K’Naan,the Somali-born Canadian rapper, is making huge waves right now. With the release of his sophmore album, Troubadour, he is pretty much on top of the world. Pitchfork loves him. Canada loves him. In fact, most people are already starting to say he’s just been shaming the other rappers in the world today.
We here at 4080 have loved his breakout album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, but I must admit I’m a bit torn on this new effort. He is, without a doubt, one of the realest emcees around at this point. He literally grew up in Mogadishu and fled during the first civil war back in the early 1990s. His mom eventually brought him to settle in Toronto, where he learned to speak English. In fact, his love for hip hop and the melody behind the rhymes was a prime motivator for him to learn the language. Why? So he could rap. That’s right. He basically learned English just so he could spit rhymes.
NPR has done some pretty good coverage of K’Naan, and this is perhaps one of my favourite quotes. Move over 50 Cent, I think this one is aimed squarely at you.
K’Naan could not be mistaken for an American rapper: For one thing, he has a kind of vintage Bohemian look. He says he doesn’t think that American rap has much credibility, because even the toughest American neighborhoods aren’t nearly as dangerous as Mogadishu.
“Where rocket-propelled grenades are fired around you on a daily … a guy bragging on TV talking about how gangster he is?” K’Naan says. “For us, it’s more a source of entertainment. It’s more like a comedy or something we watch. Say, ‘Oh wow, that’s kind of cute of American gangsters.’ But it isn’t hardcore, it isn’t that bad. Let’s get things in perspective, you know?”
On a track-by-track basis, I sadly must say that I think The Dusty Foot takes the crown. Troubadour has it’s strong moments, including the moving tracks Waving Flag and Fatima. But when you juxtapose this with the crime that is the re-recording of If Rap Gets Jealous and the sheer abomination that is T.I.A., the album starts to lose lustre.
Troubadour features some extremely strong guest stars, but for the most part I feel like their talents are wasted. Chubb Rock makes a triumphant return on ABC’s, which is one of the stronger pieces on this record. However, Mos Def and Chali 2na seem to fly under the radar on America. It’s a song that I assumed I would like, seeing as three dope rappers were combining. I felt a Captain Planet moment, that with their powers combined I would witness greatness. Instead, I can only say that it was creative. Truly, K’naan did push the enveope a little bit and America is no exception. He raps in Somali, and makes this track sound completely different than you probably expected.
Still, no matter what small criticisms I can aim at him, K’naan is still truly pushing the limits. He’s expanding people’s understanding of what hip hop is.