I always consider it a promising sign when a rap artist can win over a non-fan of the genre like me. Hip Hop is usually a style of music I like in small doses; short, sharp sporadic bursts do just fine. However, Yes the latest offering from Canadian/Trinidadian singer-songwriter and wordsmith K-Os – née Kevin Brereton – is the exception that proves the rule.
From the early strains of album opener ‘Zambony’ with its sample of an all-female gothic-sounding chamber choir, tasty synths and the main man singing melodiously on the chorus (Sisqo/K-Ci Hailey ad-libs to boot) you know you’re in for a fun, unpredictable ride. I couldn’t get enough of Brereton’s alternative take on this most influential of art forms.
Thought-provoking, mainly positive lyrics intermittently laced with biblical references- plus an absence of profanity- have led some to mistakenly label K-Os as a Christian rapper. But the man himself claims that Hip Hop is his religion. If so then his is a broad, ecumenical church where adherents of indie (cross reference the very Brit-pop ‘Uptown Girl’), R&B, country, reggae/ska and rock can also gather. Describing himself as ‘musically schizophrenic’ K-Os makes sure that there is something for everyone on Yes and does it all without spreading himself too thin artistically.
With several albums in a similar vein now under his belt he’s perfected the sonic buffet idea. These aren’t just tinny Casio-sounding beats lazily thrown together; there is plenty of musicality and creative intention on display. K-Os’ delivery alternates between the recurring influence of the OutKast boys (Andre 3000’s impact looms over the production of ‘Eye Know Everything’ too) and veteran Q-Tip. Fortunately for all, K-Os can also hold a melody far, far better than the vast majority of his rapping contemporaries. No Autotune madness needed here; think the Pharcyde rather than T-Pain.
On a record as strong as Yes selecting a stand-out track is no small task. Nonetheless the tangentially-titled ‘I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman’ is the first amongst equals, perhaps because it exemplifies most K-Os’ panache for the musical melting pot. Its inspired use of The O.C’s theme tune, hint of C&W strumming mixed in with a seriously head-nodding bass-line makes it pop-friendly without losing an ounce of credibility. There’s no explicit reference to the talented actress in the song but K-Os has commented on his admiration for her conduct and poise and this is his way of acknowledging it.
Other album favourites include the poignantly tongue-in-cheek ‘The Avenue’ – homage to his ‘girlfriend’ Hip Hop bookended by a hidden track which in spite (or maybe partly because?) of its blue-grassy atonal chords is just as infectious as its predecessor. The ‘60s Go-Go rhythm-ed ‘Whip C.R.E.A.M’ is a compulsively enjoyable number about the dangers of mercenary romantic interests.
‘The Aviator’ matches frenetic syncopation with lyrics that call to mind Adam Smith’s concept of ‘The Invisible Hand’ but in the context of Divine Providence instead of Economics. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but I like to believe the chorus is a subtle and cleverly disguised riposte to those whose trust in the financial market has been shaken to its core by recent events.
‘4, 3, 2, 1’ has something of the late ’80s/early ’90s flower-power Hip Hop to it in form as well as pacifist content. On part 2 of ‘Mr Telephone Man’ we discover more of Brereton’s sweet vocals whilst, in a moment of surprising candour, he intimates his preference for a strong drink to help him cope with the inanities of the world despite the concern of those around him about his habit.
In truth there isn’t really a weak moment on Yes. I don’t know what K-Os ambitions are for this outstanding release; whether there are plans to market this as the all-important cross-over album. Whatever the case, if there’s a record that should have newcomers wanting to hunt through an artist’s back-catalogue then this is it. Yes doesn’t exist in some musical vacuum; it has a modern sensibility yet avoids being derivative. The fact K-Os is not already a household name is proof, as if we needed it, that the mainstream gets it wrong more often than right these days. Besides, who wants to belong to any club idiotic enough to let gems like this go unnoticed for so long anyway?