interview with k-os / "it’s okay for an artist to be thrust into a genre or classification.. it’s a problem if & when you try to start believing that"

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Safia Siad
The Liberator Magazine 6.2 #18, 2007


His music has been lauded as a blend of Hip-Hop, rock, soul, R&B and reggae. When he first came on to the scene in 2003 with” Exit,” it took Canada’s underground Hip-Hop scene by storm, along with receiving rave reviews abroad despite less than stellar sales in the U.S.

There was no denying that his soul-filled, conscious tone was a welcome change from the emptiness that was filling the air waves. After touring North America with his first album he began amassing a loyal following. His sophomore album “The Joyful Rebellion” was what put him on the map internationally with radio-friendly singles like “Crabbuckit” and “B-Boy Stance.”

His stage name--K-OS--is an acronym for “Knowledge of Self.” When asked how his self has evolved since his first album, Kheaven explains how his persona has been stripped over the years.

“I think I’m taking myself, my persona a lot less seriously. Not in the sense that I’m becoming less serious about my ideas or concepts of music. But I’m starting not to be so precious with the identity of the artist that I am and take more chances, have more fun, explore more. You can’t try to find new ideas if you’re on a leash and sometimes that’s what a persona does. If you have all of these do’s and don’ts, [it’ll be] like ‘I’m Kheaven, so therefore I won’t do this or I won’t make this type of music.’ All of that has fallen away over the last couple of records and I feel like where I am now is just somebody who is an explorer.”

Being a Hip-Hop artist in Canada isn’t an easy foray. Over the last few years, K-OS has made himself a household name in a country that rarely big up their own. He has toured with the likes of The Roots and Nelly Furtado and has just embarked on the American leg of his tour with Gym Class Heroes that will bring him back to “The Letterman Show” again this spring.

His detractors would say that he delves through too many genres and that his latest album--”Atlantis: Hymns For Disco”--lacks focus. Having been labeled as an “alternative” rap artist, he is used to the classification game.

“Kurt Cobain was labeled alternative rock, so I’m cool with that. If alternative just means ‘alternate’ or something different than what’s going on then I’m cool with that. I think the problem comes if we the artists pay too much attention to that and start dressing and acting--or making music in a certain way that appeals to that genre that’s been put upon us. It’s okay for an artist to be thrust into a genre or classification, I think it’s a problem if and when you try to start believing that, you know?”

Skirting the issue of being labeled comes easy to the North York native. Bucking the norm is what has branded him a loose cannon within the Toronto music scene. Unafraid to speak his mind, he has been very vocal on the state of Hip-Hop. When asked is he agrees with Nas that Hip-Hop is, in fact, dead, he makes a case for the music that he loves:

“I think that death and life are tied together. When something is dying something else is being born. What that new thing is we don’t really know, it’s just what you choose to talk about. We could talk about Hip-Hop being dead in the form of the conscious most golden era of Hip-Hop where people felt they had a responsibility to the people who were buying their music. Definitely people don’t feel like the majority of artists you hear on the radio now. It doesn’t seem like they feel like they have a responsibility. I agree with Nas in saying that in that way Hip-Hop is dead. But, I also do believe that there are people who are just as talented or have just as good ideas as people who existed in 1991 or or ‘89 or ‘88. It’s just that we don’t ever get to hear them. I think that part of an idea has died for sure but I think that a positive part is that in that dying it leaves space for something new to evolve or exist and we all have our eyes on wondering what that is.”

With an openness to genre-bending and risktaking with his work, his fans and critics alike are curious as to which musical direction KOS will head in next. As he introduces himself properly on his latest tour, time will tell if he has lasting power in the U.S. market.

One thing he is sure about; K-OS wants to take it all less seriously.“I’m at a point in my life where I’m learning to enjoy myself. For a long time music posed a conflict. [Now], I can feel happy about the fact that I get to do music for a living and I believe if I feel like that, if I project that, then the things that life will bring to me or show me will be a result of my attitude. I think that I just took music so seriously because I was hiding from a lot of aspects of myself so I had to make the music so serious to compensate for the fact that I’d forgotten how to have fun. I think that something that’s very pertinent to where Hip-Hop is. For a lot of the heads who love underground Hip-Hop, part of the reason that it got so raw was because people forgot to have fun, and that’s what I’m learning to do now is to create my own fun.”

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