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Thursday, October 14,2010

Hip-hop, exported and imported

Canadian k-os tours the country that birthed his art form

By Quibian Salazar-Moreno

What bothers Canadian rapper-singer k-os the most is artist fraud. The artist who projects one image in the music but lives an entirely different one.

“If there was a position in the CIA for artist fraud I’d be that guy,” says k-os, 38, whose real name is Kevin Brereton. “I’d be out there every day trying to show and expose the fraudulent artists. Why?

Because it’s my biggest fear — to be fraudulent.”

It’s a prevalent issue in the world of hip-hop today, one that strikes a chord with k-os. Growing up listening to the music, he has had his fair share of disappointments and doesn’t want to be one of those artists whose authenticity might be questioned.

“I’ve been disappointed by art as much in my lifetime as I love it,” he says. “I’ve met artists that I’ve been fans of and been disappointed. I’ve loved albums by artists, and they come out with something I don’t like, and I took it really hard. The artist you love does something you wouldn’t think they’d do because of everything they did before that … either they were fake before or they’re fake now.”

When listening to k-os’ latest project, The Anchorman Mixtape, the words “fake” or “fraudulent” aren’t even in the same stratosphere. As with his full-length albums, Exit, Joyful Rebellion, Atlantis: Hymns for the Disco and Yes!, The Anchorman Mixtape is honest, straight-forward, in-depth and genuine. While most hip-hop mixtapes hitting the streets these days feature an artist rapping over instrumentals of hit songs and reciting throwaway lyrics that were left over from a previous album, k-os brings originally produced instrumentation, ranging from head-nodding beats to guitar-driven rhythms fitting for any full-length album. And of course his signature thought-provoking and clever songwriting is littered throughout the project.

Topics range from his love-hate relationship with hip-hop to past relationships and heartbreaks, spruced with a spiritual sprinkle.

And it’s all available for free download.

K-os recorded the mixtape while on tour with hip-hop wunderkind Drake, inspired by multiple viewings of the Will Ferrell film Anchorman. Clips from the film precede the songs featured on the mixtape.

Anchorman was a movie that came to me on the tour bus by my monitor man Matt Sullivan — we call him Sully. He basically brought this movie to me, and we watched it and watched it again and we started quoting scenes,” k-os says, adding that a lot of people in his circle hadn’t seen the film or even heard of Will Ferrell. “Maybe it wouldn’t be a movie that people watch in the ’hood, but I thought it was cool, that maybe if I put this hip-hop soundtrack to it, it would show how congruent and how the same everybody’s culture is.”

The creation of the project was sort of liberating for k-os. He’d just released Yes! in the spring of 2009, had no commitments music-wise, had the freedom to experiment musically and had hours of free time while touring the nation. The absence of deadline pressure is something k-os enjoyed.

“I told my people, I don’t want to be in a studio for two months or a month working,” he explains. “Hooking up stuff, looking at a soundboard ... I’m done with that process. It’s boring me now. Six months ago I said I wasn’t going to make any more albums, and everyone freaked, like, ‘Oh, he said this before,’ but little did they know that that wasn’t some off-the-cuff statement.

“I’ve already been preparing for that and the mixtape is the perfect example, because all of those songs could have been released on a monthly basis over the next year, but I just decided, let’s just put them out. I’m just going to drop tracks on Twitter, my blog (tour-tv.com) and on Facebook and give it away to people who want to hear it.”

One of the songs k-os is hoping to create and get out to the public is one with Shania Twain. Yes, the Canadian country singer. The rapper has his people trying to find her, and he scoffs at anyone questioning how a hip-hop artist and a country artist could collaborate on a song. The questions even came up when he was collaborating and touring with Drake. Drake, a hip-pop artist signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint, and k-os, an artist often labeled as alt-hip-hop because of his musical range, hanging out together? Although he finds the question odd, he understands.

“Yeah, you dress different, yeah, you’re on a different label, yeah, one guy raps about cars the other guy raps about stars in the sky,” he says. “Yeah, it’s different with me, but really, we’re more the same than somebody who drives a tractor or is a president of a country. Artists are kind of a species of their own, and if you put it like that, it’s never really weird when any two artists get together. Whether it’s Bing Crosby and David Bowie or whether it’s Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. I think hip-hop kind of separates that because people don’t like to connect the lucrative money side of hip-hop to the anti-establishment roots side of hip-hop. They like to keep it separate because it’s a different artistic texture. [When combined] this causes a creation of confusion in the fan and the artist. I find that the more records I make, I don’t have those confusions anymore because who I am is defined.”

In the meantime, k-os is preparing for his first U.S. tour as a headliner. Although he’s toured the States on numerous occasions with The Roots, De La Soul and, of course, Drake, he’s never headlined a tour of his own. He admits he’s taken his time to get a major U.S. tour off the ground.

“America is the home of hip-hop, and I guess in some ways I’ve always been nervous and scared of America. Not in a negative sense, but it’s just such a big sandwich to bite into,” he says. “You want to come from the right angle. I’m creating my own reality in America slowly, and I think the mixtape was part of the process. Sometimes people are skeptical. You got to go out there, and you wonder who is going to show up at the shows.

“But this is the music of my youth; this is hip-hop. And even though it isn’t a Canadian-created music, it’s still in my soul, and it’s guided me in my youth. So it really just came down to just loving hip-hop and having faith in that dynamic and letting that lead the way.”

There’s nothing fake or fraudulent about that.

On the Bill:

k-os plays the Bluebird Theatre on Monday, Oct. 18. Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Shad and Astronautalis open. Tickets are $15. 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-322-2308.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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