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k-os moonlights as a Victorian gentleman.
courtesy Sony BMG

Soulful forces of k-os

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As much as success is a wonderful thing for any artist, it brings the pressure for further success. No one understands this more than Canadian hip-hopper k-os. k-os' second full-length, 2004's Joyful Rebellion, peaked at number seven on the Billboard Canadian Album charts, received three Junos and the singles "Crabbuckitt" and "B-Boy Stance" got wicked spins on the radio. Following up Rebellion was going to be a task, and so far k-os has been up to it. His new album, Atlantis: Hymns to Disco has already hit number five on the Billboard charts after less than a month of release.

"[Atlantis has] a similar energy as far as people being excited about it," says k-os. "I try not to think about [following up my last album] while I'm creating the music. To jump in right after and do my thing was the best thing I could've done. I tried to get that energy going, keep up with myself, you know?"

Lyrically, the album is quite different from Rebellion. Replacing the angry rants about the state of hip-hop are more personal and emotional tracks. With the change in lyrical themes comes a change in the music back-dropping them. Atlantis features a soulful classic piano ballad with k-os singing the length of it. In the past, k-os has sung in spurts for choruses, but "The Rain" is the first track he has sung in its entirety.

"I've always wanted to do something like it," k-os says. "I got really disenchanted with R&B, I think I got away from it. I thought that if I ever did a song fully singing, it would have to sound old and weathered. I like the sound of that. I like the production on that particular song almost more than I like the song, because it's just the feeling of it. It's a very relaxing, beautiful feeling."

k-os admits that he was unsure of where he was going after Rebellion. Writing the music first made it easier for him to come up with the lyrics later, once he knew what ideas he wanted to communicate.

"In this case, the music came first," says k-os. "I was still deciding what I wanted to say. I didn't know where I was lyrically even in my life, or what I wanted to present. I think Joyful Rebellion had a lot of preaching going on, from my soul. I'm not ashamed of that. I've moved on from that part of my reality for now. It put me in a position where I was really concentrated on making music just to escape from the kind of musical landscape, what I would hear, or what would come from the radio or the TV. I just wanted to create music to take me outside of that. When I figured out what I wanted to say, the music was already there."

One of the few criticisms of Rebellion was k-os' constant preaching about what's wrong with hip-hop. Though not much has changed in the music industry since its release, k-os has said what he felt he had to say, and moved on.

"I felt like I was growing up," says k-os. "I felt really upset and frustrated that the music of my youth was starting to vanish. Joyful Rebellion was me trying to hold onto my youth by getting so angry about music and using that energy to make music. People listening to your voice, people acknowledging your art, puts the artist in a different place. I jumped up and down and hollered enough, now people are looking in my direction."

"Part of the reason I made Joyful Rebellion was because I was starting to look around and say, 'Was I ever going to put out a record that people cared about?'" k-os continues. "Joyful Rebellion was just me shouting at the top of my voice, 'Look over here, I've got something to say!' People did react to that. But now what? [With Atlantis], I felt I had to give back to all the things I took from on that last record. All the things I took, meaning the attention, the ranting and raving about the state of hip-hop. I think now it was time for me to be honest and think about who I am as a person."

The honesty shines through on Atlantis. It's the closest the audience can get to the rapper without going to one of his shows. Still, even if he is trying to open up and become more personal with his new record, don't expect him to perform without his trademark hooded sweater and sunglasses. k-os is still shy when it comes to performing in front of thousands of fans.

"I don't think I'll get used to that, it's what I call soul-pressure," says k-os. "The idea that there're all these people trying to stare into you and see who you are. Nothing is more addictive, but at the same time irritating. [It's like they're] trying to stare into you to see if they can figure out what's going on with you."

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