"AMERICANS DON'T WANT to admit it, but the biggest pop stars in the world are Canadian. We're killing you guys right now." While clearly joking around, k-os—the shining light of Canadian hiphop—brings up a valid point. Justin Bieber. Arcade Fire. Drake. You win, Canada. "We're selling platinum records now, that means not everyone's going to be moving to LA or New York anymore. No one's doing that."
k-os for one isn't relocating anytime soon, unless you count his recent move west, from Toronto to Vancouver. Why pack your bags when you're basking in the golden age of Canadian hiphop? Drake has the charts locked down, K'naan wrote a World Cup anthem that reached a few hundred million, and maple-leaf rhymers extend from dancehall (Kardinal Offishall) to backpackers (Cadence Weapon), and whatever the hell genre you'd lump Buck 65 into. Hiphop left 1520 Sedgwick a lifetime ago, even if most Americans are hesitant to admit it isn't ours any longer: Hiphop, now belongs to the globe.
"Everyone I know who's black or of African descent in Canada has parents from the East Indies or Africa," explains k-os. Born Kevin Brereton, he grew up in a Toronto household of Trinidadian immigrants. These shallow roots in immigrant culture, coupled with worldwide acceptance of hiphop, have made Canada a fertile breeding ground for fresh-voiced emcees with a dizzying array of outside influences. This extends from Drake's cross-border upbringing all the way to the toasting punchline that is Snow, whom k-os defends. "He was the pre-Eminem, if you really want to keep it real. He was in there with certain black dudes and they allowed him access to the culture, and he was a good representation at the time for that."
Regardless, the legacy of k-os will be remembered far more fondly than the man behind "Informer." Following his Tribe-influenced days in the early '90s, k-os reinvented himself in the aughts as an artist unafraid to stray from the beats and rhymes of the hiphop template. His latest, the follow-up to last year's Yes!, is the rough-around-the-edges The Anchorman Mixtape, which was unapologetically assembled on the road (in the back of a tour bus while supporting Drake, to be specific), and it feels more like a proper full-length than your standard free download of lifted samples and expendable rhymes. Buffered by snippets of the sage wisdom of Ron Burgundy, k-os delves into fractured flows ("SheClipse"), teams with both ends of the musical spectrum (the aforementioned Drake and onetime Death from Above 1979 frontman Sebastien Grainger), and shows off his knack for creating pristine pop grooves. Case in point: "Holy Cow," which sounds like the greatest song the early Black Eyed Peas never wrote (back before they swapped their respectability for Fergie's pissed jeans, will.i.am's hologram, and their role as soulless pop merchants of the millennia).
A compelling pitchman for straying from hiphop's core, k-os' catalog is littered with outside influences, everything from the classic period of Stevie Wonder to his best single to date, a stylish reworking of Phantom Planet's ubiquitous O.C. theme, retitled "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman." If his current offering of a free The Anchorman Mixtape download wasn't enough, k-os has found another way to get his music to the masses, recently experimenting with a "pay what you want" tour. "Did that tour break even? Probably, just about," he explains. "Did I feel like at the end of the day that I was rapping for my food? Did that put a new fire underneath me as a performer? That was the most important thing."