September 14, 2004

KO-S Rebels against the current
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Who will save hip-hop? Most people would look to New York, Los Angeles, or maybe Atlanta for the next revolution, but while gangsters from all over the country try to take over hip-hop with ever bigger guns and egos, there's a joyful rebellion going on just across the northern border. Instead of trying to take over, Canadian rapper K-OS is attempting to change the rules of the rap game with his newest album Joyful Rebellion and the result couldn't be more enjoyable.

K-OS' 2001 debut album Exit gathered awards and acclaim for its unique musical hybridity. Like its predecessor, Joyful Rebellion seamlessly moves from reggae to folk rock while still remaining a hip-hop album (unlike Andre3000's The Love Below, for example).

What distinguishes K-OS from most emcees is a diverse musical talent, allowing him to incorporate live instruments into his songs without letting the music draw attention away from his lyricism, as often occurs with groups like The Roots.

K-OS manages to avoid all of the possible pitfalls that often ruin such musically ambitious albums. Though the album crosses musical borders, it never feels like an aimless wander. K-OS maintains a sonic and thematic consistency that pervades the album, holding it together as a cohesive unit.

The lead single, "B-Boy Stance" is a gritty old school hip-hop joint that samples a short Public Enemy loop, the only sample to be found on an album otherwise notable for its lush instrumentation. In many ways, K-OS is taking hip-hop back to its revolutionary roots, but unlike Chuck D's Fear of a Black Planet, this album delivers its message with a vibrant joy instead of violent anger. According to K-OS, rebellion is an internal struggle to make ourselves better people (and therefore better emcees).

Throughout the album, K-OS searches to find his place. On "Man I Used to Be" he admits, "The things I said I wouldn't do, I did them." From there he tries to find his way through an internal rebellion against external temptations.

The best song on the album, "Crabbuckit" takes the funky bass line from The Cure's "Love Cats" and flips it upside down to create a dirty blues rap song where K-OS compares himself to a crab stuck in a bucket. Pianos and saxophones fly around while the infectious bass line gives a K-OS a strong foothold to show off his lyrical skills. Even if he weren't such a talented musician, K-OS would still be an impressive emcee. He manages to drop intricate syllables into the perfect groove between beat and melody.

To write a fair and balanced review, both the strengths and weaknesses of an album should be mentioned, but K-OS's Joyful Rebellion leaves little to be criticized. All of his songs are meticulously composed with a great attention to nuance and detail. As a rapper, a singer, and a musician, K-OS might not save hip-hop, but he has certainly resuscitated it with a beautiful infusion of fresh air.