While mainstream radio eats up artists like Drake, Aubrey’s Canadian counterpart k-os gets unjustly ignored. The two share more than just a home country. k-os, like Drake, flips between singing and rapping fairly easy. But that’s where the comparison stops, though. Not only has k-os been a viable artist significantly longer (his first album came out back in 2002) but the emcee/vocalist/instrumentalist born Kevin Brereton is a much more worthy talent. From a lyrical standpoint, from a musical standpoint…anyone with discerning taste will find k-os superior.
BLack on BLonde, k-os’s fifth album, is an interesting conceptual piece. A two-disc set that could fit on one disc (and is thankfully priced in the same ballpark as a single disc effort,) the music is separated into two parts to highlight the styles that make k-os’s music unique. The “BLack” disc is more hip-hop heavy, while the “BLonde” disc has a more pronounced singer/songwriter influence. That said, there is plenty of singing on the former disc and a spot of emceeing on the latter disc, so it’s definitely not a strict separation. In other words…it sounds like pretty much every other k-os album, from a stylistic standpoint.
In case you are new to k-os’s music or had any questions, BLack on BLonde is no Lil Wayne Rebirth style experiment, though. K-0s has been blending disparate styles of music throughout his career, and it’s an organic thing, not something concocted by market researchers or one night at a festival with Linkin Park.
One thing that immediately sets k-os apart is the tie to his West Indian roots. Vocally, he appears to have been influenced by reggae legends like Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs, artists who themselves were influenced by American crooners like Sam Cooke & Smokey Robinson. Tracks like “NYCE to Know Ya” and “Nobody Else” aren’t reggae per se, but will appeal strongly to fans of the m0re melodic side of that genre. That voice also brings a unique edge to rave-ups like “Put Down Your Phone,” which also features some tasty guitar riffing.
Unlike many contemporary hip-hop (or hip-hop influenced artists,) k-os keeps the guest list to a minimum. Black Thought shows up to deliver a jaw-dropping 16 bars on the blazing “Try Again.” Although Tariq is a superior rhymer to k-os (as he is to just about everyone with a pulse) he doesn’t overpower the song, a testament to k-os’s substantial skills. Even when discussing something as played-out as the lack of “real” music on MTV, he remains lyrically and musically engaging. Of course, for the sheer “OMG” factor, opening track “Like a Comet (We Rollin’)” is interesting, because it features vocals from Corey Hart. That is not a typo. We’re talking “Sunglasses at Night”/”Never Surrender” Corey Hart. If nothing else, you’ve got to give props to k-os for featuring Corey Hart and Black Thought on the same album, and neither collaboration feels the least bit unnatural.
While I’d give the slight qualitative edge to the BLack disc, the entire set is worthy. Every sub-genre from new wave to frenetic punk riffs to Neil Young samples (!) gets explored here, and while some tracks are certainly better than others, none are unworthy. They say “better late than never,” and if you have yet to discover the force of nature that is k-os, now would be a pretty good time to start.