Conscious rap has a new messenger, one who brings a breath of fresh air and a new dimension to the material-obsessed realm of mainstream hip hop and the world music landscape. The Motherland just keeps churning them out.
K’Naan, an award-winning Somali-born artiste, musician and poet, skillfully fuses socio-political ideology, gorgeous instrumentation and universal themes with impressive lyrics, youthful energy, and unforgettable rhythms. He brings new meaning to the terms ‘protest poet’ and ‘rap stylist’ which makes his new album, Troubadour, his sophomore release, a marvelous and ear-pleasing delight.
A man of eclectic tastes, K’Naan pulls on Afro-Caribbean sounds, rock, ethnic grooves, acoustic soul, and reggae-style chants for a fierce and creative blend that makes you wanna snap for the kids two times. Sure, his approach gives nods to the Marley clan and recalls conscious rap disciples like Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, and Mos Def, but K’Naan has a musical personality all his own.
The 14 tracks on Troubadour (his follow-up to the 2005 The Dusty Foot Philosopher) range from affecting stories from the African school of hard knocks ("15 Minutes Away," "Somalia") to poignant coming-of-age tales ("Fatima") to flat-out confessionals ("People Like Me," "Dreamer"). Among the CD’s many highlights are the dancehall-flavoured "I Come Prepared" (featuring Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley); the synth-heavy Bang Bang (with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) and the rock-styled "If Rap Gets Jealous" (alongside Metallica’s Kirk Hammett). Also sure to lift your spirit is the eternally hopeful "Wavin’ Flag," and the calming and plaintive "Take A Minute" which always get repeat listens on my iPod.
Born in the poverty-ridden Somalia, K’Naan fled the 1991 Civil War with his family to the U.S. and then to Canada, where he made a name for himself in rap circles, later winning a Juno Award for his critically-acclaimed debut album and quickly garnering the attention of influential music insiders always looking out for the next big thing. A fan and close friend of Marley scions, Stephen and Damian, K’Naan (means ‘traveller’) recorded much of Troubadour at the St Andrew-based Tuff Gong Studios, even sampling a Bob Marley classic for the album opener, "T.I.A."
The heart and mind concerns the 30-year-old artiste has for his homeland, his understanding and compassion for its people and their never-ending struggles are made palpable on tracks like "ABCs," through his sensitive, thoughtful and charismatic delivery. And while the tempo and moods vary throughout the album, K’Naan’s constant message of right over wrong, his fire and energy always shine through.
Absorbing and intriguing, but always entertaining, Troubadour is one of the finest records you’ll hear this year.
DOWNLOAD: "Wavin’ Flag," "Take A Minute," "I Come Prepared," and "People Like Me."