Last night on his bus, dreadlocked Canadian rapper K-OS brought up iTunes and listed to every Beatles track he could find. He’s fascinated by the harmonies. He’s fascinated by the band’s switch from teen idols to music Jedi.
“I’m a Beatles junkie,” K-OS says. “I want to get deep. Paul McCartney…I feel him, but John Lennon has always been my favorite. I used to peep his interviews when I was a kid.”
In 2006 at the behest of Yoko Ono, K-OS, born Kevin Brereton in 1972, covered Lennon’s solo hit “Jealous Guy” for an Amnesty International campaign. K-OS says he felt honored Ono selected him to the re-record the song and cutting it made him feel closer to Lennon.
“That particular song I’ve always liked because the lyrics are so human and honest,” K-OS says. “A lot of artists use their music to defend the not so positive things in their life—I know I do that. How many musicians are going to come out and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a jealous person’?”
Ambient production techniques surface on K-OS’ track “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman,” from his 2009 LP “Yes!” Melted-tape vocals. Saccharine piano melodies. Rogue-choir vocals. Another cut on the album, “4 3 2 1” offers crystal blurs. K-OS is also fond of hidden tracks—each of his four albums has them.
“When I do it, I just think of someone cleaning one day and leaving the CD on, the whole discovery thing. That’s where I get most of my inspiration: trying to re-enact the feeling I got when I was just a music listener.”
This spring, K-OS is touring with fellow Canadian hip-hop standout Drake. Live, K-OS has been known to rap over “Tom Sawyer,” the prog-metal classic from fellow countrymen Rush. Says K-OS, “To me that is a hip-hop song.”
You played the closing ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. That’s a perspective not too many people have during their lifetime.
That was crazy. The hugeness of the whole thing cancels everything out. Apparently there were 2 billion people or something watching, and you don’t want to make a mistake. But then you get onstage and it’s just the immediate arena in front of you—and I’ve played to that amount of people before. The beautiful thing about it, in some Zen-like way, you’re just playing to those people in the room. Everyone in Vancouver knew the Olympics was a once in a lifetime thing and they were giving such amazing energy.
You played guitar onstage during some of your live set. What instrument do you keep near you on the road at all times?
More than anything, this harmonica that I’m trying to figure out right now because I’m such a huge Dylan fan. I started picking it up last April on tour in Canada. I love the sound of it, and no one really plays it these days in the younger generation of music, especially in hip-hop.
Has Natalie Portman ever heard your track “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman?”
I’ve never met her. But I do know when she came to Canada for a film festival a friend of mine who works for “Entertainment Tonight” in Canada, at the end of the junket he asked her, “Have you heard of K-OS?" He had this on film so he sent it to me. She was like, “Yeah, I have heard of K-OS.” “Well, he has this song saying he wishes he knew you.”
I ended up meeting Hayden Christensen on a plane from L.A., he’s Canadian as well. He was like, “Yo man, I’m a fan of yours.” And I was like “Dude, I’m a ‘Star Wars’ freak.”
And we get to talking and he’s like, “Do you know I used to listen to The Rascalz CD and Natalie Portman would come in my trailer— The Rascalz are some friends I did a track with—and she loved her song?" Way back when they were doing “Star Wars.”
It’s interesting, man. Music, even meeting Hayden, putting energy out there, who you want to know…how quick it comes back to you. I think we already know who we’ll get along with. If you like someone as an actor, they probably like your music. I think she’s a fantastic actress.
How accurate is your Wikipedia page?
One time after a party, I started reading it and it was freaking me out. Not necessarily because it was wrong, but because there was so much information on me out there. (Laughs.) I meet girls sometimes and they're like, “I Wikipedia-ed you.” Oh, great. (Laughs.)
What are your favorite hidden tracks from other artists?
Probably Nirvana’s hidden track (“Endless, Nameless” from 1991’s “Nevermind.”) That’s number one. Number two, The Fugees. I went through three of their cassette tapes. I bought my third one when I was in Chicago; we were listening to it in my friend’s car. At the end of the whole CD, Wyclef says some crazy stuff that wasn’t in the program.
K-OS opens for Drake Thursday, April 22 at Furman University's Timmons Arena. For more information, call 864-294-2000 or visit www.k-osmusic.com.