Four years since his last album, k-os is back with a double LP called BLack on BLonde, which you can stream here now for one week.
ListenBLack on BLonde by k-os
Streaming until Feb. 5
(Courtesy of Universal Music Canada)
When you Google the term “BLack on BLonde,” it’s not only the name of k-os’s first full recording since 2009's Yes that comes up. You’ll also find direct links to a similarly titled popular porn site that features black male characters getting it on with blond bombshells. BLack on BLonde is a conceptual double disc that features one (BLack) disc with the intent to represent the hip-hop side of k-os’s persona; the other, a (BLonde) disc to characterize his rock and pop leanings.
The title is a take on his dual musical heroes — Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde recording and Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides. To pull his discs’ stated plan off, k-os had to come correct, and mess around a lot — with genres, that is.
“I didn’t even know about BLack on BLonde’s relation to porn until all the perverted people started texting me that,” k-os explains. “Remember, my dad is a minister, and I’ve never even been to a strip club in my life!”
Sporting a guest list of artists who couldn’t be any more different — Metric’s Emily Haines, Saukrates, the Roots’ Black Thought and Corey Hart (yes, that Corey Hart of “Sunglasses at Night” '80s infamy) — k-os does his best musical alchemist impersonation, blending a wildly divergent list of music styles that jives with his typically unconventional approach to music-making.
“Listen, I’m very much of a cyborg artist. I’m an indie artist, I write my songs and rhymes, direct my own videos, but I’m also very much a major label pop artist,” explains, arguably, Canada’s first emo rapper, whom some might notice has shorn his long dreadlocks. “All of this is tantamount to the duality within myself. BLack on BLonde offered me an opportunity to play with the extremities of those two images in society. There’s a stigma of being blond in this world, just as there is of being black. With my music, my aim is reach both sides, everyone, from the most church-going righteous people to people who go on porno websites.”
The dance floor-friendly vibes of electro pop-rap single “Nyce to Know Ya” or the gritty, driving garage rock sounds of “Surf’s Up” featuring Sebastien Grainger of Death From Above 1979 (which showed up under a different name, “BlackWater,” on k-os's Anchorman mixtape) might elicit a good response across the musical spectrum. But the thing on most people’s minds might be how k-os was able to lure Corey Hart to record “Like a Comet” with him — on a trap music track, no less — given Hart’s widely known track record of not really collaborating with anybody, across genres.
“We met while I was performing at the 2007 Junos,” k-os recalls. "I hit him up and he said his daughter loves my music, so we just kept in contact. I was not gonna do some corny remix of his song, so I called up producer Kemo to send me some beats, I wanted some trap music. And he was like ‘For a Corey Hart track?'"
“I sent him the track in Barcelona, and because everything’s revolving around electronic pop music sounds again, and '80s revivalism, for him it wasn’t a big deal," he explains.
“The thing with Corey is that he doesn’t mess around, he’s a serious philosopher of pop music. I guarantee you that when that song comes out it's going to get more attention than any other song on the record. It’s Corey Hart man!”
For those consumers who might have no interest in the BLonde side of the disc, hardcore rap tracks like “Spraying My En” featuring A-list Canadian rap talents Saukrates and Shad, or “Try Again” with the Roots’ Black Thought, feature k-os verbally jousting with some of the best pure wordsmiths in the rap business, bar none — a task he didn’t take lightly.
“Black Thought, that’s the best MC of my generation, in my opinion, as far as putting words together, the voice, having a message,” he says. “I was sending him songs to collaborate with me on for years. When you get to record with someone who you admired as a kid, it better be good, a classic, and I feel like ‘Try Again’ is.”
When artists jump across many genres like this, they can run the risk of trying to appeal to so many music constituencies that they appeal to none. But that has always seemed to be k-os’s modus operandi.
Older discs like 2007’s platinum-selling Atlantis: Hymns for Disco were all over the place musically, and BLack on BLonde takes it to another level. Will BLack on BLonde appease rockers? Rap fans? Or fickle pop audiences still hung over from the blinding success of Joyful Rebellion’s “Crabbuckit”? Who knows.
But what k-os can say with some authority, and has been saying on his Twitter feed, is that any Canadian rappers who are now both combo rapping and singing their way to success — a style k-os arguably popularized back in 2002 — need to check their history and respect the architect. K-os tweeted on Jan. 7 that “all the Canadian rappers that sing and rap now should gimme about 20 percent of they royalties.”
“If you look at any rapper in this country younger than me, everyone started singing and rapping after Joyful Rebellion," he says. "People might say that’s arrogant, but outside of say Saukrates, who is one of my favourite rappers, who else was into this?”
Before going off on a tangent about how his friend Feist, whom he’s done remix work for, can rap really well and might be “more of an MC than much of what I’m listening to right now, on the radio,” and how him now living in Gastown, Vancouver, brings him inner peace, k-os does acknowledge that this Canadian urban music renaissance happening right now is real, beginning with, uh, Justin Bieber?
“While it might be cooler to say the Weeknd, who is doing great, Justin Bieber started this renaissance because he’s a white kid from Stratford doing black music," k-os says. "He blew up in the most underground way you can blow up, on YouTube. He has skills, he plays drums, plays guitars and he’s killing it.”
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