​K-os Still Can't Be Pinned Down and He Couldn't Be Happier

​K-os Still Can't Be Pinned Down and He Couldn't Be Happier
Photo: Geoff Fitzgerald
K-os's inventive, profanity-free rhymes have always set him apart, so longtime fans may be shocked to hear the Toronto rapper sneer: "Take off that AutoTune, get the fuck outta here," on "WiLD4TheNight (EgoLand)," one of the standout tracks from Can't Fly Without Gravity, his forthcoming sixth studio LP, out August 28 on Dine Alone. But in a recent interview with Exclaim!, K-os insists that he's never been curse-averse, despite what audiences may assume, before explaining what compelled him to use a little course language.
"I got tired of all these people saying they were singing on tracks when it was AutoTune," K-os says of the synthetically smoothed vocals dominating today's airwaves. "So it wasn't me cursing a person, but the idea of AutoTune, because it takes away the human vulnerability of singing."
He adds that the swearing wasn't meant to be a drastic departure from his previously clean work, explaining: "I swear all the time in my lyrics, because I use words of passion. That's all that swearing is. I just don't often use cliché swear words. It's not that I never swear, I just do it so well that people don't recognize it. But sometimes you have to just swear blatantly to get a point across."
If fans are taken aback by the expletive, then K-os couldn't be happier. Defying expectations was one of his chief goals on the new LP. While much of it features his trademark forays into jazz, rock and electronica, the album's centrepiece would fit on the brawniest of gangsta rap albums. Dubbed "Boyz II Men (LouieCK dirty)," the midway track is a vintage-flavoured posse cut with guest turns from a who's who of Canadian rappers: Kardinal Offishall, Choclair, King Reign, Shad and longtime K-os collaborator Saukrates, all spitting over a splintery, unvarnished beat that chops a portion of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" until it's hauntingly unrecognizable.
"I sampled that Whitney vocal in a very RZA way, kind of out of key," K-os says. "I've always loved how a lot of '90s hip-hop was made by untrained people cutting samples that didn't fit and making a new sound. So this song has that edgy feel, which helped keep everyone that contributed to it very sharp."
Aside from "Boyz II Men," Can't Fly also boasts plenty of no-frills MCing on boom-bap bangers like "Crucify," and "Rap Zealot." But it wouldn't be a K-os album without his signature eclecticism — be it pop balladry on album closer "Another Shot," alt-rock on "Steel Sharpens Steel," or early track "Hussle & Flow," which critics have called an EDM hit. But K-os says he isn't pandering to current dancefloor crowd, explaining: "To me, it's not EDM as much as general electronica, which is something I've done a lot, even on 'Superstarr Pt.0,' the first song that most people ever heard me do, which had a house beat.
"Doing many different genres has always been my thing. In fact I don't think 'the music of K-os' has a genre," he says, adding that open-ended unpredictability is his biggest asset — be it clean or profane, gangsta or EDM and beyond. "I always want someone to pick up my records and not know what they're going to hear. If I can do that then I'm successfully accomplishing my mission."