K-Os Rewrites Hip-Hop’s Rulebook With Joyful Rebellion

On second LP, Caribbean-Canadian MC combines rap with rock, jazz, blues, reggae and lots of optimism.

Rapper k-os has a message for armchair revolutionaries and disenchanted couch potatoes: Get out there and take a stand.

“I’ve seen Jadakiss. I’ve seen Faithless,” he said. “I’ve seen all these different bands talk about the problems, but I haven’t seen any solutions. We all know there’s a problem. What’s the solution?”

Though he doesn’t profess to hold the answers, the Toronto-bred rapper has chosen his battle: Reviving the spirit of old-school hip-hop while defying the genre’s current conventions, and he’s using his second album, Joyful Rebellion (slated for a September 21 release), as a soapbox.

“I guess the idea behind revolution or rebellion has always been a tragic one,” he said. “So I wanted to associate happiness with being rebellious. I think that’s kind of a revolutionary idea in itself.”

Unimpressed with hip-hop’s current state — and particularly its assembly-line method of recording — k-os’ take on the genre is unorthodox, to say the least. Joyful Rebellion combines elements of funk, rock, jazz, folk, blues, reggae and rap, and k-os pushes the envelope even further by flipping between rapping and singing.

Lyrically, he rhymes about rappers’ obsessions with money and fame (“EMCEE Murdah”), biased journalists who mess with his mind (“Papercutz”), not believing the hype (“The Love Song”) and taking a stand (“Crucial”). And just to keep things current, there’s even an ode to Michael Jackson called “The Man I Used to Be.”

K-os grew up in Trinidad and Toronto, raised by parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2002, he released his debut album, Exit, led by the single “Heaven Only Knows.” The MC then toured behind the album until the summer of 2003, playing dates with India.Arie and Floetry. Exit was named International Album of the Year at the 2003 Source Awards.

The lyrics of “B-Boy Stance,” the first single from Joyful Rebellion, introduce the rapper’s mission to bring hip-hop back to its roots, and the track pays appropriate homage, employing a Public Enemy loop and a breakbeat.

“I’m playing a role,” k-os rhymes on the song “So people remember that/ I’m just a servant of rap, hoping to bring it back.”