Artist: k-osTitle: Joyful RebellionRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Clover Hope
Anytime an artist professes to be both emcee and vocalist, problems arise. One of the two talents is either poor or mediocre at best, or equally suppressed. But the Trinidadian-born, Toronto-bred rhyme specialist k-os effectively satisfies both criteria with his sophomore album Joyful Rebellion (Astralwerks), the follow-up to Exit. The feral lyricist is something of an anomaly (think Raphael Saadiq + Q-Tip with a bit of Wyclef Jean). Where many have attempted and failed to mix genres, k-os’ alternative groove is unforced and much appreciated. He effectively harmonizes raspy vocals to his often self-supplied instruments (acoustic guitar, piano) a difficult task with so many musical styles at hand.
Playing both producer and writer to Joyful Rebellion, k-os dishes out a diverse selection of tastes besides rap and R&B. Reggae reigns on the drum-assisted “Man I Used To Be,” which ends with a freestyle. And though “Hallelujah” is a lolled reggae ballad, with a pace too sluggish for k-os to level, “Crucial” provides a soulful reggae rhythm where he carries the tune while vowing to stay by his girl’s side. On “Emcee Murdah,” k-os offers his response to the popular notion that hip-hop is dead: “Money and fame could lead to emcee murder / You think you can escape but you can’t take it any further / You call it writer’s block / But you stop cause the vine is empty / Hip hop’s not dead, it’s really the mind of the emcee.”
In “B-Boy Stance,” the rapper takes us back to the days of Hip-hop yore, with background echoes and classic record scratching. “Crabbuckit,” with jazz-like horn solos and the handclap tempo of “Hit the Road Jack,” features k-os verbally maneuvering his way through tongue-twisting rhymes, “I take it higher like a bird on a wire, retire the fire, I’ll never / ‘cause I’m just movin’ on up / Choosin’ to touch / the unseen, craving the clutch / The most inevitable, legible pyromania / Slayin’ the devil and sendin’ him back to Transylvania.” Only the final two tracks “One Blood” and “Papercutz” are a bit off and skippable, as k-os veers from his strong ability to merge his voice with the melody. Though in songs like “Commandante,” which falls short on beat quality, k-os’ flow and vocals carry the beat.
Joyful Rebellion not only revolts against the commercial sound of Hip-hop, but attempts to take it back to its roots without overdoing it. And k-os’ audible rage-against-the-machine mentality proves he’s got something to say. If nothing else, the album simply lacks that solid joint that could propel this alternative artist into the mainstream. But k-os seems perfectly content as a Hip-hop rebel.