k-os :: Joyful Rebellion
Author: Dan Mennella
If you're going to sample "The Funky Drummer" in 2004, perhaps the most over-sampled drum line in history, you better come right. Fortunately for Canadian rapper/singer k-os, he does indeed come right as he uses this nod to the old school to reinforce his love for the simpler times in the annals of hip hop. As the repetitious chorus to the lead single, the thumping "B-Boy Stance" goes, k-os is merely a "A b-boy / standing in my b-boy stance."
While he consistently pines for the golden days (as well as spiritual atonement), his music is anything but stuck in the past or boring; k-os experiments with styles and sounds that even the most daring artists probably wouldn't touch. It's this flair for the exceptional that helped garner k-os critical acclaim for his breath-of-fresh-air debut, "Exit," in 2003. With popular singles like "Superstarr pt. 0" and "Heaven Only Knows" from the "Exit" LP, k-os figured to be a serious contender for a while (despite threats of his supposed retirement). And with just a year and a half passing between the releases of "Exit" and "Joyful Rebellion," he's obviously not resting on his laurels.
Even the staunchest supporters of "Exit" will admit, though, that it wasn't for everyone. Many of k-os's detractors felt that when his self-made beats didn't feature plucky strings or reggae influence that they were too futuristic, too "House"-ish. On "Joyful Rebellion," however, he ties up loose ends with twelve dope tracks that are as distinct as any twelve you'll find on one LP. When each verse of album opener "Emcee Murdah" comes to a raging crescendo of hard-strummed guitars and soulful vocals, k-os lets us know it's on.
Obviously not shy to let his musical influences shine through vibrantly on each track, k-os pays homage to many of his heroes on "Joyful Rebellion," such as the Bob Marley-esque reggae of "Crucial" (on which he lifts a rather distinct line from Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff"), the '80s pop pastiche "Man I Used to Be," which sounds very much like one of your favorite Michael Jackson songs, and the funky Jazz of "Crabbuckit"—stand-up bass and all. He even takes a stab at a Beatles pop cut with the harmonious choruses and guitar riffs on "Dirty Water." And, of course, the aforementioned "B-Boy Stance" is the old-school anthem that goes out to all of the founding-fathers.
Always in touch with his symphonic and acoustic leanings, k-os delivers two of his biggest gems (among the many) on "Joyful Rebellion" with the pounding piano chords and dramatic strings of "The Love Song," and sparse acoustics and soulful vocals of "Hallelujah." Check the first verse from the former:
"Contrary to popular belief...
This is not a love song, it's a sonnet
Damn it feels good to have people up on it
But, I'm just a fool playing with the master's tools
Learning how to break the rules of this record company pool
Hallucination, I see with my eyes
But my heart is telling me lies, why do I fantasize?
Why am I telling lies to the people from the stage?
Pretending it's all good when inside there's fire and rage
'cause I can't understand, how a man lives off the life of another man
Try to pimp the universe — that's a joke
I stay rocking the boat down to my last note
It's murder she wrote, assassination vocabulary
I see your termination is heavily necessary
I should have known, they do it for funds alone
I do it to break the walls, if I fall off let me know people"
What this adds up to is what will probably qualify as k-os's defining moment as a recording artist. While "Exit" was excellent at some points and a touch spotty in others, there are virtually no tracks worth skipping on "Joyful Rebellion." If you liked "Exit," chances are you will love "Joyful Rebellion," and if not, this might be the LP to open you up to k-os. His rapping is probably not for those who feel a great MC must be as intricate and complex as the Canibus's of the world—he generally rhymes in couplets with pretty simple flows (though he does experiment with more multi's on this LP than the last), and the honors paid to so many of his heroes may be a bit overboard for some. But for an art form predicated on sampling, what's the harm?
There is no particular aspect of k-os's many talents that stand out from the rest; he is the complete artist (even venturing into playing live instruments on much of this LP). Complacent artists who fill their albums with the requisite "two-hot-singles-and-the-rest-is-filler" need take heed: There are, indeed, artists like k-os, who approaches his craft with hard work and humility, and maximizes every possible aspect of his talents. Much like its predecessor, "Joyful Rebellion" borders on pretentious at times—k-os can come off preachy to some, too overtly conscious for others, but as Lester Burnham says in "American Beauty," "It's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world." k-os knows this well.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: September 28, 2004