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K’naan: Hip-Hop’s New Hope?

The New Now

Politics and pop music often make strange bedfellows. For some, there is no better way to get a message than hearing it over some power chords or hot beats. Others, however, prefer their entertainment to be pure escapism and resent when real-world realities creep into their musical cocoon.

K'naan is a Somalian-born rapper poised to break big when his second album, Troubadour, drops on Feb. 24. His politically charged lyrics may put some off and that's unfortunate, since he brings memorable tunes along with the social consciousness.

The accompanying video clips for two tracks from Troubadour show two different sides of K'naan. "ABC's," which features a guest spot by Chubb Rock, drops some social commentary, but does so in a manner that turns the tune into a literal party anthem. Like M.I.A.'s ubiquitous "Paper Planes," "ABC's" manages to turn urban struggle into a badge of honor with the defiant chorus, "All we got is life on the streets." Check it out below.

"The Great Depression" is a considerably darker affair with its grainy black-and-white news footage, sparse beats, and singsong blues-like vocal, but it's no less intriguing. Check out the clip below.

While K'naan may be relatively new to the U.S., he's fairly well known in Canada. After fleeing war-torn Somalia at an early age, he and his family briefly relocated to Harlem before settling in Toronto, Ontario area of Rexdale, known for its large Somalian community. It was partially through records by Nas and Rakim that K'naan learned English. He became proficient enough to land a gig at the United Nations in which he criticized the U.N.'s attempts to aid Somalia. "This is about the people who are forgotten, people who don't have the mass media on their side, and behind closed doors this is what you conceal a slaughter...and you U.N. fancy suits are responsible for not saying what was happening or stopping what was happening," he rapped.

One of those who caught his performance at the U.N. was acclaimed Senegalese performer Youssou N'Dour, who invited K'naan to contribute to the 2001 Building Bridges album and subsequent world tour.

Jarvis Church, the former Philosopher Kings member and co-producer of Nelly Furtado's Whoa, Nelly!, also took notice of K'naan. Church's Track and Field production team produced his 2005 debut album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, and landed him a guest spot on "Saturdays," a track on Nelly Furtado's Folklore album. Check it out below.


The Dusty Foot Philosopher garnered a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) in 2006 for best rap recording and helped K'naan nab a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music. Check out the videos below for "Strugglin'" and "Soobax" from that album.

Also included on The Dusty Foot Philosopher is a track called "If Rap Gets Jealous," a tasty little number that revives the dead horse known as the rock-rap hybrid. On Troubadour, K'naan opted to update the track with heavier version featuring Kirk Hammett from Metallica. You can check out the original below.

If Rap Gets Jealous

Other guests on Troubadour include Damian Marley, Mos Def, Chali 2na from Jurassic 5, and Maroon 5's Adam Levine, but I'm most anxious to hear more of K'naan than the guests. I think he may just be hip-hop's new hope. How about you?

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