With M.I.A. poppin off at the Grammys and Slumdog Millionaire’s domination of the Academy Awards show, art has gone global. Hip-Hop’s no exception—what was once a genre dominated by a few cities is now a cultural movement that involves and influences people all over the world.
Troubadour reflects this change both by documenting a nomad’s personal journey from Somalia to Toronto and by borrowing from the music of the world. Sounds range from the traditional African drums of “ABCs,” to upbeat bubblegum pop on “Bang Bang.” Guests as diverse as Chubb Rock and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett help contribute to the musical collage. At the center of it all is the 30-year-old K’naan, rapping and crooning with a heartfelt sincerity whose seed was sown by the strife and destruction of his homeland Somaila. Many songs touch on his homeland, such as the haunting “Fatima” – a reminiscence of a past love gunned down – over a beautiful horn and harp melody.
K’naan’s storytelling makes the album, as he paints pictures of suffering while exhibiting skill in rhyming and building metaphors. On “Somalia,” he decries the lawless state of his homeland: “Here the city code is lock and load/Any minute is rock and roll, And you rock and roll/and feel your soul leavin’/it’s just the wrong dance/That’ll leave you not breathin’.”
Yet he’s not afraid to point out the flaws in his adopted home either on “America.” Over the best beat on the album – a throwback guitar loop that evokes 1995 production styles – he slyly disses our country’s glorification of the gangster mentality. This track immediately follows “Somalia,” a well thought out piece of track sequencing that drive the point home. Only a surprisingly subpar verse from Mos Def on “America,” disrupts the momentum.
Not all of the tracks on Troubador are so serious—the first half contains plenty of tracks created with crossing over in mind. Unfortunately, these tracks don’t have the strength of the more personal offerings. In absence of deeper material, K’naan adopts a more playful rhyming approach that occasionally borders on corny. Part of the problem is his high-pitched voice, which on the aforementioned “Bang Bang,” makes him sound like he’s swapping Twitters with Tyga about going through puberty. It doesn’t help things when he shows moments of lyrical weakness, free associating wackness like “scorpion/she’s so hot she’s scorch-ian/killing me softly/Lauryn or Kevorkian”
Pop failures aside, K’naan has created an album of depth and maturity that showcases his considerable skills. Even some of the more club-friendly songs, such as the reggae-influenced “I Come Prepared,” bristle with innovation and urgency. It’s these characteristics, often absent from current American releases, that make Troubadour a successful album.
Previously Posted — K’naan – “The Great Depression” Video