology, and the way that it’s going, we don’t need an apocalypse but we definitely need more God consciousness, more spiritual consciousness within our technology. I’m happy about how advanced man is getting, we just need to have it be balanced. Spirit is supposed to inform matter so whatever we create has some type of spiritual idea woven into it. When matter keeps informing matter, when materialism keep informing materialism gradually the equation ends up being something that’s pseudo-spiritual, non-spiritual or God-less. That’s my fear sometimes, we might advance but what kind of human beings are we going to be? As a responsible MC, rapper, soul musician, I put ideas out there. As I’ve matured as a songwriter, I try to be less intrusive so people kind of enjoy the music first and catch the message after. When I was younger I always wanted the message to be first, but as I mature I find I think I’m getting better at putting it together in a way where someone might be listening after maybe the tenth time in their living room and go “Wow, that’s what he actually said? That’s cool”.
HipHopCanada: You continue this theme in “Dance in YO Car” where you say “I make a call but you’re not there/I fly a ship into outer space” And then you say, “I forgot how to pray now.”
k-os: That chorus has double meaning, that’s kind of dealing with a death a bit. Because as I grow older and we all become aware of mortality and just more people around me whether its aunts or uncles, people pass away. I always used to pride myself that I was a guy that was able to let go loved ones and just move on. But I think as I mature again as a human being I start thinking in my brain I go “these people, I wish I could have them here. I wish I could talk to them.” I made that song for me as a section, but I also made it for people who are feeling that emotion of helplessness because they lose a loved one. The first part of the chorus, the “forgot how to pray” is just straight up. When Joyful Rebellion kind of did its thing and I ended up touring the world, I really kind of forgot a lot about religious aspects. My dad was a ministerial servant etc, I grew up in church. I forgot how to pray, I couldn’t even do it. I didn’t feel I was worthy ‘cause I was quote unquote having so much fun. So the tone in my voice and how I sound in that song, to me it’s a return back to be able to make that type of song again. Whether it was like a “Crucial” or these types of songs from my past where I was able to actually channel the more of the little child, the vulnerable part of me. So the song has that double meaning as well. It’s also about lost love and not being able to change the circumstances that sometimes pull people apart. Again, multi-dimensional themes my friend.
HipHopCanada: Right right. In the first verse you say, “you’ve read every book on the shelf/you know every word by heart”. But it seems like you’re trying to say you strayed from that in some sense.
k-os: That whole first verse was for a friend of mine that will remain nameless. But he is a highly intelligent guy but his whole thing is he’s got all these books on his shelf, he’s read every one, but it doesn’t change his effect on the world. It doesn’t change people’s effect on him. He knows all this information but the world’s still so cold to him. Even though he studies philosophy, which I relate to an extent, but “when the morning comes, it’s just so hard to get out of bed”. He got to the point where he was just like he didn’t really want to work or do anything because he became apathetic. [When] you have too much information of the world sometimes, and you know too much it’s like what’s the use of even doing anything? “But something’s calling you” – the positive part of that verse. God’s calling you, or your intelligence, or your spirit knows that you got to get up and try. I never understood when musicians like Bob Dylan used to say, Lauryn Hill said once too, not everything I rap about is about me. I used to be like, that’s so whack. But then the more you live life and you see these stories you relate, and you need people to hear them because you start to see that your music doesn’t always have to be about what you experience. Sometimes you become a civil servant by talking about things that other people experienced just to reach more people and to pull more people to listen to your music. This record is really multi-dimensional. There’s a lot of meaning in everything.
HipHopCanada: Speaking of Lauryn Hill I have to give you kudos for that line you say, “Why test Wyclef? I’m like the fourth Fugee.” I thought that was sick.
k-os: [Laughs] Yeah that’s one of my favorite lines. When I wrote that line on the record I was so happy I was like I can’t believe I’m going to get to put this in a rhyme. So thank you for that.
HipHopCanada: But yeah overall, comparing your older album like Exit and Joyful Rebellion to the music you’re making now would you say that you’ve lost your faith somewhat? Because a lot of your music is informed by, I would say, godliness in a sense, and a consciousness of things beyond just…
k-os: I haven’t lost my faith. I think the world is in the most amazing place that it’s ever been. Based on who the president of America is, what that means as a symbol. I love the fact that Toronto is becoming on the map in music whether it’s Justin Bieber or Drake, whoever, I don’t care I’m glad that some of the top people out there are Canadian. A lot of actors as well. I can’t speak for the world but the dark idea we used to have of Canada where we don’t really respect our own or we follow America too much etc, that’s changing for me. That’s why I can make this mixtape in such a positive light and I’m laughing a lot now, smiling because it’s so great to see the way things happened. Of-course there’s always going to be the crowd of people [that say] the world is not going to make it to the next evolution, but deep deep inside I think we’re too intelligent to do that as human. I feel we’re going to make it. I think everything’s going to be good as Bob Marley says everything is going to be alright.
HipHopCanada: How do you mean by the next evolution?
k-os: I mean Earth made human beings right? Human beings didn’t make Earth. Everywhere you go you see things evolving. Earth has been here for a long time, probably before we were here. Who’s to know how many times human being have been on the planet, who’s to know? I’m reading something about blood memory and how memory from millions of years exists in your blood. So you don’t even know who you descended from and why you act the way you do. So there’s always a risk when there’s that type of ignorance, ’cause mankind doesn’t even understand his own brain at this point. He doesn’t even know how to use the full capacity of his own brain. When you give a 12-year-old kid a Lamborghini, give him the keys, there’s a chance he might crash. But there’s also a chance he might drive really slowly and figure it out. [Laughing]. That’s all I got to say. Let’s see which one we are. I think we’re driving slow.
HipHopCanada: Do you go back and listen to Exit. What do you feel about songs like “Patience”, “Call Me”, “Follow Me” and “Higher”? What do you feel about those songs as the person who created them, looking back?
k-os: Every time I do a new record, I line up all my records and I listen to all of them back to back. Then I listen to the new one. So after I made Joyful Rebellion, I took Exit listened to it, then popped in Joyful Rebellion. When I made Atlantis, popped in Exit, listened to Joyful Rebellion, then listened to Atlantis. So you get the picture? Everything becomes contextual. It’s hard to think about those songs now ’cause I remember who I was when I wrote it. I know my girlfriend broke up with me, all kinds of stuff that people don’t know. When they heard the song on a sunny they’re like “I love this song”, but [for me] some of the songs are hard to listen to. I’ll listen to like five seconds then I’ll fast forward, then another day I can listen to the whole thing. I couldn’t listen to that song “Crabbuckit”, I just heard it maybe about five months ago and I was ok with it, but I couldn’t listen it ’cause it represented certain things in my life. It’s not that I don’t like those songs, it’s just I’m too aware of what went into making them. That’s why we as artists make new material right. But I respect the question. I would say that the character who is speaking on the phone is very much a fan of everything, but that character of k-os that actually ends up on the record maybe is sometimes a bit ahead of his time. That’s all I can say when I listen to those songs. I get it and I love it but I always think, “Wow, you were really reaching with this stuff”. Which is cool, I’m not saying that’s a negative thing. I’m just saying it’s like a basketball player watching himself in college. Even though he may have been an MVP or a good player he’s obviously going to see how he improved, more so than anything else right? That’s how I look at it. I mostly look at that material as how I’ve improved, hopefully.
In some ways, how I was purer as well. I also listen to some of those songs and listen to the tone of my singing voice, and see how as a younger person I hadn’t experienced certain heartaches. Or things in the world that hurt you. I was really innocent.
HipHopCanada: That’s what I was going to ask you whether you feel in some way, I guess the way I phrased it was whether that is your most honest record. But I’d assume each of your records you’re trying to be honest as best you can.
k-os: I’d say “Heaven Only Knows” and “Patience” are the two most honest songs I’ve made. And “Crucial” is good, then again “Zamboni”. I don’t know it’s hard to say man. I always choose to be honest on a record. As far as the most honest record, where I was probably the angriest, was Joyful Rebellion. I was angry at certain things so everything I was doing was straight fire, like “Emcee Murder”. I had so much emotion behind what I was doing. It wasn’t really about making a record or being someone in the music industry. I was really just trying to make a statement on the state of hip-hop, ’cause I felt like I was getting old and hip-hop was eclipsing me, and I didn’t understand the new generation of hip-hop. So I was almost fighting for my own relevance you know?
HipHopCanada: Right, that’s excellent. To round it out, given your position and what you mean to Canadian hip-hop, or just hip-hop in general, and being from Toronto – you were saying earlier how this was an exciting time – would you ever be open to the idea of collaborating with K’naan? The reason I ask that is because, you guys don’t make the same music, but you both have a certain niche or humanity to your music you could say. I think it would be epic to see something like that.
k-os: Of-course. Dude, the thing about it is me and K’naan are very similar and I consider him to be like a younger brother to me. I could get into the whole thing – everyone asks about that – I think they find it intriguing. I don’t find it that intriguing. It’s similar to how I felt about Q-tip. When I grew up I was a fan of Q-tip to the point where I met him a couple of times. [But] at some point I had to define my own persona. Artists find many different ways of defining their own persona. Some of them battle, some of speak out against the thing they maybe once looked up to, I could put it many different ways. I’m always open to doing music with anyone if it’s an authentic thing. Most of the songs I’ve ever done with someone, we’re either hanging out or talking. Me and Sauks are constantly on the phone, “What about this concept?” Me and Drake are texting back and forth, “What about this concept?” So that’s not really my rapport with K’naan. If we ever got to that level where we start to hang out or talk or philosophize about life, then I’m sure something would come of it.
But Neil Young doesn’t have to do a song with Bob Dylan. It’s funny, maybe it’s because we’re black or we’re in hip-hop or something. But would someone ask Bruce Springsteen if he’d do a song with John Cougar Mellencamp? Or Dave Bowie to do a song with whoever? Why is it in hip-hop people always see someone that’s similar and go let’s do a song together? Those two artists can exist forever and create great music and never have to do a song together. Would I be open to it? I’m open to doing a song with Obama if it’s authentic [Laughs]. That’s the question I should get asked least. I’ve done songs with Sam Robertson, Emily Hines from Metric. I’ll do a song with the Rascalz. I think probably if you want to put me on a list of rappers in Canada that have done the most wide ranging songs with people, you have to put me on the top of that list.
The real question is, how do I feel about K’naan? I’m very happy that he’s defined himself as an artist. That’s the most amazing thing. I’m happy that he’s around the world; he’s defined his own original persona. That’s amazing.
HipHopCanada: That’s a good point. So it would have to be an organic thing as opposed to doing it for the sake of.
k-os: That’s kind of why I didn’t do Young Haiti’s thing ’cause a record company is calling me up to be on a track about an earthquake? You know the song was already out. So it was like are we going to write a song for this? Sol who used to manage me and [now] manages K’naan used to say I have a whack radar. You know I was supposed to be on “Northern Touch” as well right? But I said no. I always get offers to do things, but if it doesn’t really suit me at the time, I don’t really do it. It has nothing to do with the artist per se; I just have a little gut feeling sometimes. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right. That Haiti song did a lot of good for people so I’m glad it got out there. But as is proven I didn’t really need to be on it like everyone was trying to say. “Oh you need to be on it, you have to be on it.” Do I really though? Look at all the great people you have on it. I try to do things because it’s real and not just because I’m supposed to do it. That’s how I’ve always been.
HipHopCanada: The reason I asked that is from the hip-hop perspective people do collab in [their] music, in terms of getting on each other’s songs and whatnot.
k-os: It’s interesting you asked me about the K’naan song but you didn’t mention anything about the Drake collaboration. To me, that’s something that should be talked about. People always like to put hip-hop in categories they say this is bling, this is conscious, this is auto-tune, this is Young Money, this is organic. But here you have two guys who are completely different [yet] they’re on the same track. That to me speaks volumes for hip-hop, brings hip-hop together so much. When you have guys who are supposed to be doing two different things, people coming from two different walks of life and they collabo on a track that people kind of get together on, it brings audiences together.
To keep it real, I think people think there’s a beef with me and K’naan. [There’s] no beef. We were just on the e-mail the other day cracking jokes. So they like to bring it up in their own way. Then I do something that’s so positive with another rapper and everybody is quiet about it. I find it interesting; none of the questions entails that. So what does that say about the state of hip-hop? I’ll leave that to you, you seem like a very intelligent guy yourself.
HipHopCanada: Well I can explain my intentions behind that. The reason I asked the K’naan question in that way is ’cause I didn’t even want to talk about the so called beef or whatever that was.
k-os: I’m glad you did it that way [but] everyone knows. I’m not offended by it but I would like to balance out that question with my answer to it by saying, that the Drake collabo is more proof that I’m down to do anything with anybody from whatever walks of life if it’s authentic. If there’s an authentic friendship and reality behind it. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I want my brothers to get the shine. I find in America people always want to pit rappers against each other. I want Canadian hip-hop to be different, we’re all number one.
HipHopCanada: What project are you working on at the moment and when do you plan on releasing it.
k-os: You know what, I’m chillin’ right now. Going to go tour the U.S. with Shad. I’m excited about that. I got a lot of songs in the works, like one-off hip-hop songs. I check the Internet a lot now and I like the new whatever – Kid Cudi, Eminem, etc. 2011 is going to be a lot of the new k-os tracks, just one-off tracks. I’m going to get my home studio crackin’, and just put stuff out. I think 2011 is going to be preparing for 2012. 2012 I’m going to drop something crazy. I don’t know what it is, but it’s going to be crazy. In 2011, I’m just going to let the songs flow out as they come you know?
HipHopCanada: 2012 that’s interesting. ‘Cause a lot of people put a lot of significance on that year.
k-os: Yeah just the fact that people are doing that. Hey, we’re living in the world let’s get involved with the significance. It doesn’t have to mean yay or nay, but let’s just get involved with it anyway.
Written by Atkilt Geleta for HipHopCanada