"I come from the most dangerous city in this universe", K'naan raps in his first single "If Rap Gets Jealous". In the midst of a war-torn Somalia, K'naan seeked refuge in Harlem and learned English by avidly listening to Nas and Rakim albums, honing his proficient craft. K'naan aptly proves that hip hop is a universal language as "Troubadour" features artists like Damian Marley, Chubb Rock, and Chali 2na (of Jurassic 5 fame), amongst others. Being the son of a poet and singer, his Somalian influences are superbly showcased in his sophomore effort.
Though English isn't his native tongue, his lyrical capacity and colorful vocabulary broadly surpasses most American rappers. It would be an understatement to say that he puts today's mainstream artists to shame as his vocals and lyrical skill has warranted many comparisons to Eminem.
He incorporates a worldly perspective into the forefront of hip hop, challenging America's ghettos to the relentless violence and poverty in Somalia, making America's 'hoods seem like Beverly Hills. In "America", K'naan's first verse is strictly recited in Arabic and despite Mos Def's lazy performance, this is one of the more notable tracks.
He brings a much needed honestly back to hip hop music, touching on political topics of poverty and violence. He is affective without sounding too preachy and excessively didactic, "My job is to write about what I see/ So a visual stenographer is who I be", he rhymes in "I Come Prepared". The album isn't all about his past woes. He also balances the heaviness of this album with bittersweet love songs like "Fatima" and danceable tracks like "Bang Bang", featuring Maroon 5's Adam Levine.
The album ventures beyond the realm of hip hop, seamlessly delving into reggae, pop, jazz, funk and rock. On his first single, "If Rap Gets Jealous", a rock-heavy track with guitar by Metallica's Kirk Hammett, he challenges rappers and their lack of substance, "So I can rap, quench my thirst/I don't even hear verses no more/I hear jerkin' off punks with lip glosses and purses."
K'naan's compelling back story of escaping the grasps of war while utilizing his rich history in music has crafted a remarkable album. It is only the beginning for this prolific new artist.
Listen to tracks on "Troubadour" on his myspace
Buy his album here.