You can call him K-os, but this singer is focused

Peace and love, not the hip-hop mentality

Music: In Concert, CDs

September 23, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | By Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

He calls himself K-os (pronounced chaos), this rapper-singer-producer born in Trinidad and raised in Ontario, Canada. But the name is misleading. The guy is peaceful, very introspective and centered. When discussing his brilliant new CD, Joyful Rebellion, the artist talks so low you have to turn the volume up on the phone.

M-tThe album came out of not wanting to fit into a category,M-v says K-os, calling from his Toronto home. M-tAll the music that I love is different. It doesnM-Ft fit into what the kids listen to. The joyful rebellion is the freedom of being yourself and loving what you do. ThatM-Fs revolutionary in itself.M-v

At the heart of the musical revolution he hopes to spark with Joyful Rebellion is artistic integrity, something sorely missing in todayM-Fs pop and hip-hop, the artist says. Also, he laments a serious lack of individuality in the music dominating the charts.

M-tItM-Fs peer pressure,M-v says K-os, which stands for Knowledge of Self. M-tSome artists donM-Ft have the strength to be themselves. Can you really be out there and love yourself? You can.M-v

Through formal study of religion and just plain living, the artist born Kevin Brereton has reached what he calls a M-tjoyful state of mind.M-v The journey so far has inspired two solid albums. (His debut, Exit, appeared to critical acclaim last year.) On his sophomore effort, which came out Tuesday, K-os places his Bob Marley-inspired messages of peace, love and individuality into a richly eclectic musical context: ThereM-Fs bright reggae-pop a la early Police (the buoyant M-tCrucialM-v), strutting, jazz-infused soul (the stellar M-tCrabbuckitM-v) and straight-up, hard-hitting hip-hop (the banginM-F M-tB-Boy Stance,M-v the first single). He can be a bit preachy. But even as he denounces the stagnant, bling-bling status quo of todayM-Fs hip-hop culture, K-os is never boring.

M-tItM-Fs a blessing to make music for people, and I realize that,M-v he says. M-tI get to live life and do this for a living. This new record is vibing off the rush of all the music I love.M-v

Growing up in the predominantly white Ontario suburb of Whitby, K-os, one of three sons, was raised as a JehovahM-Fs Witness. Early on, around the age of 7, he discovered his love for music. The boy would raid his fatherM-Fs collection, absorbing the lyrics and arrangements of vintage soul and reggae. But it wasnM-Ft until college that K-OS thought seriously about pursuing a career in music.

Although his father was deadset against it, the artist spent more time in the studio than the classroom, crafting beats and rhymes. He put out a few singles in 1993, which caught the attention of former professional basketball star John Salley. He signed K-os to his Long Tall Salley label in M-F95 and released M-tRise Like the Sun.M-v But the record went nowhere, the deal fizzled and the rapper-singer took some time to re-evaluate some things. He turned to Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and other religions.

M-tI really donM-Ft talk from a crystallized religious viewpoint,M-v Kos says. M-tI can understand aspects of all religions. God is a general thing, and he or she is in control of everything. The purity of that, the peace, the joy M-y seeing myself as a citizen of the universe, IM-Fve found all this in religion [and] it affects how I approach my music. IM-Fm free to be myself.M-v

Three years ago, K-os felt ready to re-enter the music industry. He signed a deal with EMI and released Exit, a stunning, multilayered album that some critics called a hip-hop classic. To support it, he toured with the Roots, Nelly Furtado and India.Arie. But the album was too lyrically sharp (and too substantive) for the mainstream. So record sales werenM-Ft impressive.

Joyful Rebellion is more musically accessible than its predecessor, and the styles are brilliantly diverse. (He adds mariachi horns to M-tPapercutz.M-v) But K-os is still uncompromising in his lyrical scope as he dismisses the singular, fame-obsessed focus of hip-hop and pop culture, the M-tcrabs in the bucketM-v mentality of the underground rap community, and artists (black ones in particular) who perpetuate negative messages.

M-tThereM-Fs fear as an artist that you wonM-Ft fit in,M-v he says. M-tYou want to fit in. But why should I fear? There are greater battles to be fought. Music should be a joyful thing. The stakes arenM-Ft that high. There are no real consequences: Either people will like it or not.M-v

Hear Rashod Ollison on the radio, Tuesdays at 1 p.m. on Live 105.7 and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on WTMD-FM 89.7.

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