Andrew Zaleski>Junior>English>Loyola University Maryland
When people think of rappers, university boys from Toronto, Canada, aren’t always the first people to come to mind. But that’s exactly how Kevin Brereton, better known by his stage name K-OS (an acronym for “Knowledge of Self”), got his start—rapping in his dorm room while attending York University. Having grown in popularity in Canada, the now 38-year-old Brereton is bringing his rap game south across the border in an effort to spread his music and message to a new American audience. College had a chance to speak with him briefly during one of his pre-show sound checks.
Kevin, I know you only have about 15 minutes, so I’ll try to be quick. Right now you’re on tour with Drake—how has that been going?
Amazing. It’s, like, probably the best growing experience I’ve had in my entire career because I’m being kind of put in the mix with his fans, people who have been hearing of him for a while. It’s an amazing world to be put into, it’s so fun.
Are the crowds liking your music?
The most difficult part about it is I’ve had four or five records out in Canada to this point, so people kind of know [about me]. You can start to get . . . a sordid response. Whereas here [in the U.S.], kids are kinda looking at me going, ‘Who is this guy?’ And usually you win them over. It’s crazy when a band decides to put you as an opener because they like your music. They’re tryin to say to their fans, ‘Yo, check this out.’ So some people are open off the bat, other people need to be convinced of why you’re there. It’s kids in universities, so they know what they want, they know what they came for. So it’s the perfect situation to be put in, as a challenge. It’s just fun. It takes me back to why I started doing this
Has it been difficult making that transition from the scene in Canada to the music scene here?
Yeah. I feel that I feel like that’s goin on right now, I feel like people heard the name or saw the video or heard a friend talk about it. But . . . it’s never been put in your face. And that’s why it’s great touring with Drake and putting it (his music) out there. It’s the most amazing thing. It just shows the power of musicians and the power of fans. I do feel that that’s happening right now and I feel super excited about it.
In your rapping, what is it you’re trying to get across? You seem to have that ‘alternative rapper’ thing about you, kind of like a Lupe Fiasco vibe.
I just think it’s all about—if you listen to any of those rappers, like Lupe Fiasco or Drake—it’s a lot of people being emotional and telling you the truth about how they feel about their lives. That’s it. For me more than anything . . . I’m not trying to conform to what people’s ideas of hip-hop should be. I think hip-hop was always created for a person to be original and speak about the things they feel touched them, and not be afraid to dress, talk, walk and exude something from themselves as opposed to an image they saw. It’s about knowledge of self I would say, which leads you to believe and understand that it’s OK to talk about anything in your life that you feel is relevant because it’s coming from you, as opposed to knowledge of everyone else, which is trying to rap or make music to please people because you wannna be part of something that’s already happening.
When you were in university in Canada, what were the bands and musical inspirations that you drew from?
That was everything from Black Moon to [A] Tribe Called Quest to Public Enemy. The Pharcyde, Souls of Mischief. I remember meeting De La Soul when they came to my university. [My influences] really come from that mid-golden age of hip-hop when there was a certain sonic sound and production. But it was also people tryin to be super positive. I have to throw Snoop [Dogg] in there too . . . from Q-Tip to Snoop, that’s the scope.
Do you feel there was something distinctive of that ‘golden age’ of hip-hop sound that has been lost today?
People were sampling more, and record companies weren’t on artists and labels to clear their samples. So artists had a buffet of prolific music to take from because sampling hadn’t really been locked down yet. But then when labels started to find out, or to regulate how people sampled music, the music changed. It got more stripped down. There was less jazz, rock or psychedelic influence. And so right after that period . . . [the music] got really live and less ‘sample-y’ and it changed everything. Because when these artists sampled records you had a passport to like, Miles Davis or Red Clay. . . . When people were sampling records it almost took you into a world of music that was so foreign. So when that changed in hip-hop I think the sound changed. I think the future’s sorta gonna be live music created just for rap’s sake. Not sample, but just making interesting music on its own to rap over and it’ll be a return to that kind of [golden age] innocence.
Your albums typically feature social commentary pretty prominently, but your latest album released last April, Yes!, seems much more musically and rhythmically driven.
It was summertime when I started it, and I dusted off my drum machine. I hadn’t used my drum machine in a long time. So I just went back to making beats and sampling beats and just leaving the drum machine on in my room and rapping over it for a long time—things I used to do when I was younger. It created a whole different energy. And I think lyrics are still important, but I think the music, how it sounds or moves, started to become a little bit more important to me.
Any highlights from the tour with Drake?
We did a show in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. I came out and these girls in the front row were just staring at me with their arms folded. But the more that I rapped at them, as I looked them in the eye, the more they got into it. It was just proof to me that you just have to go out there and just connect with people. That’s what this tour’s gonna be all about with me: connecting with people, and trying to find a way to bridge a gap between the music I grew up to and my lifestyle in Canada, to America.