April 21, 2005

k-os interview
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
Mixtape Friday: Is there hip-hop in heaven?
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

"Pope," an old Prince song, features The Artist singing, "You can be the president, I'd rather be the pope."

He was prioritizing his post-game perks, because St. Peter definitely made sure Pope John Paul II skipped to the head of the line to the pearly gates. Because of the foreign policies of our recent presidents, Clinton, Reagan, and Bush will "have some 'splaining to do," as Ricky Ricardo used to say, on their judgment day. Hip-hop will probably not pay much attention to John Paul II's death. Hip-hop's interest in religion, embodied by Kanye West, is more concerned with diamond-encrusted Jesus pendants.

On his first posthumous album, released two months after his death in 1997, 2Pac sings, "Should we cry when the pope die? My request/ we should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X."


Richie Rich - "Do Gs Get To Go To Heaven?"
Though hip-hop tends to focus on Earthly pleasures and rewards, every once in a while rappers consider the thereafter.
Dedicated to 2Pac, this track features Richie Rich praying that his friend made it to heaven, which then leads him to consider his own sins. He asks God, "And if I took a life or perhaps sold some dope/ would you discriminate upon my entry to the gate?" It's not quite repentance, but it is confession.

Ice Cube - "When I Get To Heaven"
On a smooth beat with a chorus of Marvin Gaye singing, "This ain't living" from "Inner City Blues," Ice Cube attacks racist Christians who held the Bible with one hand and whipped slaves with the other. He raps, "400 years of gettin' our ass kicked/ by so-called Christians and Catholics, but I'ma watch 'em burn in the fire." Ice Cube looks forward to an eternal life in heaven better than mortal life on Earth: "They won't call me a nigga, when I get to heaven."


2Pac - "I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto"
More than any other rapper, 2Pac reflected and obsessed over his own inevitable death, which naturally led him to consider if there was a place in heaven for him.
"Let the lord judge the criminals," he raps, expecting God to understand that his sins were the products of the sinful, racist world he grew up in. 2Pac wondered if his prayers were heard, worrying that he's probably already dead in hell, wasting his prayers with the other condemned.

Common "Geto-Heaven, Pt. 2" [ft. D'Angelo]
Common reflects on earthly temptation and eternal redemption: "Young girls is thick, righteousness is narrow." This track isn't really about the afterlife, but about finding heaven wherever you are right now. D'Angelo provides cherub-sweet vocals for Common's search for heaven on Earth. He raps, "Can't imagine goin' through it, without soul music"