Last updated: 02/06/2012 11:00:00 AM
k-os' socially aware raps and heartfelt melodies captured the imagination of the widest range of music fans and critics on his debut Exit. So what does he do for an encore? On Joyful Rebellion, the much anticipated follow-up, k-os elevates his clever rhyme skills and keen sense of musicianship, concocting an even more unique brew of protest music that simultaneously appeals to crossover and rap purist audiences.
There is good reason to believe that this Toronto-bred emcee/vocalist is about to take the rap world by storm. Even with his first album, k-os was fielding personal invites to tour in North America and Europe with Grammy winners such as India.Arie, The Roots and Nelly Furtado, as well as rap luminaries De La Soul. He also collaborated with The Chemical Brothers on their "Get Yourself High" hit, while his video for "Superstarr Pt. Zero" was rated Next and Buzz-worthy by both BET and MTV. Even more impressive was k-os snagging "International Album of the Year" honors at The 2003 Source Awards, even though he was considered a new artist to American audiences. This marked a watershed moment for contemporary hip hop. For once, music mattered more than where an emcee hailed from, and it proved that consumers hadn't lost their ability to discern real talent from media hype.
While commercial rap has pushed some of the music's brightest lights into flight or fight mode, it's clear that on Joyful Rebellion, k-os intentionally chose the latter. "Hip hop is an abandoned ship, and its vanguards are moving on to other things," admits k-os. "Everyone wants to be a rock star, because they don't know how to take hip hop to the next level."
k-os is at the forefront of the generation of rap artists who are pushing the limits of hip hop culture (i.e. Andre 3000 of Outkast, Missy Elliot). He has even added to his musical repertoire by playing guitar and piano on a few of the new songs. Much like Lauryn Hill, the artist he's often compared to, this album is a testament to his rare ability to harmonize and emcee, ignoring any creative straitjackets imposed on him by narrow rap or R&B categorizations. Though k-os may be compared to many great artists, his versatility makes it almost impossible to truly compare him to any.
Produced and written by k-os, Joyful Rebellion draws heavily from and seamlessly fuses together the full range of musical experience; from rap to jazz, rock and pop, blues and reggae, and everything in between. Even with all of these flavours, Joyful Rebellion is stripped down and raw like his thoughts and raps. The acoustic guitars, tablas, classical strings and drum kicks all provide the right ingredients for this creative masterpiece.
k-os comments on the meaning behind the album title, saying, "Joyful Rebellion is about knowing that living the truth in life, you have to sort of rebel against the system, but at the same time you want to be happy about it. If the key in music is to reach out to a lot of people and to have them get down with your ideas and philosophies, why wouldn't you want to make it something that was joyful?"
The first single off the new album, "B-Boy Stance" is k-os' rap reclamation masterpiece that lyrically embraces hip hop's storied past, and is even made to sound like it could have been recorded during rap's Golden Age in the '80's. When k-os opens up the track over 808 drum kicks with a thoughtful soliloquy that states: "It's so hard to remain authentic, everything around me is changing...to the end of time, I think I'll remain, I think I'll just stay a b-boy standing in my B-Boy stance," it's an homage to the DJ's, dancers and graffiti writers of today and yesteryear.
Critics often question whether dope rhymes have become a thing of the past. k-os' no-holds-barred response can be found on "Emcee Murdah." Here he raps on the catchy hook that "money and fame, could lead to emcee murder" implying that if rappers could somehow diversify their singular focus from profits to prophets then there might be "hip hope."
"The Love Song," is a memorable symphonic sonnet, in which k-os implores youth to stand up for their rights and convictions, just as he does on the mic, despite what the outside world might think. Professing over sexy beats and DJ scratches "this is not a love song" while pleading with people "not to get high off their own supply" he is encouraging everyone to not believe the hype, but believe in your inner self.
On "Crucial," k-os' Caribbean (he's Trinidad-born) roots reggae leanings bleed through, and much like The Police's first hits, it showcases his abilities to incorporate hardcore reggae elements into pure pop songs. "Hallelujah" inhabits a mythic, introspective world where Bob Dylan-meets-Bob Marley for a dark modern day redemption song. The acoustic Latin guitar hop of "Commandante" (a song he wrote in Veradero, Cuba) still finds its way back to k-os' rap mission to "cut and slice irrelevance to the bone, and decapitate rappers that idolize Al Capone."
With newfound fame comes a whole new set of issues that most successful artists have to deal with. "Man I Used To Be" is an ode to the King Of Pop, providing a unique twist on some of the coping mechanisms that popular artists employ to deal with their celebrity.
Closer to home, "Crabbuckit" speaks to the age-old "crabs in the bucket" phenomenon that once threatened to derail k-os' commitment to his own rap dreams, prior to the awards and acclaim. "If everyone in your hometown is indie and underground and no ones yet swam to the surface, they start to have low self esteem, underachieve and believe it can't be done," relates k-os. Upright bass stabs, gospel hand claps and horn solos accessorize his vocal plea of hope...that there's "no time to get down, 'cause I'm movin' up."
"Dirty Water" features an exciting collaboration with fellow Canadian artist Sam Roberts. Although musically different in many ways, k-os and Sam do approach their craft with a similar sensibility. With great mutual respect and their individual talents, it is no surprise that the resulting track is something very special.
The most provocative song is the last track on the album "Papercutz." The track is directed at critics who hung off k-os' every word and wondered aloud about his decision to record another album despite saying Exit would be his first and last. "Papercutz" features rhyme contributions from the only artist he's collaborated with on both albums, spoken word prodigy Kamau. The upright bass blasts, mariachi horns and double time raps, push this track into futuristic rap territory and make it his most musically innovative track yet.
Joyful Rebellion asks us 'what's going on' in the Marvin Gaye tradition, but with a contemporary hip hop twist. It's an album sure to secure k-os' place in a progressive global rap movement filled with audiences that appreciate "next level" audio architecture and conscious rhymes.