WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 22, 9:30 p.m.
Earlier this year, Toronto's KO played to a packed house at the Sound Academy. There were roughly 2,500 fans there and KO, visibly energized by the crowd, pulled off one of his most inspired performances of his career.
In a video of the show he tells the crowd: "I f***in' couldn't sleep last night, man, I was so excited," before launching into a spirit rendition of crowd favourite, "Drunk."
It was a defining moment for KO who, only two years before, was goofing off in Toronto bars to crowds of a couple dozen fans.
"That was the best thing. Toronto has my back, you know?" KO tells Pique in a phone interview. "I'd do anything for this city and now they have my back. I have a Toronto Blue Jays tattoo on my hand. I rep this city all day, you know."
It's a far cry from the early days, haunting the Supermarket in Toronto's Kensington Market where he maintained a weekly residence. At the time, he was playing for friends and whoever else wandered in off the street looking for a pint and some random music. He was perfecting the blend of reggae, hip hop and folk that would culminate in his 2009 debut, Just Blaze .
Upon its release, KO (pronounced kho ) received considerable attention from the Toronto press, nearly all of it focusing on the album's frank depictions of addiction and drug use and the artist's own personal struggles.
KO, born Ko Kapches, was a teen addict whom, after escaping a Utah recovery facility, lived on the streets of San Francisco before moving back to Toronto, cleaning up and pursuing a music career.
Just Blaze chronicles his time as an addict. His songs are full-disclosure statements, where he's laying out all the skeletons as a warning sign. They're also a dispatch from a man who's been there, who has survived, fusing soul, reggae, hip hop and folk. Let's Blaze is the kind of album Sublime might have made had Bradley Nowell survived and kicked heroin.
"It's my therapy, you know, I always say I don't know where I'd be if I didn't put out Let's Blaze," he says.
"I get a lot of people who come to the concerts who are like, 'I used to be hooked to crack cocaine. I listened to your records and I don't smoke crack anymore.' That's what it's about. I used to smoke crack too. I don't do it either. Let's high five team!"
It's a period of his life that he says he'll likely never stop writing about, only now the songs are reflections of how far he's come since then. He's currently in the process of recording his follow-up album, which he says will be a sonic continuation of Just Blaze.
"I don't want to lose what I'm doing," he says. "A couple of years down the road I might put out an entirely reggae record for fun. A blues record too. If it's good, it's good."
He's the kind of artist who would have put out six albums already but there's a process with these major labels. His own, Warner Bros., has its methods. For the past two years, the label has been seeking a U.S. distribution deal for Just Blaze, effectively delaying the release of any new KO material until that happens.
"This is the business side of music, y'know?" he says. "It's not my side. I just want to play guitar and jump around on stage. I'm just numb to the label meetings now. We'll see what happens and I don't want to get my hopes up any more."
Luckily for fans, KO will be previewing some new material during his West Coast tour this month.