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Saturday, February 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: -8.0° F  Fair
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For k-os, the past shapes the musical present
Under the influences

Call Canadian rapper k-os a songwriter or a hip-hop producer. Either title fits.

Stylistic diversity has defined his music, like the way pop melodies blend with reggae rhythms on "Uptown Girl," from k-os' 2009 album, Yes! He's otherwise known as Kevin Brereton, 38, and he performs at the High Noon Saloon on Oct. 22.

When I talked to him by phone last week, he reflected on his childhood influences and how they shape his approach to music.

How did you come to be influenced by so many different musical styles?

My dad was an avid record collector. He would get together with friends, and I would watch how carefully they treated every record. They would clean it, hold it gently, slowly put the needle over it. He had everything from Olivia Newton-John to Stevie Wonder. He had very eclectic tastes. I ended up carrying out that same interest in the context of writing and producing music.

Did growing up in two different countries influence you, too?

We moved from Trinidad to Toronto when I was in seventh grade. My memories of Trinidad are of relatives playing instruments. My grandmother gave me a songbook and said, "Go learn this." Then I moved to Toronto when hip-hop was getting big. Hip-hop became my core musical belief.

Did growing up a Jehovah's Witness have an impact on your musical path?

Being a Jehovah's Witness made me not care about what other people think. We had no Halloween, no Christmas. People brought me candy because they felt sorry for me. I was already an outsider. I felt a little resentful of the world for setting these expectations.

Has your approach to songwriting changed with time?

I veered away from pop after I had a hit in Canada. The structure of pop can be too strong a language. Sometimes you can't express yourself inside of it. But a lot of great songs come out of that structure. Great pop brings in influences you don't even notice, like the reggae bass line in Steve Miller's "The Joker." I'd like to approach pop again in a more intelligent way.

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