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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now to the latest trends in popular music. US rappers like 50 Cent and Ludacris top the Billboard charts with slick tunes about living large, but in Canada one of the most popular rappers is reaching audiences with a different message. His name is Kevin Brereton. He goes by K-OS. That's K-dash-O-S. It stands for Knowledge of Self.

(Soundbite of song)

K-OS: (Rapping) Yeah, it's so hard to remain authentic. Everything around me is changing. Even the earth is moving.

There's just different types of rap. I mean, rock has, you know, classic rock, modern rock, prog rock, but hip-hop is just put in two categories. Either you're talking about having money or struggling about not having any. But I don't think it's a bad thing that those things exist. I have no riff with Jay-Z. I'm glad Jay-Z exists. I learn from Jay-Z as far as his experience of where he grew up, as long as he's willing to learn from my experience of growing up in the suburbs and driving a Volvo in grade 11. I think that's a pertinent experience also.

(Soundbite of music)

K-OS: Michael Jackson now becomes relevant based not just on Michael Jackson being on the press, but that he actually made some good, really great '80s pop music.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) Dark injustice, doctors scheme...

K-OS: You know, let's embrace that and do our own version of it.

(Soundbite of song)

K-OS: (Singing) I tried it, I couldn't fight it. Now I just want to get back to me, oh, baby, ooh, back into the man I used to be.

BRAND: If it's hard to pin down K-OS' sound, it might be because of his eclectic background. His parents emigrated from Trinidad to a middle-class suburb in Toronto. He was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and idolized Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. Later, he toured with Philadelphia soul rappers The Roots, whose style is to mix live music with rap. K-OS is now in his early 30s and is drawn to the popular club deejay mash-up sound. That's when artists take two well-known tunes and mash them up together. He uses this style on his hit single "Crabbuckit."

K-OS: "Crabbuckit" is like The Cure, "Love Cats."

(Soundbite of "Love Cats"

K-OS: But it's also kind of like "Hit the Road, Jack" by Ray Charles, you know?

(Soundbite of "Hit the Road, Jack")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more...

K-OS: And I think that's more of a real thing because "Love Cats" was probably influenced by something like "Hit the Road, Jack."

(Soundbite of "Crabbuckit")

K-OS: (Singing) Charlie gets down, but the move is up, Charlie gets down, but the move is up, Charlie gets down but the move is up. Check out the crabs in the bucket.

Being from Canada, we have a very young culture, and our population is about the size of the state of California; the whole population is about 35 million. So the query and the quest is to be influenced but not to copy. And I think that's what I tried to do on this album, was to be influenced and be OK with that, but then come up with my own ideas about those influences, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

K-OS: Music is open, you know. Canada is not this place with igloos and, like, no black people, like. I don't want to hide anymore, I'm just, `I'm coming out of the closet, I'm Canadian. What?' You know what I mean?

(Soundbite of song)

K-OS: (Singing) I don't want to change the world, I only want to stop pretending every day, come again, every day, come again, down, I would never let you down, I'll be right here beside you, hanging around...

BRAND: The music of Kevin Brereton, or K-OS. That piece was produced by DAY TO DAY's Rob Sachs.

(Soundbite of song)

K-OS: (Singing) Don't leave me here beside you, without a sound. Change world, change world, change world. There's never a change, there's never a change of mind.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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