Wed, 03 Feb 2010 09:32:02
K-os commits truth to wax.
That's his goal as an artist, and his unbridled honesty is what makes Yes! the best thinking man's hip hop album in a long time. From examining pop culture to dissecting political situations, the MC poetically probes everything around him in his music. Nothing is taken at face value, and K-os isn't afraid to pose questions over eclectic beats. However, he does it with an unbreakable flow and a soulful aesthetic that's far more "indie rock" than "gangsta." That's what makes him such an enigma. If rap had a philosopher-king, it'd be K-os.
K-os sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about Yes!, playing tunes for Natalie Portman and why Lady GaGa needs to take some risks by bringing Cannibal Corpse out as her opening act…
Do you feel like super creative after DJ-ing an event like the Haiti fundraiser you recently performed at?
Ever since I started DJ-ing about two and a half years ago, I realized how much great music is out there. It's affected my music because I'm constantly comparing my music to what I love to listen to. It proves that if you continue to be a fan of music, you'll challenge yourself. When you listen to these recordings that are from '65, '71 or '84—A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul and that whole era—it's primo stuff. They're unbelievable. A lot of these hip hop songs are standards that you really need to take in and analyze so they're in your blood. That's the thing about DJ-ing. You're right; it puts you in a totally creative space.
On Yes!, you pull from so many different influences, but you still manage to make a personal sound.
It's taken awhile for that. I go with the term "musically schizophrenic." Making this music, whether it's "genre-bending" or whatever people call it, really comes from simply being in the studio and making certain decisions. I'll say, "I'm going to make a hip hop record." Then I write one song like "Mr. Telephone Man" that sounds really hip hop. After that, I'll start experimenting with various sounds. Four minutes later, it doesn't sound like a "hip hop" song, but we can't go back because it's so fun to see what you can get away with during those three-and-a-half minutes. It's like a musical heist. That's what I've been working on since the beginning of my career. On Yes!, I feel that I was able to reel myself back in. It's like when a director realizes that a scene is too long. Even though he's made successful movies and people like them, his movies get better over time because he sees how to streamline things. It's amazing what experience can do. The cellulite of the whole situation starts to fall away. Yes! tries to file it down and still take risks. However, when you listen to it, the album doesn't sound like it's all over the place.
It is a very cinematic album. Are there any films that you would liken it to?
That's a thick question, bro! It's kind of difficult. I'm going to say a Quentin Tarantino movie. I say, "movie" because I don't want to choose a specific film. I'll use Quentin as an example though. He is such a student of film that you know every single movie is in his movie. He can tell his cinematographer, "Remember that shot in Goodfellas at about 90 minutes where this happened?" [Laughs] That's how I see this record, not in the sense of the content, but in the dedication to the craft and re-using elements in a schizophrenic way so it becomes a whole new thing.
Would you say your music is culled from emotion more than anything else?
Yeah, I have this idea that before human beings had such a dedication to language, speaking and saying what they felt, they were forced to make decisions based on their personalities or in an instant based on a feeling. I feel like that's being lost in the art. The calculated mind has so much power over the inspired and artistic part of our personae that people think their music through too much. Doing what you feel is great, but sometimes it has its consequences. People might not always get what you do, or they might not be able to classify it. Feelings are communicated on a deeper level than if something's just "thought through." Hopefully, that makes the music last a long time as well. Over the years, as things come and go, I hope that some of the songs I've created last through time because they're more connected to certain feelings than they are aesthetics.
So has Natalie Portman heard "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman?"
She has! A friend of mine who works for Entertainment Tonight in Canada was interviewing her for the Toronto Film Fest. At the end of the interview, he was like, "Have you heard of K-Os?" She responded, "Yes, I have." So he said, "Do you know he has a song called, 'I wish I knew Natalie Portman?'" She laughed in a humble but embarrassed way about it. She knows the song exists. It was cool of my friend to ask her that. There's a trailer for the video out there on the 'net where we use the clip at the beginning. That song is interesting in many ways. It's not simply because of The O.C.'s spin on pop culture and use of music either. That was the first show to really use indie rock and music as a backdrop. I think Busta Rhymes said this: "Hip hop never really comes from hip hop. It comes from other music." That's a big thing for me. If I'm going to sample something, I try to choose something people wouldn't expect. When I heard that beat by Rich Kid, I was like, "This is mind-blowing." I knew it would work. It's a cool, weird, but interesting track. Phantom Planet originally wrote the song, and they were so quick to come back and say, "Go ahead use the song." It was a super positive vibe.
Did most of the album come together quickly like that?
I went up to Vancouver with my band and we jammed for two or three nights. We recorded everything. Almost every single song from the record comes from those jam sessions. It was old school. I still want to dedicate myself to making music that comes from that live band place even if you go back into it and replace elements. The original spark needs to be dudes in a room playing music.
You've got a '70s vibe. Back in the day, you could see James Brown and Jimi Hendrix on the same stage. You don't see that as much anymore.
The word "demographic" is a very interesting thing. Let's take the term "fiefdom." A fiefdom is your dominion. It's not a kingdom, but it's your MySpace friends, Twitter following or Facebook fans. You can create your own fiefdom these days, and you don't have to go to anybody else's fiefdom. If you choose to have 150,000 fans on Facebook and you just want to investigate the worlds that belong to those people, that's it. In the '70s, the '80s and even the '90s, we didn't have these options to even create fiefdoms. Human beings had more of a random sphere because they'd be open to things that they couldn't control. As a kid, I remember when "We are the World" came out. It was a big deal that the song was going to be played on every single station all around the world at the same time. My brother and I were freaking out because we heard it everywhere. Could that happen today? I don't know. People have so many options. Everything becomes a little world. If you're AFI, you tour with the bands that AFI fans would like. If you're Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, you tour with the artists that you get played next to on the radio or your fans will like. Lady Gaga might not ask Death Cab for Cutie to open for her. It doesn't happen. You're right. It's a great observation. That's what's making music more and more linear. It makes me want to do things that stand out. For artists that are doing something different, it's a great opportunity. I don't want to go out there every night and hear the same stuff I'm doing. I want to learn something. I want to watch a band that blows my mind. Maybe we'll see if Lady Gaga takes out Cannibal Corpse or Helmet [Laughs].
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…