“Yes!,” Canadian MC/producer/musician k-os’s third studio LP, was released by EMI/Virgin in April, though Rapreviews.com didn’t pick it up until now. Few have probably noticed. Unlike his previous album, “Atlantis: Hymns for Disco,” which quickly scored big on the Canadian charts, “Yes!,” with the exception of its first single, “4, 3, 2, 1,” which premiered at 98 on the charts, has generally flown under the radar. All the same, no one worth their salt ever said the only good albums are the ones everyone listens to right away. The release’s relatively low profile should in no way reflect on the quality of the record, which is, by the way, exceptionally high.
The strength of the album stems from k-os’s unique ability to write terrific pop-rap while maintaining his unmitigated originality. “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman” is probably the best example of this. There, our maple-syrup-sipping MC borrows the tune from “California” – yes, the song from The OC – and turns it into nothing short of a kick-ass, won’t-leave-your-nodding-cranium hook. He not only makes much better use of this tune than Phantom Planet did on the far-from-shabby original, but he employs the riff to convey a deep introspection about love and longing, singing “I can’t really make you love me” with an intense sense of resignation. â€˜Os thus proves the exception to the rule. Rappers who steal tunes from already popular contemporary songs generally sound like they are trying to freeride, but k-os’s talents as a song writer allow him to transcend this tendency.
“Natalie Portman” highlights an additional strength of “Yes!” Namely, this guy really knows how to write a chorus. Catchy but never plastic, the LP’s choruses are the glue that holds together this dynamic and eclectic release. K-os has an exceptional sense of melody, not to mention a pleasant singing voice, but what’s more remarkable is that he avoids dumbing down his choruses lyrically. Even the hook on “4, 3, 2, 1,” “4, 3, 2, 1/what are we fighting for/3, 2, 1” uses a simple pun to effectively convey the profound and simple importance of resolving conflict and, trite as it may seem, just getting along. “Mr. Telephone Man” employs an endearing rock-and-roll style chorus which makes the listener sympathize with our songwriter while humming his tune. It’s hard to convey in print how addictive a given chorus is, so all I have to say is: Vampire Weekend, your competition has arrived.
This is not to say, by any means, that the verses on “Yes!” are just filler between choruses. While perhaps his adept use of chorus and hook stands out most, the music throughout the album maintains the record’s off-the-beaten-path-but-still-pop-friendly appeal. The opening track, “Zambony,” begins with a steady high-hat over an angelic female vocal; a clap enters, followed by a plucked guitar, a light buzzing, an organ-ish synth, and, in the next verse, a crooning violin. Needless to say, I was immediately drawn in by the music alone. While this opening track sets the bar high, our producer never disappoints, pulling from an array of genres and sounds to fill the record with rich tones, danceable percussion, and innovative electronica.
Moreover, the lyrics are at least almost as compelling as the production. Unlike on his last albums, where k-os dedicated himself mainly to critiquing the state of hip-hop, on “Yes!,” he engages in meandering introspections and pontifications, which, in the end, portray a complex image of an artist and person – or better yet, a person who happens to be an artist. This rapping Canuck embraces a lyrical style, somewhat similar to Murs and Slug, where, instead of placing ideology or status at the forefront, he paints an honest self-portrait of an odd and neurotic but overall sympathetic protagonist. It is from this humanity that his ego trips, insecurities, political musings, lusts, and loves stem. When he touts his own skills on “Astronaut,” he doesn’t sound like another self-aggrandizing MC, but rather like a man taking genuine pride in his vocation. When he seems anti-woman on “Whip C.R.E.A.M.,” singing, “she doesn’t love me/it’s all for the money,” or pro-woman on “Uptown Girl,” singing, “I’m not from the ghetto/but my momma is, and she’s an uptown girl,” he is not being misogynistic in the first instance nor progressive in the second. Rather, he is going through the ebbs and flows that decent guys go through when thinking on the specific women in their lives. He trusts his listeners enough to assume we’ll catch on, and whether we do or not, his efforts are commendable.
Indeed, on “Yes!,” k-os has succeeded where many others have failed. He has composed an album which sounds at once unprecedented and effortless. He is so successful largely because he is simply able to be true to himself and allow the record to flow from his natural musical charisma. Not that I know the guy. But an album this technically impressive and conceptually unique could only have stemmed from a gifted and imaginative mind.