Toronto MC/singer k-os says he will get another shot in the U.S. with his second full-length, "Joyful Rebellion," when it's re-released via Virgin Records America. It originally came out there in late 2004, just a month after the Canadian street date.
"It's gonna be like Groundhog Day," says k-os, whose real name is Kevin Brereton. "This album comes out in the States in April. They're re-releasing it with DVD footage."
The album has done extremely well in Canada through EMI Music Canada, selling some 140,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. K-os's 2002 debut, "Exit," has scanned just 27,000 to date but is no less an exceptional album.
In the U.S., Virgin imprint Astralwerks got two kicks at the can to break him, releasing a slightly retooled version of "Exit" in January 2003 and "Joyful Rebellion" in September 2004, neither time breaking the conscious rapper/singer, who has the kind of appeal that Lauryn Hill had with her cross-demographic breakthrough "Miseducation Of Lauren Hill."
"Astralwerks is a subsidiary of Virgin, so now Virgin is basically saying, 'We're gonna put it out.' They believe that this record is good and they just didn't do anything," says k-os. "So even though I'm working on a new record, America is a year behind."
K-os had been signed initially to Capitol Records in Los Angeles in 2000, but executive staff shuffles and subsequent delay in scheduling a release date prompted EMI Music Canada -- which had taken him to its U.S. partner to begin with -- to take the reigns and sign k-os for the world. Some time later, after k-os parted ways with his friends at the since-defunct Figure IV Management, Toronto's Chris Smith Management (Nelly Furtado, Fefe Dobson) added him to its roster.
After k-os received releases in other territories, Astralwerks put out "Exit" in America on Jan. 28, 2003, selling about 40,000 albums, and winning international album of the year at the 2003 Source Awards.
Astralwerks released "Joyful Rebellion" on Sept. 27, 2004. The label serviced "B-Boy Stance" to mix shows and "The Love Song" to urban/rhythm crossover. Next came "Man I Used To Be."
K-os thinks "Crucial" will be the single go round. "That's how I feel, but we'll see what happens," he says.
He expects to spend a lot of time in the States to promote and tour behind it, but will still get working on a new album for Canada. "I have four or five songs done."
Meanwhile, he and his band, including long-time guitarist Russ Klyne, self-produced a version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" in Vancouver recently, for an Amnesty International project Yoko Ono has endorsed.
"They sent me a list and I'm looking through it and I'm like, 'Oh, 'Jealous Guy,' and it had the Deftones next to it, so I knew they'd probably do a rock version," recounts k-os. "So I thought, 'You know what, John Lennon was sort of cross-cultural; what if we just ask if we can do the same song but in a different style? And they were really open to it, so we did a reggae version."
K-os also released a DVD just prior to Christmas entitled "?Publicity Stunt?" that he sounds reluctant about promoting.
"It's weird to be doing this interview because you put an album out, and a DVD is like an album, and everyone wants (me) to do press around it," he says. "DVDs have become important, but they've also become a cash-crop where people buy the artist's album and then the label inevitably puts out a DVD, which just ends up being a bunch of footage on tape."
When it's offered that DVDs essentially give artists a chance to present more than the narrow image they show in a video or on a song, or even in an interview, to those that may care to see more of their personality, k-os says, "That's exactly why I did it. We've been shooting DVD footage since 1998 -- me and the same people who do my videos, so to me, it wasn't just about pushing something out."
"?Publicity Stunt?" was produced by k-os, Micah Meisner, Natalie Galazka, and Zeb "Roc" Munir, who together go by The Love Movement, and produced and directed all of k-os's videos with the exception of "Heaven Only Knows, which was directed by Don Allan who also directed the live concert portion of the DVD.
"The (Molson) Amphitheatre footage (from last year's July 15 concert in Toronto with John Legend and Saukrates) is really minimal on the DVD," says k-os. "I really don't believe in recording your concerts and selling them. I think if someone wants to see your concert, they should come to your concert. The only reason I believe in recording concerts is so now I can watch some Bob Marley footage, as far as a documentary, but not my album's out, and a year later me putting my concert out."
So why did he include it?
"Because I felt that if I put a snippet of my concert, it would get people interested to come and see me live, which, on a hip hop level, in this country, people don't invest in music that way. It's something you hear in clubs, it's something you hear on the radio, but to be a live artist that has a band could arouse people's curiosity.
"I think the most interesting thing around this is, really, I didn't want to do the DVD and Natalie Galazka and Zeb Roc and Micah were like, 'Let's do it,' and they basically did it behind my back when I was on tour," he explains. "So when I came back, all the footage that I was so scared of stockpiling, they compiled it. So it's really about friendship, to me, no matter how cliche it sounds.
"It's really about people going 'Oh, Kevin doesn't know what he's talking about, he's so caught up with being on tour, there's all this great footage,' and then I came back and they were right."
He doesn't need to apologize for making it, he's told.
"I'm not apologizing. I just think, again, being a sensitive artist, I'm just always worried of exploitation. I'm like, 'Is this gonna matter 10 years from now? Will people just look at it as something you did as a disposable?' So it's not disposable. I'm happy with it. I'm just saying that I was concerned about that."
Which leads to a question that has long been rumoured. Did he turn down an iPod commercial back in 2004? "Yeah, I did," k-os admits.
"My album was just coming out at the time and I didn't want that to be the reason why people bought my album. People made a big deal about it, but it was really just me being scared of selling my music to sell something (else)."
So will he take more chances in 2006? "Oh, for sure," he says.
After all, he's asked, what's wrong with selling albums and making money and making a living, as long as he's proud of his songs?
"Yeah, if anyone learned this (past) year that there's nothing wrong with that, it's me," k-os says. "I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I don't think it's what you do, it's how you do it."
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