At first listening, I found this record pleasing but, to paraphrase the words of the immortal Groucho Marx, "underwhelming." But the more I listened to it, the more I appreciated it -I enjoy it a lot now. K'naan's is an interesting -and disturbing- story. Born in Somalia in 1978, he escaped the war torn country with his family on the last commercial flight out of the country as the government collapsed. (K'naan means "traveler" in Somali.) He came to the attention of the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour when he performed a spoken word piece before the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1999. N'Dour admired his courage in castigating the UN for its failed aid missions to Somalia. N'Dour invited him to contribute to his 2001 album Building Bridges. This led to other gigs for the young poet-rapper and eventually to the recording and release of his 2005 album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, which was nominated for and won several music awards worldwide.
K'naan raps and sings on this album. As a rapper, he'll never replace Chuck D, Michael Franti or MC Solaar, as different as these three are in vocal timbre and range. K'naan's speaking voice is tiny and squeezy, disappointingly thin at times, but not an embarrassment. His singing voice is a pleasant surprise: light, clear, and lovely. I hope he sings more often on records --I liked hearing him sing. "Wavin' Flag," in particular, is a great song with great lyrics. I keep replaying it in my head. "Fatima" is also pleasant. Backgrounds range from barebones percussion, booms and scratches to full horn and vocal backup. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this very pleasurable album is the variety and occasional richness of the instrumentation that surrounds and supports K'naan's versifying and singing. This is an area where many rap/hiphop records fall short and while the backup on this record doesn't compare to the melodic and rhythmic subtlety of the backup to MC Solaar's Prose Combat and La Tour de la Question or various Spearhead recordings, it's good. I'm not the first to write that K'naan hints at East African rhythm and melody overlaid with lots of reggae a la Bob Marley and present day hip hop. The best cuts on this record deliberately echo reggae rhythm and instrumentation.
K'naan's songs are so pleasant melodically and the rhyming so simple that it is easy to pass over what he is saying when he versifies. The lyrics tell, over and over again, of a scarifying childhood and continued living in a world of risk and pain. See, for this, "Dreamer," which juxtaposes the description of horrible situations, demeaning to physically perilous, with a saccharine verse pleading for heaven to intervene and make it all better. Yet, the overall tone of this album is upbeat and positive, and occasionally, even happy. Most definitely, this is not gangsta rap (which I find wears thin exceedingly fast.) K'naan is clearly a talent to watch.
Some people listen to hip hop mostly for the poetry, and these people may be disappointed with this album. It's a pleasant, danceable collection, though. There's a distinct world music influence, and it's a step up in production quality from the artist's previous work. Catchy tunes, a good children's choir, and K'nann's smooth voice make it an enjoyable listen.
I am not normally a fan of rap music, but K'naan's personal history drew my interest in. When I sat down to listen to this CD, I was not disappointed. While some of the songs may be a little too gratuitous in their dropping of the N word, the CD was overall very enjoyable. Some of my favorite songs on the CD featured unexpected guest vocals. Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Kirk Hammett of Metallica are not people you would imagine as guests vocalists on what is hailed as a rap album, but K'naan has … more
At first listening, I found this record pleasing but, to paraphrase the words of the immortal Groucho Marx, "underwhelming." But the more I listened to it, the more I appreciated it -I enjoy it a lot now. K'naan's is an interesting -and disturbing- story. Born in Somalia in 1978, he escaped the war torn country with his family on the last commercial flight out of the country as the government collapsed. (K'naan means "traveler" in Somali.) He came to the attention of the Senegalese singer Youssou … more
I taught full time in grade school (1 year), high school (8 years) and college (7 years) --first Spanish, then social studies, then history. After I earned my PhD (in history) at Yale, I moved into administration. … more
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After his debut album--The Dusty Foot Philosopher--took Canada by storm and collected a 2006 Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year, the pressure was on for K’Naan’s major label follow-up.Troubadour, in a word, delivers. Lyrically, the Somali ex-pat out-rhymes the majority of his native English-speaking counterparts with a mix of violent personal history and charismatic uplift, the occasional melodic chorus, and a voice that’s fairly compared to Eminem’s but more accurately recalls the upper-register nasality of Pharcyde’s Booty Brown. Pop-leaning cuts like “Dreamers” and “15 Minutes Away” duck in and out of instrumentals that borrow from Afrobeat (“Fire in Freetown”), a world/soul sound that hits its apex in the gorgeous “Wavin’ Flag,” and hip-hop’s best use yet of a Bob Marley sample (opener “T.I.A.”). Recorded at Marley’s legendary Tuff Gong studio in Jamaica, the album gets a heavy dose of collaborative energy from such diverse contributors as Mos Def, Chubb Rock, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (“Bang Bang”), and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett (“If Rap Gets Jealous”). In a year that has already seen an early girth of really strong rap releases that eschew the superficial violence, misogyny, and inanity of most radio fare,Troubadourstands as a front-runner for Hip-Hop Album of the Year. --Jason Kirk