Without diving headfirst into his entire discography (because that would make this article too long for even my *~best~* readers) I'll just say this: k-os hasn't made a bad record. That's the statement I want to you to sit with. As an artist he seems to find inspiration everywhere, and in doing so his sound alters from record to record. The fact that he remains a consistent talent despite an inconsistent sound speaks more to his ability as a creator than anything else I can say. And for those of you who follow the site regularly, you know there's nothing I love more than innovative consistency. Pushing yourself as an artist should always be what comes first. I understand commercial appeal is what may keep you around, but there is a way to do both. There's always a way! There's ALWAYS money in the banana stand! At the beginning of this paragraph I mentioned I wouldn't delve into all his records BUT for context I do want to speak about his first two records, as they set the tone for a career that has, and hopefully will continue, to bring me joy.
His debut record Exit came out 15 years ago, and even then his sound strayed from the norm. While pretty firmly grounded in the realm of hip hop, the record's approach was eclectic, featuring influences from reggae to funk to soul. Add in his ability to fuse a singer-songwriter atmosphere with his rap vibe gave him a freedom most artists attempt to have but fail, allowing him to expand his style in any direction. I was so taken with Exit when I first heard it, and though it's not my favorite of his it does have a number of his greatest songs, including: "Fantastique" (one of my favorite beats of all time), "Heaven Only Knows," "Freeze," and "Follow Me." For new listeners, this album exists as the perfect intro, good enough to get you excited for what's to come, while not being so good the rest feels like a struggle to live up to the hype.
As strong as Exit was, his sophomore release Joyful Rebellion was the one that brought him into the spotlight. Think of it as Exit 2.0, improving on everything from flow to structure to him further defining his unique brand. It's spectacular in the same way that Late Registration complemented College Dropout (for context's sake, I think Late Registration is superior). The record is filled to the brim with confidence and was the perfect stepping stone to get to Atlantis, an album that is an entirely different animal that the first two records. Joyful Rebellion was a bold critique on the state of hip hop at the time, though it's content concerned me less than what it made me feel. Once I heard "Crabbuckit" into "B-Boy Stance" I knew what I had felt upon my listening to Exit was no fluke. Which meant that my curiosity had turned to enthusiasm, which bred anticipation, which forced expectation; a word that can be dangerous if the artist doesn't meet them.
We're going to talk about Atlantis: Hymns For Disco now because HOT DAMN is it great. Right from the first second you knew it was going to be a groove. "ElectriK HeaT - the seekwiLL" is the opening track and everything about it breathes life into me. I know I’ve spoken on this before but for album’s I desperately love I rarely know how to speak on their behalf. I want to say the right things to both respect the record and perhaps more importantly, I want to get you to listen to it. For me, like so few records, this album is all encompassing: it’s old, it’s new, it’s soul, it’s hip hop, it’s rock, it’s worldly, it’s funk, it’s reggae, it’s R&B, it’s everything! Gospel in the divine sense, pure entertainment in the artistic sense. Even among single tracks there are groupings of genres. “Equalizer” is one of my favorites on the record and I can’t even tell you the genre it uses as a base. I wish I could put this more eloquently, but his vision as an artist is a blast to explore. You read that correctly, it's "a blast." I am 10. But seriously, nothing he does feels forced, he’s doing what the music inspires him to do. It’s easy and natural. Much like Anderson .Paak’s album from last year (Malibu), K-OS does a lot of things, and he does them all right.
The mood is primarily upbeat, and if I was forced to give it a genre it would be still be hip hop, but it definitely feels like something else. The alternative sound that's constantly present adds an energy that is rarely present in hip hop. That's not to say hip hop isn't energetic, hip hop thrives largely on it's energy, but this is specific. I still haven't heard a record quite like it. None of the 14 tracks compete with each other, all operating on a sometimes largely different plane. It's beautiful. I'd say the song that represents the album best is "born to Run." It features so many of the elements that make him who he is, but in all the variations of the melody I think what stands out to me the most is how easily the song transitions from it's tireless pacing and upbeat nature to finish with an acoustic breakdown of the same melody. Find me an artist who can not only make that work, but also be completely engaging in both formats.
As I listen to the record trying to find which songs I should be highlighting so you can feel how I do something hit me. The best way I can think to explain the beauty of Atlantis: Hymns of Disco is this. Imagine an artist's greatest hits record, now imagine if that album flowed as if all the hits were meant to be played in that sequence. That is this record. Start at the beginning and work your way through. Each song in it's place is what makes the best songs better, and, if you're like me, each song will be held high at one point in time. This record is a hip hop fusion dream and there isn't an ounce of it that lacks passion and genuineness. Put it on during your next run, your next drive, next ride, next situation that will be enhanced by good music (aka every situation). If you like it then get ready, you just woke up to a whole new world.
k-os 2009 to Present
Because he's released three albums following Atlantis: Hymns For Disco I thought it might be helpful to post some highlights from those records for those of you interested in listening to a little more from our Canadian friend. Enjoy!