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k-os thrives on living in Vancouver

“I’m a Toronto dude. That’s never going to be out of me,” k-os reflects. “Anywhere I go, I’m going to be a Toronto dude.
Music 0910

“I’m a Toronto dude. That’s never going to be out of me,” k-os reflects. “Anywhere I go, I’m going to be a Toronto dude.”

It’s no surprise that the veteran rapper identifies so closely with the Ontario capital: he was born there, his family and longtime friends live there, and he even put the CN Tower on the cover of his latest album, Can’t Fly Without Gravity. When he reaches Westender by phone, he’s hanging out at the Toronto offices of his label, Dine Alone Records.


But even though the 43-year-old who introduces himself as Kheaven Brereton considers himself a Toronto dude, he has actually lived in Vancouver since 2009.


He first visited the West Coast in the mid-‘90s on a tour with the Rascalz, and he remembers, “As soon as I came over the bridge, I thought it was the most magical place. I told Red1 from the Rascalz, ‘I’m going to move here.’”


Although he didn’t make good on that promise for more than a decade, he finally settled down in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood, and he considers the city a refreshing change from the industry-driven commercialism of Toronto. “You can tell the guys who are from

Vancouver because they’re really down to earth and they love rap first,” he reflects, citing locals like Madchild, Moka Only, Shad and Matt Brevner as personal favourites. “They’re real MCs, and I think Vancouver has real MCs. I know that when I walk the street, there’s so many people who love hip-hop in Vancouver, and that’s why I moved there. Because I feel it’s still pure there.”


Vancouver’s spirit of artistic freedom helped to inspire Can’t Fly Without Gravity, which is an anything-goes mosaic of stylistic experiments that captures k-os’ signature eclecticism at its finest. It’s a grab-bag of sounds, ranging from the clubby synths of WiLD4TheNight (EgoLand) and Hussle & Flow to the energized soul of “Dance in Yo Car” to the futuristic wonkiness of “Rap Zealot.”


One notable left-field standout is “Steel Sharpens Steel (Still in Love),” which assaults speakers with a full-throttle surge of punk guitars. The track features a distorted vocal sound that was captured on a laptop using the microphone from a pair of headphones. “A lot of the vocals that I did on this record were on iPod headphones, at least the first verse,” k-os explains. “I would do them, and capture a moment early in the morning, or late at night after I got home from a party. And it sounded great.”


In addition to dabbling in a grab-bag of styles, k-os also celebrates classic hip-hop on Can’t Fly Without Gravity, most notably with “Boyz II Men,” a star-studded who’s who of Canadian rap that features Saukrates, Kardinal Offishall, Choclair, King Reign and Shad.

“I think the new rap generation in Canada has a problem with being Canadian,” k-os says of his decision to recruit his countrymen as guests. “We come from a generation obsessed with American culture. I felt like this is a good time to say, ‘No — here are some dudes that are Canadian, some of them you’ve heard of, maybe one or two you haven’t.’”


This is k-os’ ultimate goal: not to highlight Vancouver’s advantages over Toronto, but to celebrate and improve our country’s rich hip-hop climate. 


“In America, if you’re from New York, you’ll take a trip over to Colorado,” he observes. “You’ll go see what’s going on in LA because you want to see your country and know what Americana is. For me, I want to know what Canadiana is. That’s why there’s that term ‘Go west, young boy, go west.’ Because you figure out a lot when you do that.”