Monday, March 15, 2010

K'naan, The Trabadour: Record Review

I normally don’t listen to hip-hop because I think it all sounds like the same exact talentless crap played over and over on the radio. So when a friend of mine recently introduced me to a hip-hop artist named K’naan, I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. However, after listening to his songs, I believe K’naan (traveller in the Somali language) is one of the genre’s most promising rising stars.

K’naan was born in chaotic Somalia in 1978. He lived through his country’s Civil War, and at the age of 13, Keinan Abdi Warsame, his two siblings and mother were able to leave on the very last commercial flight out of Somalia. Settling in Toronto, K’naan brought with him a vivid account of the horrors of his youth which come through in his emotional music and powerfully poetic lyrics.

With an incredibly peculiar mix of Bob Marley, Eminem, and John Lennon, K’naan has always been unconventional. Asked to speak before the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, K’Naan bashed the U.N. for their repeatedly failing aid missions to Somalia. Indeed, the brilliance of his music lays behind its striking lyrics which are primarily a political protest.

Troubadour, released last summer, is the second (and best) album by K’naan. Notable tracks include the inspiring "Waving Flag," which was chosen as the anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Waving Flag is one of the most powerful hip-hop songs I have heard in a long time. In it, he talks about his childhood: "Where I got grown, streets we would roam/ But out of the darkness, I came the farthest/Among the hardest survival/ Learn from these streets, it can be bleak/Except no defeat, surrender retreat. So we struggling, fighting to eat and/We wondering when we’ll be free/So we patiently wait, for that fateful day/ It’s not far away. "

Other superb tracks include the poignant, heart-breaking love story of "Fatima," and my favorite song on the album, the autobiographical "Take a Minute." In "Take a Minute," K’naan explores the difficulty of doing good growing up in a world that shows you so little of it, "How did Mandela get the will to surpass the everyday/When injustice had him caged and trapped in every way? How did Gandhi ever withstand the hunger strikes and all?/ Didn't do it to gain power or money if I recall. "

Labelling K’naan is damn near impossible. Known for his diverse range in musical style, K’naan weaves in and out of love songs and ballads, of hard rock, reggae and rap. In "ABC," "America," "TIA," and "If Rap Gets Jealous," the more appealing hip-hop style is abandoned in place of an angrier reggae-rap tone, reminiscent of his original album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher. Even though overall, Troubadour is much more hip-hop than the style of the Dusty Foot Philosopher, and more appealing to a wider range of people, K’naan still remains grounded in the roots of his chaotic homeland. All in all, K’naan’s newest album successfully brings the listener to the streets of Somalia, globe trekking between love stories, bullets, and hope.
-Scott Goldstein


  1. Cool articl, Scott! I wanna hear. Link it up, yo!

  2. My bad for not posting some links, I'll get on that ASAP!

  3. Anonymous16/3/10 17:38

    Thanks Kendra! it's a different sound than the national we share in common (have you heard their new album coming out in May was titled High Violet?), but I really like him.