So, there’s this rapper called k-os, right? Well, he’s not just a rapper. He sings and plays guitar too. And he does all of these things well. You know how some guys like R. Kelly, who can sing, embarrass themselves rapping and some guys, too many to name, who rap embarrass themselves singing? k-os is not that guy. With that talent in mind, of course,you’ve probably never heard of him. He’s never done a collaboration with a big name MC or a hot R&B singer, actually preferring to shun the mainstream spotlight.
Even so, he’s someone the indie nerds should be drooling over, with conscious lyrics, musical eclecticism, left-field pop culture references, (how many other rappers-Kanye excluded-know who Peter Bjorn and John are?), and a style that’s definitely anti-gangsta. For those who have yet to sample the music of the man born Kevin Brereton, K-OS Collected is the cure for your ills. Think of this as your k-os starter, boasting tracks from each of his albums, as well as remixes and alternate versions. The typical American hip-hop or R&B fan who has been spoon-fed Akon and T-Pain might have a hard time getting into this stuff. The hooks aren’t obvious or simple, and the lyrics make you think. But ultimately, this is much more musically rewarding than Top 40 hip-hop. I’m having a rough time even recommending this to fans of hip-hop that’s sort of left-field. I mean, if you thought Kanye sampling Daft Punk was outre, you’re gonna have a REAL hard time with this dude. But for folks with open musical minds, k-os is a godsend.
You’re definitely not getting run-of-the-mill hip-hop by picking up a k-os record. Probably the only thing on this album that comes close is “Superstar Pt. II”, which is also the closest thing the man has had to a hit single. It was the first I ever saw of him as I was channel surfing one day in 2002 and landed on this video on MTV2. Anyone who could ride an old-school hip-hop beat in the 21st century and still make it sound good had my attention. Of course, that he begins the song by proclaiming the “jiggy era” over also got my attention. As a certified lover of hip-hop’s golden era, anyone who went against the then-current grain automatically got props from me.
k-os has a bit of a nasal whine as a rapper, a lilt very similar to a deeper-voiced Slick Rick without the accent, which isn’t very similar at all, but you know what I’m getting at. He has an equally ear-catching singing voice, able to navigate songs as varied as “The Rain” (a slow piano-and-strings groove that sounds like a throwback to the Jackie Wilson/Sam Cooke era) and “Born to Run”. Although I think he might have made a killer cover of the Bruce Springsteen classic, this song is actually neo-new wave, very reminiscent of The Police. For those of you who may need a familiar entry point to this man’s work, you’ll get it via the presence of current “it” girl Feist. The fellow Canuck’s “Mushaboom” is remixed on this album with a tight 16-bar guest verse on which k-os takes time off from the self-examination usually found in his lyrics to “rock the mic from heaven to Mergatroid”.
If Wyclef Jean ever realized his full potential…well, he still wouldn’t be as musically interesting as k-os, but that’s the closest comparison I can make to this guy, who can jump from inspired battle rapping to new wave to Fats Domino-inspired boogie and do them all proficiently. His three studio albums, (released on dance label Astralwerks, also home to The Chemical Brothers) are all solid, if not excellent. He can definitely bring the goods performing live. I saw him open for Handsome Boy Modeling School a couple of years ago and he blew the headlining act to pieces. If you’re already familiar with the man, well this makes a nice addendum to your collection. Pick this up anyway and pass it to a friend.