As part of the USC’s Purple Week, Toronto hip-hop artist K-os played a free show on concrete beach Tuesday afternoon. Gazette associate editor Arden Zwelling caught up with K-os after his show to talk about performing at Western, his new approach to releasing music and his good friend Drake.
Gazette: So you’re not promoting a record and you have an upcoming United States tour to get ready for. I think a big question on a lot of minds is: ‘why are you here?’
K-os: It’s funny — I came to Western maybe eight years ago and did a show here. At the time [Western] had a really huge West Indian and Caribbean society. I remember telling my agent, I played almost every school in Canada and I have never seen so many people from the West Indies, The Bahamas, Trinidad, etcetera. I found that so interesting about Western. Of all the schools I played, they seemed to have the most diverse crowd. My agent was like ‘I think you have it mistaken, man. You probably met one girl and like freaked out.’ And he would bug me every once and a while. It became kind of a running joke.
But it’s true. As I came on campus [today] I started to notice it. I was like ‘I was right.’ There’s a different vibe here. So I’ve been trying to get back to Western for like seven years now to do a show.
I’m basically supposed to be doing nothing right now — I’ve got a tour coming up. So [my agent] is like, ‘do you want to play Western?’ I was like sure because I had such a good time the last time I was here. It was honestly just like that. I always wanted to play here again. I always remembered this school because I had an amazing time here — I had so much fun.
Gaz: Has Western changed at all since when you were here eight years ago?
K-os: This is a day time show so it’s different. Last time it was a little more inspired by the night time. [laughs] But as you can see, kids here are still cool. You guys definitely get loose and love music. So it was awesome.
Gaz: Do you like playing shows like this? Is there something about a free outdoor concert that’s more fun or satisfying for you than a traditional show?
K-os: As of lately, yes. You know — you tour, you make money, you do those things. But sometimes when it’s a free show, people tend to enjoy it differently. Especially since it’s a recession. You’ve got students — they’ve got to save their money. I know how it is. When I went to York University it was like, you’ve got your student card, you’ve got that little bit of money that you have to ration. So I know what it’s like.
University was an amazing time for me musically. I went to York for a year. I really remember what it was like when these dudes would play shows on campus. You know, back then it must’ve been like Moist or something who came to my school. [laughs] I just loved the whole buzz that the campus had. And a lot of these kids remember these shows forever because it’s on their campus. With the frosh, it’s their first show sometimes. They’re like walking around and they bump into this show, and they’re like a deer in the headlights. They see a performer and it stays with them for a long time. I think that’s another reason why I do these shows.
Gaz: Does being on campus again bring back some memories of your time at university?
K-os: You know, university is an interesting time for kids because they’re free of their parents and they’re really open to new ideas and that’s why I like being around here. And as you grow older and you mature it’s really a privilege to know that kids are into your music because a lot of these kids have older siblings and sometimes their parents who might have liked “Crabbuckit” or one of my other songs. So they separate themselves — they’re like ‘that’s my parents’ music.’ So the strategic thing on my part is coming to play to the younger generation to show them — that’s one song, we can just rock it for your guys as well. I hope that in my career I get to keep coming back to campus. Even when I’m in my fifties I’ll play to frosh kids. Maybe next time I do this gig I’ll be like 52-years-old or something.
Gaz: Does that mean you’re going to be carting a stroller around the stage at Western one day?
K-os: Who knows what will be happening then. I will definitely come back anytime they ask me. Because for the frosh, these are really their formative years. People like to say that when you’re a child you’re in your formative years, but you really form a lot of opinions about the world when you’re rubbing shoulders with these kids you meet in university. It really starts to inform your whole adulthood. I like to be here and catch that vibe. I like it when they’re vibing to my music. I’m walking around, I’m seeing the fashion, I’m checking kids out and it helps influence what I do. It’s a give and take.
Gaz: Well, for you, when you really started to get into music you were an undergrad at York University. So you’re really not that far removed from these students who you were playing for today.
K-os: You’re right — I’m not. But I have a lot of friends in bands that won’t do these types of shows. They don’t like the ability for people to walk away. You know how it is when you do a free show — there might be a lot of people in the beginning but then people disperse. As artists get older that stuff hurts them a bit more. I kind of like it. I like for kids to come and check it out and have the ability to leave if they want to and be free. I like that idea of having to engage people for that time.
Like you said, I’m not that far removed from these kids. But some bands don’t like to put themselves in that position. I know I’ve talked to other bands and they’re like ‘oh, those university shows, those kids, they’re not into you, they’re too rowdy, they’re into themselves.’ But, I mean, why wouldn’t they be?
Gaz: It sounds like you really understand the student psyche. Do you feel like you can relate to university students?
K-os: Oh yeah, for sure. Look at [K-os’ DJ] Skratch Bastid. He’s played with us only twice and his sister was in the audience today. That alone shows something. His little sister is in second year or something. And at some gigs we have nieces, nephews, little brothers and sisters in the crowd. So you get to flip it on them. I’m sure that she feels like the coolest sister in the world right now.
Gaz: You’ve been doing a lot of free stuff lately when you consider the free Anchorman mix tape you recently released and the show today. What’s your motivation? Are you trying to give something back to the fans?
K-os: I’m just trying to figure out what the relationship is that people have to music now and if they want to pay for it. [Musicians] have to make livings as well, so I know there’s other bands who are like ‘why are you giving away your stuff for free? It sounds like an album.’ I mean, I won’t give away free music that doesn’t sound good. By all intents and purposes that Anchorman mix tape could have just been an album. But the first time I heard Led Zeppelin or A Tribe Called Quest — I didn’t pay for it. I stole, therefore I’ll be stolen from.
That doesn’t mean you can’t buy my music or support me when I put out a CD. I’m not giving the world carte blanche to steal my music. If you feel you want to pay for it, please do. Even if it’s not me. Put 25 cents in a jar every couple days for a year and buy one artist’s CD that you like and support that artist.
The free thing also allows you to see what people like. It’s a good feeling when all these other artists — you see them on twitter all like ‘oh, I’m going platinum.’ They’re worried so much about record sales and when you put something out for free it’s sometimes better than the music that’s being sold. That’s what I get off on. Bands write me and say ‘I can’t believe you give this up for free.’ But I kind of get a joy out of doing real music.
Gaz: You sound really inspired by the free mix tape concept. Can we expect more ventures like this from you in the future?
K-os: Oh definitely. Drake is a good friend of mine and he did [a free mixtape] and he told me ‘yeah man, you should just put out stuff for free.’ I consider him to be the next generation and he’s like ‘yo, my first mixtape, I just put it out and everyone loved it and now I can go do an album.’ I look to him as a younger guy and think ‘hey, that was really cool and smart and fun.’
And I like it because it’s immediate. You do it and you put it out. There’s no record company clearing samples. There’s no waiting around — you just do it. That’s how music should be. Especially with the short attention span theatre that exists with kids today. After five weeks of the mix tape they’re like ‘okay, what’s next?’ They play it, they play it, and they play it and then they just move onto the next thing.
Gaz: But I can’t imagine [record label president] Lil’ Wayne would be too happy if Drake started releasing all his music for free.
K-os: Yeah, I know. With those guys, that’s something you graduate to once you have a fan base. But I expect what’s going to happen is that after four or five albums of people buying your record you’re going to have to put out a banging mix tape to show them once again that you’ve got skills and you care.
That’s going to be a new way to get your music out there. It’s almost like pirating your own material. Instead of people leaking my stuff — here it is for free. It’s a musician’s perfect way to get over on the internet. Oh, you want to leak my stuff? How about I just leak it before you can.
Gaz: It sounds like a really organic way to make music. Sort of like the free concert today.
K-os: Yeah, absolutely man. That’s why I do this stuff. To reach out to people.