K-OS The Exclaim! Questionnaire

K-OS The Exclaim! Questionnaire
What are you up to?
There's this CBC thing I'm working on. They're going to document me writing a song from the beginning, and then they're going to put it together with a 14-piece orchestra, and it's actually going to air on CBC this summer, I think. It's ZED TV I'm doing it with.

What are your current fixations?
Krishnamurti, KRS-One's albums Return of the Boom Bap and I Got Next, and that Strokes record, Is This It. When it was out I thought it was too trendy, so I didn't check it like I should have. And now I'm realising, wow, it's really good.

Why do you live where you do?
I live uptown [in Toronto], at Bathurst and St. Clair. I moved there when I got my record deal. The reason why I'm there is because of the girl I was with, I wanted to live closer. I've just stayed there. I've written a lot of music there. I think I'm afraid that if I move somewhere else, I won't be as inspired. It's small, but it's a good community. There are a lot of kids around and all that. It's wicked.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig?
The Roots in 1996 at the Opera House. They were the first example ever of live hip-hop, and I knew at that point that I had to perform with a band. I loved them, and it was the most amazing thing, and I knew that hip-hop was going that way. Blackthought became one of my favourite MCs. For music to change, as far as sampling, this is like the real live thing now. The end of sampling was the beginning of that show for me.

What have been your career highs and lows?
My high was when I realised that I wanted to not have anymore fears about letting my music out and writing songs and doing things that were different or against the grain. "Crabbukit" in particular, that song had a certain potential, not being afraid to put it out there because it could go this way or that way. Just taking that step forward.

The low was during the whole jiggy era of hip-hop, when I just wasn't inspired to rap. I thought hip-hop was dead, and yadda yadda yadda. I was really negative because I couldn't relate to that lifestyle. So, I didn't have a place for the first time in my life as a fan and as an MC, I didn't have a place in the music. It was weird to me.

What should everyone shut up about?
Earthquakes. Natural disasters. Get on a plane, pick up a brick. What about that? It's just this idea that we can figure on TV and press buttons and go on the internet and not even leave our house and make things better in the world. That's what I'm saying "shut up" about. Helping people in distress — I would never say that's a negative thing. That's the most beautiful thing and that's when humans really shine, when you see them genuinely helping another. But I just feel that the North American aspect is — "Choose your charity! Press C and you can send $100 to this!" I guess that leads to another pet peeve where I'm just so confused about what to really do. Because if someone were to put me in control and say, "How would you fix it?" I would just keep saying turn to God, let the universe take care of it. That's worked for me, but not everyone has that resilient type of faith, or even the belief that things will work out that way.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
The trait I like the most about myself is that I fear God. That's the only thing that keeps it all together. Everything else is kinda like dealing with myself. Can I answer this question by saying that myself is the self of all human beings, it's not Keven Brereton self. And what I don't like about the self is, if I can be more specific, is that it always moves towards selfishness, possessiveness, it's always seeking its own interests. It's polar, in other words it's happy but that happiness has to have an opposite, which is sad. So, these traits about the self are just things that human beings have been dealing with for the last millions of years, things that if we conquer within ourselves, then we've actually evolved, and hopefully that ends up shining on other human beings. The fear of God is the one I like the best, and the ability to know that the self can be understood, and in turn, moved on from.

What advice should you have taken but did not?
Know myself. "Know thyself." I used to read it all the time when I was a kid. I never knew what it meant. "Know myself? But, what do you mean by that?" And so, I just kept on fakin' it till I made it. There are some cringing moments on the album where I'm seeing old pictures of myself or seeing old videos and going "that's pretty pretentious." If I just understood knowing myself then I wouldn't have been free from blame, but I'd be free from shame. I think that's the only thing that I would pass on. The only thing that's cringe-worthy to me now is just that I had an idea that it was supposed to be about knowing myself, but I followed instead. I followed what was happening on the radio, I followed the trends of the music that I liked, which you do when you're a child. I guess it's okay by this society's standards, but the day I have a son or a daughter I won't tell them that that's okay. I'll tell them that you can know yourself from the time you're six years old, you can start to be on that path, which you'll be on forever.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Never done both. A, for my band, which I'll put first as a priority — I begged my keyboard player to stay in the band. I'm paranoid about planets and how they all align and how solar systems are organised — you move one thing out of place and then it doesn't work. We got Lil Jazz on the ones and twos, and he ended up being a wicked keyboard player. So, in a way, I never kicked that person out. They just decided that they'd had a kid and they decided that they couldn't do that, and that was cool. I don't want to break this group of fellas that I have now, because… I can't even put into words how thankful I am about my band. It's just something that's miraculously perfect. We love each other and we have so much fun.

As far as the bed thing, my entire sexual career has been trying to discern if I really, really like somebody before I go there. And I'm proud to say that to this point I have never really, well… 99 percent of the time that's happened, I've been completely enamoured with the person, so, no, there was never that. I think there's a point at which where a human being, as a young boy you don't know how to deal with sexual feelings, and so the after affect is sometimes awkward, and you feel like maybe you don't want to be there, but not because of the other person, but probably because you don't know how to deal… the same way that you wouldn't want to stand up in front of your class and speak. The spotlight's on you too much.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
Mystical… a mystical feeling. We have no identity, so basically we're chameleons. When Canadians figure that out and see that that's the key to our intelligence, is that we're the observer, we sit here like chess pieces and we can watch everything. We can choose to be down with a little American culture, a little African, a little Spanish…. That's what I tried to do with my album. I took everything and put it in a big pot, a true melting pot. That's what I think about Canada.

What is your vital daily ritual?
Krishnamurti and Nutramin.

What are you feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I stole so therefore I will be stolen from.

What was your most memorable day job?
Stanley Kartways, world's biggest go-kart track, in Whitby, Ontario. Summer job, 1994. I drove the carts back to the front. I just basically sat on the tracks, and if there were accidents, I'd be there to take care of them.

How do you spoil yourself?
By dry-cleaning all my clothing. I don't really spoil myself. Just by living this lifestyle. Being able to make music everyday, being on tour. Basically being paid to be a big kid.

If I wasn't playing music I would be:
Probably some kind of cult, underground, hate-the-government kind of person. Some kind of cult leader, maybe. I would say that, basically with the idea that there's no hope on the planet, because music gives me hope.

What do you fear most?
Not doing the right thing, and also looking back and realising maybe that I was doing it all out of selfishness. That there was no message and there wasn't any realness, I just manipulated myself to think that because I just love attention. That's why I check myself every day.

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
I don't know about that question! Intelligence, intelligence, intelligence. Superficial intelligence.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
In an elevator in New York, I met Aaliyah. She looked like an alien, she had this really crazy aura to her. She was a very, very, very soft person. I was actually a little bit star-struck because of who she was, not even because of the music, but because of what came out of her. I didn't say anything! She said hi and tried to make conversation with me, but I didn't really say anything because I was basically judging myself because I wasn't really into the music, but the person impressed me, and that sort of confused me.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
My dinner guest would be Bob Marley, and what would I serve him? I dunno… Wow. I'm going to switch that. Probably John Lennon. What would I serve him? Just… Maybe just have a drink or something. Jack on ice. And talk about music.

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
She probably wants me to have a job with some phone company, with a really low afro, and be leasing a Honda Civic.

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
I'd like to die with a free conscience and, most of all, happy. Whatever physical thing happened, it wouldn't really matter, so long as those two things are intact.

Ringing in at the top of Exclaim!'s Readers Poll for hip-hop, K-OS wants to change the way you think about music. Hip-hop, pop, rock, or folk: "Those lines are dying," he says. "Those lines of what black music is, what white music is, musicians didn't make that up on Billboard — Adult Contemporary, this and that. It's just the way that the spies of the music decided to track the music."

Growing up, whether he was listening to Newcleus raps or Siouxsie & the Banshees, Kevin Brereton has allowed his earliest and purest experiences as a lover of music to help shape the creation of his own sound.
"When you're a kid, you're blind to that," he explains. "You don't know what's pop, or this, that and the third. You're just loving music." And, he stresses, "that's what's good to keep safe. Because every kid loves music, everybody can sing, you haven't tried to change your voice to sound like anybody. And then, at some point, you pick a personality and then you pick the music that goes with it, you pick the pair of jeans that goes with it, and you go, ‘this is me.'

"I think music will change over time," K-OS predicts, as genres and borders — both musical and otherwise — continue to blur. But, he says, "more important is if people can get in contact with the way they felt about music when they were children."
Susana Ferreira