Gettin’ conscious with k-os [Interview]
Vancouver, BC – Once again k-os is back in action shooting straight outta the musical cannonball with a fresh new double album Black on Blonde. Recorded at “Darth Vader’s house in L.A.”, a.k.a actor Hayden Christensen’s deserted mansion, k-os brings us a two-disc album full of sexy rock n’ rollin’ and old-school hip-hop flavor. Not only is this album a taste of k-os’ philosophical guise, it also features the likes of Black Thought, Emily Haines, Sebastien Grainger, Sam Roberts, Travie McCoy, Corey Hart and Saukrates. With such a wide spectrum of talent and idiosyncrasy, this album just begs you to try and stop it from rocketing down the euphonious runway. HipHopCanada sat down with k-os to get down, gritty and a little philosophical.
“Truth isn’t always an intellectual thing, sometimes it’s just what you feel. Truth can be a head nod, you don’t always need to talk about it. I think that’s sometimes being missed out on the indie underground culture. The ability to just feel something without having to intellectualize it.” – k-os
HipHopCanada: Your new album name Black on Blonde is an obvious ode to Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde. What’s the representation of the name change from Blonde to Black?
k-os: My really good friend Sebastian Grainger and I we’re having a conversation about my double album. I wanted to base it off the Mos Def thing Black on Both Sides but I was like, Black on one side? He said “no, dude you should call it Black on Blonde.” I FREAKED! To some extent I feel like your friends know you better then yourself. I owned it because I was dating a blonde Australian girl at the time and this was the reality I was living. It was funny she would deal with certain stereotypes that as a black person I deal with. I feel like on a very base level when you’re something people can recognize people put stereotypes on you. People think you’re dumb or people think you have a predisposition to certain things. It’s very similar as a black person. I thought it was a great way to explain two different diverse types of music. A lot of people are into rock n’ roll and people ask why does blonde represent rock n’ roll. That’s the representation of purity, the extremity of something which is lacking in music. You listen to music today and no one is really doing it on a purest level there doing it for fame, etc. People are obsessed with themselves to the highest degree so music sorta becomes the secondary thing. It’s super psychological but when it comes down to it, it’s a polarity thing.
HipHopCanada: You also seem to play off the opposition of Black on Blonde with 2 blogs; one called black and one blonde. Are the blogs a visual manifestation of your new album?
k-os: I think what Black on Blonde is about is the ability to embody more then just your culture, it’s about multi-dimensionality. Race does inform your musical choices because music is cultural. If you’ve grown up in Calcutta your whole life the music you make is very from that area. If you tried to make hip hop it would have a flavor of Indian hip hop. Whereas if you’re from New York and you do hip hop, it would be straight from New York. On a scale, what’s more pure? The guy doing it from Queens or the guy doing it from Bombay. I’m not saying he can’t do it. What I’m saying is it possible for someone outside of a racial dynamic to present a music that’s not their own in a pure form. And isn’t that the greatest sign of non-racism. Isn’t it the ultimate level of non-racism to embrace a culture that’s not your own and have people in that culture embrace your music. I think at it’s core when people hear “This Dog Is Mine” they’re like k-os has gone to rock n’ roll. I’ve done “Sunday Morning” and “Born to Run” but they had a very hip hop aesthetic. It wasn’t really something that spoke to the rock n’ roll experience completely.
HipHopCanada: You feature Saukrates on your new album, a 90’s old school rapper. How do you feel about what current hip hop has become compared to the old school 90’s shit?
k-os: Hip hop always has that transition when flows change and attitudes change. I’m someone who wants to keep evolving as a hip hop philosopher, or get a PHD. in hip hop. If someone is trying to get their PHD in medicine they’re not like “what’s this new thing called Viagra. I’m not going to look at it.” If you’re a doctor and something new comes out, you’re all up on the information. So as someone who’s trying to get their masters in hip hop, I can’t look at hip hop and be like “I don’t wanna know about it.” Essentially, what it’s become about is fame. Whereas in the 90’s, you became famous because you we’re a dope emcee. The fame becomes swag now because swag is the ability to charm people without having to say anything. This swag rap has becomes more about what you embody, what you wear and what people think about you then the skills you have.
Social network, the internet and reality TV has made the average fan of music hope and wish that they can be a star. They like things less quality so they believe they can achieve that. Whereas before when I was a kid, people that we’re so beyond you we’re the idols. People like M.J .or Jimmy Hendrix. If you were a guitar player you couldn’t do what Jimmy Hendrix did. But you were like slay me Jimmy Hendrix so now I can try and be better.
Humans don’t like that anymore, humans don’t like idols that are that much better then them because it just means it will be a longer time before they will become a star. I think that’s the sad part of where music and art is today because the average person will look at a star’s Facebook page and be like “pffft whatever” because they don’t respect artists. They don’t respect people who are talented. In fact they might hate them deep inside because if something’s too good the world ignores it. It just makes the path to their stardom longer. Wake up world your destroying the art; you’re never going to be that good. If you’re a real artist you’re not thinking that way. It’s making the arts less potent.
HipHopCanada: In “This Dog Is Mine”, you have lyrics that say “Computer screens, swallow us”. Do you think that the internet is sucking life out of humanity or do you think that it enables connections with people and their music that otherwise wouldn’t be accessible?
k-os: When I said “Computer Screens” swallow us people wake up, drink coffee and go to their computer screens. And I say “us” because I have that same relationship with my phone. The computer screen is human babysitting a robot. Lapdog or laptop? The computer is trying to keep up with the speed of a brain, I mean you see people get frustrated when it can’t but when you’re on the same page it’s exciting for people. It’s starting to affect our interactions with people and making it not as personal. If it weren’t doing that I wouldn’t have a complaint but because it’s doing that I’m a little worried about how far it’s going to go.
HipHopCanada: Most popular music is in 4/4 time, as is your new song “This Dog Is Mine” – Do you think music is formulaic or is it more about connecting with the sounds and instruments around you?
k-os: It’s formulaic but all music is expressing how people are living on a day-to-day basis. Especially pop music because pop music is popular opinion. It’s what people are feeling for now. I mean you might go back to the renaissance and listen to Beethoven and that was pop music at the time. That’s what people wanted to hear, and what people would go out to listen to. It’s changed over time. Yes, music is formulaic but it doesn’t dictate the art. Formula is created based on how human beings are living. Music is a by-product of how people are living. It’s a vibration, that’s why a lot of musicians use the words vibe. That’s why when someone makes a hit it’s kinda magical because you’re tapping into what a lot of people are feeling. That takes a certain relationship with people; the art is the secondary part of it. A lot of Buddhists say that order is represented in the universe. You can depend on certain things when it comes to the universe. Is that formulaic or is that what is needed for humans to survive? I feel like music is a part of that.
HipHopCanada: On your Black blog you have a quote by Lauryn Hill that reads “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a muthfucker so you ignint n****’s hear me.” Do you think the larger masses care about the process of music and its theory or is it only about adding that relatable element to music to connect with those en masse?
k-os: As my home girl Keisha said, “I hate conscious hip hop because I don’t listen to rap to be told anything. I listen to rap to curl my lip and be ignorant.” And I think to some extent rap is special because your talking so you can say something of relevance but I think what made bands like Tribe Called Quest interesting and Q-tip was they had lines like “Progression can’t be made if we’re separate forever, men and women need to stick together” or “Industry rule numba 4080, record company people are shady.” They would have this one conscious line but then the rest of the song they’d be like “I have my timbos on” and they would go back to regular everyday life. I think a lot of people ran with that. Certain bands started to make records about opening yourself up to consciousness. To some extent there the prophets and Buddha’s of our time because there records are going to get looked back on, 100 years from now, as insanely creative and intellectual. But do the masses wake up ever day and want to be enlightened. To me my enlightenment came when I realized it’s not my job to tell people the truth, I wanna be a part of them coming to their own truth.
HipHopCanada: What’s your first memory of music?
k-os: Probably when I moved to Trinidad in the 80’s and my grandma had a Mellotron. My grandmother played three instruments by ear, all my uncles play in jazz bands by ear. My grandmother was notorious for hanging around you for a while and then giving you an instrument. One day I was in the living room and she gave me a Mellotron and said “This is your Mellotron.” She gave me a Billy Joel music book. I’m like my grandma’s giving me Billy Joel this is weird. And she showed me notes and I asked what note it was and she said you’d just feel it. And I tried to get with it for a while. Then I wrote a song two weeks later. And everyone was so hyped because I was 10 years old and I was so into it already. Like, yup you got him. But she’s the one who looked at me and said this is your thing.
HipHopCanada: What’s the worst pick-up line you’ve ever gotten?
k-os: I don’t think girls use pick-up lines; I think most believe I’m smarter than that. I think women are smarter than that. What I will say is women will give you compliments you feel are not genuine. There say something like “ I had a dream about you” and you know in your heart that they didn’t they just know you would want them to. That’s even weirder than pick-up lines when they assess your personality and feed you compliments that cater to your ego. I think especially as a musician people give you compliments that are so far out, you have to be like “woah, woah, woah.” A lot of people believe that shit, especially men in rap. But I’m really suspicious of that. I think women are more intelligent than that. It’s not about the pick-up line to get the guy, it’s once you’re in his presence what you continue to feed him that’s the scarier part. It’s not pick-up lines, it’s more like pick-up minds.
Cop his new album Black on Blonde, which will be released January 29th.
Interview conducted by Nicola Storey for HipHopCanada
Photography by Moo for k-os
Twitter | @kosinception