With mainstream rap going the way it has recently, with rappers focusing on their gold teeth, flashy bling, big cars and hot women, it is reassuring to have an artist like K-Os who opens the window of hip-hop’s dank basement to let in some sunshine. His sophomore album, Joyful Rebellion, continues where his debut, Exit, left off. K-Os, in a gentle, nasal flow of intelligent lyrics, reminds his listeners of the true roots of hip-hop.
The real beauty of this album is that K-Os can rap, sing, and play guitar — he can do almost anything. It’s not like Eminem singing, where it’s sufficient enough to press on an album. K-Os’ singing treads the same line as Lauryn Hill’s rapping. Clearly his talent lies in rapping, but his singing adds that folk feel that brings the hip-hop back home. In fact, almost every element of this album smacks of urban folk. Most of the tracks contain primarily acoustic instruments, and the ones that sample do so in an old-school style. Outkast, The Roots, and N.E.R.D. have all used this genre-hopping style of song-writing, and K-Os continues the innovative hip-hop art.
The album opens with “EMCEE Murdah,” a track lamenting the dying throws of hip-hop. He tells of his disappointment that the top emcees of today are found quickly on commercials, but tells of his revelation by a supernatural source and relates himself to Noah, building an ark to save hip-hop from the coming floods. The track is very well written, comparable to a flamenco ballad, and comes complete with a backing orchestra.
Another highlight of the album comes from track 3, “Man I Used To Be.” This track clearly grabs influence from old Michael Jackson LPs. The beat brings reminiscent memories of Mr. Jackson moon-walking over self-lit slabs of cement, and as K-Os does one of Michael’s famed “WooHoo” cries, the listener understands that this rapper isn’t afraid to go back to basics. The track ends with a beatless free-style with guitar accompaniment.
The singles on this album are very radio-friendly, which is something that wasn’t really found on Exit. The major single on the K-Os debut, “Heaven Only Knows,” didn’t even have a beat, but rather guitar accompaniment. The single was a great song, but had little radio appeal. The two singles on his second album, “Crabbuckit” and “B-boy Stance” are both very strong radio entries. The first has a swing beat, and is interpolated by a great jazz sax sample. The latter harkens to ‘80s rap, but uses enough modern influence to keep it interesting.
Other highlights include but aren’t limited to the latin march of “Commandant,” the ballad “Hallelujah,” the tabla-backed “One Blood (Jiggy Homicide),” and the mariachi-style “Papercutz.” This album has such international appeal and tip-toes on cultural boundaries. The true beauty of this album, however, is that this international approach is done in earnest, and not as a gimmick. His earnestness and honesty speaks volumes of the character of K-Os, and I certainly hope that he is the deliverer and savior of hip-hop. I can’t think of anyone more fitting.
Written by Guy Thillet.