Rap music, much like Punk Rock, was originally formed as a reaction to not only the commercialism of music but also of society in general. With its D.I.Y. esthetic, and street-level reportage, Rap was Black America’s attempt at reclaiming its musical heritage while also reaching the people; something that Jazz no longer was capable of doing and Soul was no longer willing to do as it became swallowed up by the big record companies. Of course we all know the rest of the story: big business proves too powerful, eventually appropriating Rap to its own ends, propagating ideologies that are superficially radical departures from the mainstream, but are in reality reinforcements of the values that these corporations uphold and depend upon themselves, namely, racism, sexism, ignorance, apathy and laziness. This co-modification of a once vital and important genre of music is reflected in the music itself. Where once samples where used in creative ways adding extra dimensions to poetic rhymes and indelible beats, soon entire songs were lifted en masse, grafted onto a recycled beat, topped with mind-numbingly clichéd lyrics and slapped with a parental warning label and a barcode.
Of course there are always artists who operate outside of this self-perpetuating sphere of music- as- product. Kevin Brereton, a.k.a. K-os, is certainly one of these maverick spirits. With each of his three successive releases, K-os has edged closer to a boundary free reclamation of rap and hip hop that intentionally bucks the mainstream without being willfully obscure or difficult in the process. Above all else, K-os’s work and particularly the enigmatically titled Atlantis: Hymns for Disco, is musical. While that statement should be a redundancy, it is actually an anomaly when discussing a rap album in the current climate.
Atlantis, shifts constantly between seemingly disparate styles, yet flows effortlessly like warm rays of sonic sunshine. It is an album of sensations that defies easy critical analysis simply because it is just so mood-enhancing that you don’t want to pick it apart for fear that it may lose its magic. The album starts off with the scratched vinyl throwback “Electrik Heat” which immediately exposes the Achilles Heel of the album which is K-os’ less than stellar rapping skills. Luckily, as with the quite storm soul of “The Rain”, he utilizes his beautifully raw singing voice with much greater effect. “The Equalizer” lifts its guitar riff from “Jailhouse Rock” then takes it places that Elvis could never have imagined. “Sunday Morning” is a beautiful, vocally layered plea for a time when meaning and depth of feeling replace empty superficiality. On “Mirror in the Sky” he further focuses that desire, this time dressing it up in a superb dub production. “Valhalla” sounds like an instant classic waiting to be discovered. It borrows the anthemic rush of The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene (Kevin Drew contributes to the song) and adds gorgeous gospel chanting and Kevin Brereton’s most affecting rapping of the album. From these heights we go to the utterly infectious “Cat Diesel”, and the disco song with a soul, “Black Ice”. The final track, “Ballad of Noah”, is full of Book of Revelations imagery delivered as only the son of a preacher man could.
Occasionally Atlantis overplays its hand with awkward moments such as the self-indulgent free-styling that takes up the final four minutes of the album. But the fact that K-os is willing to risk failure by following his instincts in an effort to achieve self-expression, is surely what elevates Atlantis above the pack.
Comments? Discuss this review in the forum