For k-os, coming to terms with the fleeting nature of fame was a difficult process. He initially became more guarded, then eventually realized the only way to deal with the situation was to first and foremost make music for himself. He looked within to find true musical freedom.
"I am trying to be unapologetic about the rules I break," k-os reveals. "Most revolutionary art ends up provoking classic ideals and it is these same classic ideals that become prisons if they go unchallenged."
This observation is at the musical heart of his third album, ATLANTIS - Hymns for Disco. Here, k-os challenged himself by creating a sonic landscape that shows no boundaries and crosses many musical styles, sounds and generations. And while it was certainly not his intention, he had no choice but to make his most personal and revealing album yet.
"To use your voice in the world is the greatest responsibility of an artist," says k-os. "As an expressionist, I get to cleanse my emotions and thoughts through music so that they don't fester and become toxic. When an artist expresses their truth honestly and with a pure heart, they can end up speaking for a myriad of people. From a very specific experience can come a general understanding and healing."
It all began with the first song he wrote for the new album, the uplifting "Sunday Morning." k-os had been reflecting back on his life in the spotlight and questioning the association between personal validation and public acceptance. "After the last record, I would be walking down the street and people would come up to me as if they knew me. And it felt good to be popular, I guess," k-os confides.
Creating this song opened his eyes and brought him back to the lifestyle and values he learnt during his fundamentalist upbringing. "If Saturday night was party night, 'Sunday morning' was family time in my house - from the morning activities to the dinner served," he says. "It's funny I left all that behind to see what the world was like on my own terms. Everything then was go-go-go! I felt so ambitious with so much to accomplish, only to now understand the sacredness of resting and having time to contemplate and renew yourself." He continues: "Making this song has changed my life. It really works to embrace and be aware of what troubles us. This is the theme of ATLANTIS."
On his two previous albums, Exit and Joyful Rebellion, k-os gave his insight on the current and future state of hip-hop and many timely issues from politics and fame to humanity. Now, on ATLANTIS - Hymns for Disco, instead of holding up a mirror to the world and hiding behind it, he has turned the mirror onto himself. He is inviting listeners to experience someone who's in the process of accepting all points of his character and to hear about the most private and vulnerable parts of his life, which include tales of self-discovery, love and heartbreak.
"The Rain" is a painfully sincere song on which k-os sings with a new sense of honesty and rawness. There are no samples, no rap, no musical mixtures and concoctions; he keeps it pure, simple and real from beginning to end. "I was surprised by how well I could emote fresh cuts from a situation in the past where I was ruled by a woman," he admits. "I really thought I was over it. But emotions build up inside and if these remain unattended, they only build up further. 'The Rain' is the storm of those unchecked emotions."
The fourteen tracks on ATLANTIS - Hymns for Disco delve into many different directions, but are tied by themes of veracity, forgiveness and self-awareness. For this extremely personal album, it only made sense for k-os to collaborate with a few of his trusted friends. Both Sam Roberts and Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene) make a welcome appearance on "Valhalla." While 'Buck 65' and 'Kamau' (who has appeared on all three albums) help close the album with the stirring opus, "Ballad of Noah," which shows that k-os is less defined by public acceptance and more concerned with self-acceptance. k-os stands for 'knowledge of self' and on this new album he has not only identified a path to 'knowledge of self,' but brings us on that never-ending journey.
"I like the story of Noah," he says. "People knew him as a drunk so when he started running around saying that God told him to build a big boat, an ark, no one believed him. The public's opinion of him clouded his message, until it started raining. I am starting to learn not to judge myself and to love myself. Now I feel that I can properly give others the same respect with my newfound clarity."
For k-os, the significance of water extended beyond Noah and his ark, and played an important role in the development of ATLANTIS - Hymns for Disco. "This album kept leading me towards water," states k-os, who recorded songs in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver. "It just felt essential that I was creating the music in coastal cities and near bodies of water." This proximity was therapeutic, and fostered a musical understanding that kept his head well above the surface.
"We shouldn't allow ourselves to get flooded by other's opinions of us, but instead look within ourselves for foundation," theorizes k-os."I don't want to walk around thinking I am here to change people or the world. I am not. I can only change myself. Cities can sink, but I believe that people can survive if they follow a map or a compass marked Knowledge of Self."