Coming off the success of his World Cup tour with Waving Flag and winning Junos for Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year, K’NAAN has hit the big time with a big song. But dig a little deeper and you find an artist who successfully blends samples and live instrumentation for a sound that’s both rooted in traditional African melodies and the classic hip-hop tradition.
“I’m not interested in being mediocre,” declares K’NAAN. “If there’s not a necessity to what I’m doing, I just wouldn’t do it. If I don’t have something to add to the conversation, I’m just not gonna talk.” Luckily for us, he has plenty to say. It’s this mix, both musical and lyrical, that earned his 2006 debut album The Dusty Foot Philosopher a Juno award for Rap Recording of the Year, a BBC Radio 3 Award, and nomination for the inaugural Polaris Music Prize.
Born in Somalia, a country whose name is synonymous with strife, it’s easy to brand K’NAAN with the “political rapper” tag. But that’d be both easy and disingenuous. “My job is to write just what I see/So a visual stenographer is who I be,” he rhymes in “I Come Prepared.” Doubtless, K’NAAN is not without his opinions, but in Troubadour, songwriting always comes before sermons. Troubadour is the sonic document of an artist who has a lot to share, but clearly has a lot more in the coming years. For anyone who’s said that hip-hop has nothing left to say, K’NAAN proves that it all depends on where you look.