It’s a Canadian invasion (and it’s not rock). First there was Drake, tearing up our American Meek Mill after earning his 4th platinum with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Then there was The Weeknd, whose Trilogy went platinum, and whose recent Beauty Behind The Madness Lucy found the beauty behind. Now k-os, aka Kevin Brereton, has released his newest album, Can’t Fly Without Gravity. It won’t surprise you to hear that k-os has also gone platinum, twice, with Joyful Rebellion in 2004 and Atlantis: Hymn of Disco in 2006. Can’t Fly Without Gravity probably won’t go platinum – he’s seen a lot less of that metal as of late – but he has as much gusto as his more recognizable counterparts.
Contrary to his stage name, his albums are always streamlined with a focus on a pristine sound. “Take off that auto-tune. Get the hell outta here” he says at the end of “WILD4thenight (Egoland)”). It’s a trait he shares with his Canadian counterparts. Yet, Can’t Fly Without Gravity reaffirms his major difference among the trifecta. Whereas Drake carries himself like a cool, sad rap-influenced boy, and The Weeknd has pitched himself as the dense, melancholic, and sexy soul singer, k-os is the clubber who speaks the big game. Pretty much explicitly, as on “Snapback” (an incredibly embarrassing opening to an otherwise quality album), in typical rap bravado, saying “its k dash bringing rap back.” Does he deliver?
“Snapback” emphasizes something about the album as a whole. The reason rap is pounding and generally supported by hard rhythms is because smooth jazz, which k-os attempts to rap over, doesn’t have the pulse necessary to stabilize a verse. It’s spitting on a storm drain. So when the atypical cadence of the phrase “eatin’ MCs like a hand full of crackerjacks” pops up, and on such a unironic, childish line, it’s crippling. This, coming from someone who’s closer to Parappa the Rapper when compared to any other respected MC.
Can’t Fly Without Gravity won’t be remembered for hard-hitting lyricism or emotional depth with lines like “make no mistake and, I’m not Reagan. I’m more like Carl Sagan…” while, between these statements bordering on stoned oddity, k-os also name drops Beyonce, Kanye, Talib Kweli, Danny Ocean from Oceans 11, among others.
But, this is where his distinction comes in. Among Canadians, you won’t find a producer more approachable while still experimenting. On the song the above lyrics came from, “Crucify,” we begin with Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “It’s De-lovely” (“So, control your desire while I crucify the verse”). This dips in pitch, establishing the rhythm in classic The Avalanches fashion, reappearing between backbeats likely influenced by old school producers like Warren G, until it vanishes into the sample opening the following track, “Vous Deux.” “Vous Deux” ends in strings, and fades into the sample opening “Boyz II Men.”
So it’s easy to forgive k-os that not every track is as sincerely felt as “Spaceship.” There’s something distinctly po-mo about his works. More in love with intertextuality and the way sounds wrap around experience than with using language for emotional or polemical ends. I won’t complain if he keeps bringing the buffet, and the Cee-lo vibes I get from “Get Up,” and “Turn Me Loose” though. I mean, right after “Turn Me Loose” is “Steel Sharpens Steel”, a hard rock track in the classic rock mode. Few musicians are making albums as diverse as this. And it seems, the ones that are, come straight from Canada. Is it revenge for 1812?