By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights
With a traditional drummer, a hand percussionist, and a DJ tapping beats on his MPC, rhythm filled the Paradise on Tuesday, with Canadian rapper k-os leading the crowd through a powerful, but disappointingly brief set while opening for Handsome Boy Modeling School (HBMS).
It was no easy task recreating the diverse instrumentation on k-os' two phenomenal albums, 2002's Exit and 2004's Joyful Rebellion. Instead of bringing a brass section on the tour bus, k-os delegated the responsibility to his guitarist, who proved his Spanish flamenco skills with blurred hands.
K-os' music has a natural energy to it that makes it sound more alive than the majority of over-produced commercial rap. During our interview, k-os talked about his musical roots in Trinidad, where he lived before moving to Canada when he was 12.
"Watching my uncle in Trindad making steel drums at home from scraps of metal that he found, that really gave me a grass roots understanding about music and how you should make it," he said.
K-os enjoys considerably better success in Canada, where any of his five music videos are regularly played on Canadian television. His first single, "Crabbuckit," won him Single of the Year at the Canadian Juno awards.
When he performed his hit single, the electric standup bass player strummed the song's infectious baseline, which it borrows from The Cure's "Love Cats." Instead of referencing The Cure, the more obvious earlier owner, k-os led the crowd into its original owner, "Hit The Road Jack."
For k-os, touring in America is always a strange experience, one that he admits he doesn't especially enjoy. He has toured Europe with The Roots, but looks forward more than anything to performing back home in Trinidad. K-os said he's not surprised that he doesn't get as much exposure in America.
"America blasts its music all over the world, and it makes it seem like the only way to be black is to be American black.
"Especially with hip-hop, Americans totally ignore black people in Canada, or in the Caribbean, or in Africa. That's why I was so into Bob Marley, because he was this black guy who was totally not American and America couldn't ignore him," he said.
HBMS headlined the concert, but disappointed with an inevitably unsatisfying perormance. The recent HBMS album, White People, is a beautiful collaboration between two producers, Dan the Automator from Gorillaz and Prince Paul from De La Soul, featuring guest appearances from Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Barrington Levy, Cat Power, and Jack Johnson.
Of course, none of these people were on tour with HBMS, just waiting backstage all night to perform their one contribution. Instead, HBMS decided to simply play their beats with cartoons of the guests projected on a screen behind them.
HBMS tried to compensate for the absent performers by incorporating skit comedy in its show. After k-os, the crowd seemed amused, but mostly disappointed.
Photo by Anna Schindelar