Anyone familiar with the frazzled beats and rhymes of k-os' 2003 debut should have expected an even more ambitious next step. Fittingly, Joyful Rebellion adds further colors to the Toronto-based artist's palette of both rapping and singing, and emphasizes musical flourishes that were only sketches on Exit. He begins the album as a man given the manual with which to save hip-hop. Is it from God? Angels? Aliens? Unclear. But k-os' philosophy allows for the force to be both one and three -- a brand new trinity -- as long as that mandate serves to enrich the minds of the world and its MCs. Heady stuff. But it's brought with engaging passion from k-os, and his hybridized musical backgrounds point the rap form in intriguing directions. "Emcee Murdah" laments artistic stagnation and crass commercialization over acoustic guitars and a chorus break straight out of Arthur Lee and Love; the wiry reggae of "Crucial" examines similar themes, and suggests that contemporary hip-hop's populist plateau has separated from its once-vibrant root system. One of k-os' most interesting positions on Rebellion is how conscious he is of keeping hip-hop pure even as he experiments. The clattering snare loop of "B-Boy Stance" is straight out of New York City at the dawn of the 1980s. But there's restlessness even as k-os embraces hip-hop's birthing elements. "It's so hard to remain authentic," he muses over the cut-up intro, which makes his B-boy stance as much comforting haven as it is throwback. Likewise, his collaboration with en vogue Canadian indie songwriter Sam Roberts is qualified. "[I] don't want it to be the 'rock song'," he says in the liners for "Dirty Water." Maybe it is -- Roberts' warm electric guitar wraps around the jumpy electronic percussion, and the vocals cross fluidly between singing and rapping. But k-os' hand-wringing isn't necessary, as "Water" is one of Rebellion's most succinct moments. Other highlights on the record include the pulsing, hoo-hooing nod to vintage Michael Jackson (the unfortunately titled "Man I Used to Be") and the crackling beats and swirling strings of "Love Song" ("Chaotical ambiotical fluid/The rap druid that's fluid..."). K-os doesn't necessarily pursue Rebellion's themes far enough. But give him a break -- it's only the cat's second album. His genre meshes and organic raps do keep the conversation about hip-hop's revitalization open, and that's what's really crucial.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus
feat: Sam Roberts