All images by Sergio Santos

I was driving home from shooting a video when I received the call from V Zilla. I usually try not to answer the phone while I’m driving, but I hadn’t heard from Vic in a minute. This was obviously about something important, so I picked up. After the customary “What’s ups”, he got right to the point:

“How do you feel about getting the crew back together for a show?”

There was absolutely no question about the crew that he referring to. For nearly ten years, the same question had been posed to me in seemingly infinite variations. Ever since we took a break from “active duty” as a trio, people have been asking for K-OTIX to stage some sort of return, if only for one night, so to speak. It’s something that we’d discussed with each other more often than anyone knew; but the reality of being pulled in so many directions meant that the stars would have to align properly in order for that to happen.

I didn’t hesitate to answer: “I’m down.” But I still had to ask the other two if they were available. Vic also mentioned who else would be performing at the time, but I honestly didn’t listen past the “getting the crew back together” part. I immediately texted Mic and Russ, and both of them – almost immediately – replied with an emphatic “yes!” When I called Vic back, I could hear him smiling through the phone. (And I knew that he’d proudly take credit for “bringing the group back together”).

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Outside of our inner circle, most people didn’t know that we had all but finished working on a new project. We’d promised it almost a year earlier, but what was originally intended to be a 6-song EP grew into a full-length opus. We’ve never been too caught up in setting deadlines for ourselves, so there wasn’t the pressure to wrap it up in any specific amount of time. So we took our time with it until we were confident that it was a strong enough showing after a decade or so in the manager’s suite. This show, in front of our home crowd, would be the perfect opportunity to measure the strength of the new material against Universal – easily our most popular project.

At this point, we’re about 3 months away. The first thought that comes to mind is physical conditioning: our last full performance as a trio was either in late 2003 or early 2004; Mic and I last performed together in 2009 or so; I’d done a few guest spots here and there over the years; but the prospect of doing a featured set seemed like a physically daunting task at first glance. We like to believe that we’re cut from the cloth of entertainers who put everything into their shows and took no shortcuts. We’re not comfortable with standing in place for 45 min to an hour. We don’t perform on top of prerecorded vocals – not even a backing track. Our goal with every performance is to upstage whoever performs before or after us. Accomplishing these tasks requires a great deal of energy, so much that we’d have to physically train for it.

We enlisted the services of King Midas (producer for Hueston Independent Spit / Slang / Sound District (H.I.S.D.) and Radio Galaxy), who also has experience with coaching basketball. He would put us through a training regimen that resembled the same one that he would put high school players through. Although he expressed disappointment at every turn and tried to break us down, he did a lot to get our cardio where it needed to be for a set that could run as long as an hour.

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As you can imagine, news of our impending performance spread like wildfire. We started hearing from old friends, many of whom we hadn’t seen since the late 1990s. An entire generation of “post-KO” musicians expressed curiosity at seeing us perform, when tales of our exploits had become the stuff of legends. Nationally and internationally, more and more people began affirming that a K-OTIX return, even if for one moment, was long overdue. I started hearing from people in the unlikeliest of places; journalists and tastemakers who enjoyed Universal, when I didn’t even know that KO was on their radar.

As the weeks flew by and October 24th drew closer, I admittedly grew more and more nervous. Anxious might have been a better way to describe it. Performance anxiety, quite literally. I’d imagine it being similar to the final trimester of a pregnancy, where you just want to get it over with already. Friends started requesting specific songs, which we’d always been coy about. There’s no fun in telling you what we’re going to perform – takes the fun out of everything.  The set list creation was a very informal process, just as it always had been.  We always had an innate understanding of what songs needed to be performed. The tricky thing about this set was to avoid performing too many songs. With the amount of time that had passed, it would have been all too easy to commit to performing our entire catalog – but who wants to see that?

I’m about to let everyone in on one of our deepest secrets: we’ve never rehearsed. NEVER.  Except for one time, and it was the worst show we’d ever done. Because each audience is unique, we hit the stage and feed off of whatever energy the crowd gives us. If there’s no energy, we bring it out. What you see on stage is us enjoying the show for the first time just as the audience is. Nothing’s scripted. Only the set list is predetermined. In preparation for our first show in a decade, we did not hold what you would consider an actual practice. We emailed song suggestions. I met with Mic to go clarify some transitions between songs. I met up with Russ to get the cue points set up. That was pretty much all of the preparation. When you’ve worked with the same guys for more than half your life, you develop the instinctive ability to finish the other’s sentences, know when songs are dropping in and out, who will initiate the call and responses, etc. It’s quite literally like riding a bike. So when we took the stage on the evening of October 24, 2013, we had no idea of what our show would look like.

And that’s exactly how we like it.

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I arrived to sound check at around 6:30 pm, about 30 minutes late because of Houston’s rush hour traffic. Walking into Fitzgerald’s to do my first official sound check in what seemed like a lifetime was a little weird at first. The venue had the A/C blowing full blast. It couldn’t have been more than 55 degrees in there. DJ Big Wiz (DJing for The Pharcyde) and The ARE were setting up the tables, and the sound guys had just completed cabling the mics (surprisingly prompt for a hip hop show). After The Pharcyde ran through a quick check, I stepped on stage in the empty venue, and The ARE cued up the intro track that we would be coming out about four hours later. Wow. This was really about to happen.

My phone’s buzzing off the hook the entire time. People wanted to know what time we were going on; if there was room on the guest list; which songs we were performing; where to park; how much tickets were at the door. Honestly, I ignored most of them. With only a few hours left, I needed to get into my zone. I usually need a period of relative quiet before we take the stage. Considering the importance of this performance, I needed more time than usual. I met up with the photographers of the evening, and we shared a pregame meal at the “Cajun” spot across the street. We sat at a table that faced the venue so that I could watch the line as it formed. Ate 2 very delicious fish tacos.

The plan was to sneak into the green room and try to catch a quick 20 minute nap, but that never happened. By this time the videographers had shown up, so I debriefed them on the evening’s shoot. For the next hour or so I ran back and forth to either get certain people into the venue, or to catch up with others that I suspected wouldn’t be around at the end of the show. The show started shortly after doors opened.

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While the three opening acts were staging brief performances, backstage we just kind of loafed around and kept it loose. No talk of our performance, so to speak. We all expressed curiosity at how well the new songs from “Legendary” would be received. After the openers, The ARE took the stage for a brief set of breaks. In reality, this may have been no longer than 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I was itching to go, admittedly, a little nervous. But I got a little nervous before every show, so this wasn’t new. Once The ARE cued the intro track, we took to the stage with no introduction. I remember walking out to center stage and gazing out at the silhouettes of the audience, realizing that this was really about to happen. And then it began:

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“The Moment” (Intro): We’d just recorded this song a week before because we wanted something with relatively new energy right out the gates. Originally intended as a show intro only, it’s definitely going on the Legendary album. Lots of truth being spoken in this one.

“One More Time”: We took the risk of starting off with two brand new songs, but that was too much of a statement to pass up. The lead single from Legendary

“U Know The Name”: Always one of our favorites to perform. Great for crowd participation. It wasn’t until after this song that we took the time to address the crowd directly.

“CPR”: This song always gets the “Awwwwwwwwwww…” reaction from the crowd. As far as the set list goes, it’s a good transition out of the intro phase and into the meat and potatoes of the performance. This is where the adrenaline really kicks in.

“Untitled”: Another “Awww” track probably my favorite song to perform. We usually put this right in the middle of the set.

“Untitled III”: We backdoored the OG version with this one, which will be featured on the Legendary album.  Lyrically, one of our best songs ever. The album version features a verse from frequent collaborator D Rose.

“Mind Over Matter”: This track is another popular one from Universal. Placed here specifically to set up-

“Rare Breed”:  Performing 4 new songs after a 10 year absence? Who does that? We do.

“Falling Behind I/II”: The obligatory Spontaneity inclusion. This was the hardest part of the set to decide on, mainly because these songs are 18 years old. Dated to us, not so much to others. But there’s a definite difference in quality. So we decided on the two with the strongest message. And quite a few people requested “Falling Behind II”.

“Ooh Ahh”: A friend of ours was also celebrating his birthday that day, and this was his favorite KO song. We aim to please.

“World Renown”: My favorite part about World Renown is that it always signifies the end of the set. We’re free at this point to expend whatever energy we have left, and go all out for the finale. No stage dives this time. Not yet.

*Encore*

“Legendary” – Pretty popular album cut, but usually gets mixed reactions when we perform it. Someone specifically requested this one, but didn’t make it to the show. Shame on them.

“Frequencies” – This was our encore track for most shows back in the day.

“Questions”- The ARE and Big Mon conspired to include this one on the set. I’m amazed that I even remembered the words.

We were originally scheduled for 30 minutes, but extended it to 45. Sue us. It honestly felt like 10 minutes. I still haven’t been able to process how I felt during or immediately after the show. I’m still honestly surprised at how many people even knew of our existence, let alone still have any interest in our music. The near capacity crowd was equal parts familiar and unfamiliar faces, and I’m eternally grateful that the newcomers to the KO Experience seemed to enjoy themselves.{Holding up imaginary glass} So here’s to more shows to come – hopefully within the next ten years.

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Damien

Author Damien

Founding member of K-OTIX / The Legendary KO. Unheralded jack of all trades. Spends most of his time these days creating moving pictures and writing some of the best material he's ever written. Likes dogs. Cats - meh.

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