K-OS is releasing his 6th studio album on September 4th. I sat down with him and discussed the album’s release, his favourite songs to play live and a bunch of other cool information.
c.m: Your new album Can’t Fly Without Gravity will be released on September 4th, congrats on your upcoming release. You’re widely known as a hip hop artist but you’re definitely much more than that. Your creations transcend musical genres. How do you explain your musical sensibility? Were you exposed to different genres of music when you were younger?
k-os: My dad had an extensive record collection that included jazz. The coolest thing about my dad’s record collection was, back in the days when they had LPs, you would go through the LPs and you would see these different faces. My dad had everyone from Olivia Newton John to Miles Davis. So before you even listened to the music, theres so many different cultures in there. It was ok to see a Bee Gees record next to a Bob Marley record. So that’s where it started. We accepted all this music. My parents did that without even trying, cause they loved everything. When I moved to Trinidad, Trinidadians have a pension for liking pop music. My mom came from a place called Laventille, which can be described as the ghetto. At that time the biggest songs that you could hear booming out of cars were like Kenny Rogers and Air Supply. Contrary to popular belief, people in the ghetto didn’t listen to ghetto music. They would listen to Kenny Rogers, and pop music. Stuff that would make them feel good. That’s what concealed the deal as far as knowing, it’s a bunch of B.S. to be like “this is what hip hop is or this is what rock is”. Anyone that says that isn’t a true lover of music. So when I went into the studio, I never wanted to make anything that sounded like something that was already there.
c.m: Give me an example on how a typical song came about for this record?
k-os: I’m a huge fan of Kaytranada, google him. I have a lot of people around me who are young producers. They make music I would never make myself. They always want me to hear their music. Some of my inspirations started from listening to the musical canvases of young producers who are around me. Guys that have made beats for A$AP, Drake or these people. Somehow I know them, and they give me a piece of music to sort of hang out with and I would try and rap on it. That’s how “WiLD4TheNight” sort of is. Fooling around with something that I’m not suppose to fool around with. That’s how most of my music comes into the picture. Messing around with a style that I was told to not to mess around with. It’s too youthful. Too new. I always like to break the rules of what I’m suppose to mess with.
c.m: Who would tell you not to mess around with something?
k-os: People from the old school. People who have known me my whole life. People who want me to do “Crabbuckit” over and over again. Record companies. This is a quote, “People love you man. you need to give them another ‘Crabbuckit’.”
c.m: Well it was a mainstream hit.
k-os: I love that song but at the same time, those are the people that if I was to try something new, would be like “Don’t go down that road. Give people something they’ve heard before.” So when you ask “Who would say that?”. It’s those types of people that want me to repeat myself and make them more money.
c.m: The song “Boyz II Men” features a few other hip hop artists. How did that collaboration come about?
k-os: One of the guys in hip hop that I look up to the most is Saukrates. I gave him that beat and his verse that starts the song sold everybody on the song. Shad was in, Kardinal was in, Choclair I had to hunt down. In my opinion Saukrates is the best Canada has ever produced. He’s the best rapper. I always consult with him. If you ever check a lot of the tracks I’ve done with him, he raps first cause he sets the tone. It’s called Boyz II Men cause I’ve known Shad and Kardinal since we were kids. Boyz II Men reference is about all of us growing up together as artists and musicians.
c.m: Your album cover has the CN Tower on it and you’re holding a hockey stick. Is it safe to say you’re a Leaf fan?
k-os: I’m a fan of respecting where you’re from. Respecting your roots. I’m a fan of Canadian hip hop. I think that Canada is on this road of becoming to Americanized. I think the cover art of the album is taking a piss of the fact. It’s ok to be this dude in a jean jacket that’s from a small town that played street hockey. There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t be embarrassed about that. Americans aren’t embarrassed about that. They have comedians that do schticks of being a hick. Or they have a reality show about people who are hunters and farmers. Canadians for some reason don’t know how to be proud and celebrate their heritage.
c.m: Maybe we’re not as patriotic?
k-os: Not as patriotic. But it doesn’t have to be in an arrogant or cheesy way. That’s what that was all about. Everyone in rap wants to be the king, the God. But really, we’re just these dudes that grew up in these small towns that want to have fun.
c.m: You’ve gone twice platinum, toured the world and won multiple Juno awards. Do you measure success by the accolades you obtain?
k-os: Hell no. I don’t care about that. That’s the very stuff that limits you. Over time I would do an interview after Atlantis and people would start the interview with “He’s a multi-juno…” I’m like, don’t ever say that again. That doesn’t make you feel new. You have to be able to be new. The reason why there’s a term, “It Takes Your Whole Life To Make Your First Record” is because no one knows you. Then people know you and you start making records based on what people think about you. My Mom loves the accolades, my parents know I’m successful.
c.m: They’re proud of you right?
k-os: That’s the best part of the accolades. It’s a way for your older peers or parents to say you’ve done something well. But it’s not a positive thing because it limits you. People look at you like that now. You have to be able to respect the fact you’ve achieved those things. Only when people question me, do I think, “I have this” cause people question you. You put out new music and radio might not play it as quick you want. Other artists are coming around, The Weeknd, Drake, and they’re getting the hype. Then you start wondering, am I really good? Then you look on the wall and you see a platinum record, OK ya, I’m good. Sometimes it’s an ego boost and all artists need ego boosts. They’re lying if they say they don’t, that’s why we’re in this. When you start perceiving yourself as somebody as a platinum artist or a Juno winner, that doesn’t do anything for your rap career or your music career; it limits you.
c.m: Track 5 “Get Up” is one of my favourite songs on the album. It contains all the k-os ingredients. Rapping, singing, an infectious melody and a killer booming beat. Are those live drums on that track?
k-os: They are. That song could be on the record Atlantis. It’s a rock ‘n roll sound. A Motown sound. That’s the thing with Atlantis, what I was toying around with. There was no rap when Elvis and Motown was around. You have all this great music out there that was never rapped on. To some extent, Atlantis was about me connecting songs that were ancient and existed before Rap existed. Bringing them in the future by putting rap on it. I think “Get Up” is another one of those songs. The singing on it is great, the bridge on it is great. You could just hear someone singing on that song but the rap on it really brings it in to the future.
c.m: The song “Spaceship” is a feel-good song and I can picture that becoming an anthem for you. Are you planning on doing that live?
k-os: Yeah. That’s gonna be the next single. We just shot the video for it. It’s a 11 minute video.
c.m: Kinda like a short movie?
k-os: I love it and you’re right about “Spaceship”. It’s a huge song.
c.m: When choosing your set list for a concert, do you make an effort to pick a certain amount of songs from each album in your catalog?
k-os: Ah man, that question. That’s the question right now we’re trying to figure out. Too many songs. Gotta let the set list dictate. It’s like DJing, can’t force anything. My band members will say, “We need to play this song”. It may sound good by itself but when you try to put it up to another song, it doesn’t really work. It’s like people. You try connecting people to hang out and you thought it would be a love match, but it didn’t work out. The worst thing is to go to a concert and for you to sort of lose focus because they trail into a song that doesn’t feel like it should be there.
c.m: For me, the listening experience begins with the cover art and title of the album. I’m curious about how you chose the title, Can’t Fly Without Gravity?
k-os: There’s a term that people use a lot, the “hater” term. I hate that term, (laughter). I come from a generation where it’s okay not to like something. Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean you’re a hater of it. I’m a pretty opinionated guy, so people would say, “You’re hating on this, you’re hating on that”. Someone would ask me, “What do you think of my shoes?” I’m not feeling it. They would say, “Oh, you’re hating on my style”. Everything becomes hating, hating, hating.
c.m: But they asked you for your opinion?
k-os: Yes they asked me. But that’s how the new generation of people deal with the fact, that they’ve exposed themselves so much to the world. If someone doesn’t like what they do, instead of them looking into that statement and be like “Why would someone say that?” and try to see some truth to it. Their immediate reaction is “They’re hating on me”. Cause it’s easier to keep doing your thing and expressing yourself if you have haters. So the point is, gravity to me is a more realistic idea of what hating is. So if you’re trying to get your stuff off the ground, whether you’re a lawyer, a doctor or a musician, there’s gonna be this force called gravity that doesn’t hate you. It’s just a force that we met here. It pulls light to the centre of the world, it pulls oxygen down, it makes sure buildings aren’t taking off to the sky; yet man has figured out a way to defy that force. In doing that, the only reason he can defy that force is cause it exists. Technically you can’t really fly without gravity. Without gravity existing, no one would say, “I wanna defy this force”. That to me, replaces the term “hater” because all it is, if you’re gonna try to do something, there’s gonna be forces pulling you back. You have to learn to defy those forces.
c.m: Aside from your vocals, do you play any instruments on the album?
k-os: I play guitar. On “Steel Sharpens Steel”, I play drums. A lot of keyboards. So guitar, drums and keyboards.
c.m: I noticed you have a Twitter account with over 31,000 followers and your Facebook page has over 71,000 “likes”. Has social media changed you as an artist at all?
k-os: No, not really. The first couple of years I was obsessed with what people were saying about me. The more you realize you’re not supposed to see that stuff, then the internet starts to lose its appeal. The real things you want to see is, who are these people that like my music? You can basically go and see every single persons profile that follows you. But you’re not suppose to know that. That doesn’t help you in any way. Too much information. It’s like going on twitter or googling yourself to see who mentions you. Let people talk about you, but just keep making music.
c.m: Can we expect a tour following the release of the album?
k-os: Starts in November. We’re gonna do 5 to 10 dates. Across Canada in November and December.
c.m: Have you ever considered doing something musically different, like branching out and scoring a film? Or recording a soul album? You have the voice for it.
k-os: Maybe a country album. Me and Daniel Lanois have talked about that. Daniel Lanois is a huge hero of mine. I would love to get with a producer like him. Maybe Rick Ruben or somebody that would say “This is what I hear from you”. Just to be someone’s tool. All the records I make, I’m a control freak. I produce it, I record it, I do all this stuff. It would be interesting to see what someone else’s take would be on me. Daniel Lanois, Rick Ruben or Mark Ronson. Danger Mouse who is a friend of mine, has said let me produce a record for you.
c.m: In this day and age we can listen to an album or songs on various musical platforms. What musical platform do you listen to music on? Do you have an mp3 player or an iPod or do your prefer vinyl or CDs? Or everything?
k-os: I listen to vinyl, on my computer a lot, YouTube. Vinyl is always big for me, cause I have an extensive record collection. I like to see what come up on YouTube. I call YouTube the remote control with no channel limit. Back in the day, after 100 channels it would go back to zero. YouTube has no zero. I spend hours on there. I don’t know how I got from E.L.O. to some weird African something.
c.m. It’s easy to get lost on YouTube.
k-os: That’s the good thing about streaming and social media with music. You can end up in places you never thought you would end up in. That’s very important for music. Especially musicians.
c.m: Do you have favourite songs to play live?
k-os: “CatDieseL”, “EMCEE Murdah”, “Man I Used To Be” and “Crucial” are my favourties.
c.m: What’s on the agenda for the rest of 2015 and what do you plan on accomplishing as an artist in 2016?
k-os: I’m gonna rest after this record.
c.m: What do you do to rest?
k-os: I just bought a VW Westfalia. I drove it across Canada. Get away in that and go to America and see places. See the Rockies and the Grand Canyon. Just get away… I’m very much of nature nut. My inner nature nut gets stifled cause I have so much business going on. I’m in the business of making records and selling records. It’s an industry and I wanna take some time away from the industry. I wanna tour the world before I do that though. I love the boys in my band, they’re really amazing dudes. We haven’t been to places like Switzerland, Germany or Australia in two or three years; which is why I didn’t do a lot of festivals this summer. I’ll do that next summer and tour the world. After I tour the world I can chill for a bit. That’s the big thing right now, put this record out, hoping people will feel it, which I think they will and then go to these places and tour my ass off. I just wanna play my music everywhere.