“Troubadour”(A&M/Octone Records, 2009), the new album by K’naan, one of the most distinctive and innovative talented artists of today, will be released on February 24. The arresting title of the highly anticipated second album by the remarkable 30-year-old hip-hop MC, griot and singer/songwriter is the first clue that something significant is about to unfold in the world of hip-hop and the global music sphere.
A troubadour is characterized as a one-of-a-kind lyric poet and poet-musician, a talent brilliantly displayed by K’naan on the follow-up to his 2005 debut album, “The Dusty Foot Philosopher,” which garnered the 2006 Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) for Best Rap Recording. However, unlike the early troubadours, many whom were very popular and highly successful, there is one major difference. The recurring themes in the works of the European troubadours centered mainly on that of courtly love, while the undercurrent of K’naan’s illustrious work is influenced by the civil war he experienced as a young boy in Mogadishu, Somalia, where he was born.
This war-driven childhood is one of the dominant topics which color the poignant and eloquent lyrics of the explosive “Troubadour.” Effortlessly rolling off the tongue of the griot MC like bittersweet intimacies are K’naan’s clever, socially conscious lyrics of thought-provoking similes, metaphors and personifications. His unique, figurative language drives such powerful tracks as “Dreamer,” “I Come Prepared,” “Take a Minute,” “If Rap Gets Jealous,” “Fire in Freetown,” and “Somalia.” On the track “Somalia,” K’naan becomes both a film-maker and voyeur whose lyrics visually give direction to the song: “Cut to the chase/Pan across to face/I’m right there/Freeze frame on the street name/Oops…wait a minute!/This is where the streets have no name/And the drain of sewage/You can see it in this boy/How the hate is brewing…”
Bringing it into the present and the current issue of Somali pirates attacking and holding ships for ransom in Somalia’s harbor, the wordsmith/musician’s timely lyrics on the track “Somalia” articulates: “So whatchya you know about the pirates terrorize the ocean/To never know a day without a big commotion/It can’t be healthy just to live with such a steep emotion /And when I try and sleep I see coffins closing/And when I try and sleep I see coffins closing.” K’naan keeps it real, leaving the fantasy and fake world of gangsta rap to those who have yet to fully experience and find their purpose in life and whose limited pool centers solely on their block.
K’naan, whose name means “traveler” in the Somali language, is a cat who has lived more than nine lives even before literally escaping on the last commercial plane from Somali, making his way to Harlem and then to the sizable Somali-Canadian community of Rexdale, Toronto. Yeah, baby, like the young brotha says on one of the coolest tracks on his new CD, “I Come Prepared.” Some may attribute K’naan’s skills as a God-given gift, and others may explain his poetic prowess as an inherent part of his Somali heritage, for it is said that “it is in the art of oral poetry and song that Somalis excel, and whether used as a hostile invitation, a method of courting, or political rhetoric, poetry and song remain a vital part of Somali culture.” But then again, K’naan’s talent could have been directly passed on to him from his aunt, Magool, who was a prominent singer in Somalia, or his grandfather, Haji Mohamed, who was an esteemed poet.
The second clue on the “Troubadour” album that something out of the ordinary is about to take over the world of hip-hop is K’naan’s refreshing and enriching fusion of hip-hop alongside folk-rap, soul, rock, rock and roll, reggae and traditional African genres, merged with classic, traditional and cutting edge rhythm and beats. From the dynamic power of the track “ABCs”to the rhythmic genre bending grooves of “Dusty Streets” and the acoustic African folk melodies of “Fire in Freetown,” K’naan has battered down the superficial, waning doors of hip-hop, entered and is now expanding beyond the narrow, restricted musical boundaries. In addition, “Troubadour” highlights several interesting musical collaborations with such influential artists as Mos Def and Chali Tuna on the track “America”; Damian “JR Gong” Marley on “I Come Prepared”; Adam Levine on “Bang Bang;” and Kirk Hammett on “If Rap Gets Jealous”(the first single off the album getting airplay, and which was added into rotation on K-ROCK/KROQ last week). K’naan, who recently received “Newcomer of the Year” honors at the UK’s BBC Radio 3 Awards, is “not just your average MC. He’s a voice for change, a peacemaker and a cultural bridge” between Africa and the West.” Be sure to pick up “Troubadour” on February 24 and catch his dynamic show at S.O.B.’s in NYC on February 26.
For more information on K’NAAN, please visit: www.thedustyfoot.com and www.myspace.com/knaanmusic. The Africa Sings!!! series was inspired by Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo, the first lady of world beat music and UNICEF goodwill ambassador, who said of this musical movement: “I feel we are living a special time in history when people are ready to open their hearts to the beauty of African culture through its musical heritage.” For further information about the Africa Sings!!! series, please e-mail:email@example.com.