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World Music CD Reviews Africa

K'naan

By Robert Kaye
Published August 21, 2008

The Dusty Foot Philosopher
Interdependent Media

How often do you hear a hip-hop album open with samples of a pygmy tribe splashing rhythms on water? That’s a good indication that K’naan isn’t just your average dimestore MC, raging with unbridled urban angst. Granted, after growing up in Somalia’s wartorn capital city of Mogadishu, K’naan certainly has much to rant, rave and rap about— which he does, often with creative and almost limerick-like wordplay. But he also taps into various world music styles as sources for his sonic canvas, thus bringing hip-hop into refreshing new territory. For starters, imagine this: several tunes don’t have window-shattering drum ’n’ bass. “The African Way,” for example, is somewhat of an ancient-meets-modern piece that highlights the African musical diaspora: wooden balaphones and acoustic percussion start things off for rapper, who is gradually joined by synthesizer and other modern sounds. “Blues for the Horn” offers an almost Kind of Blue-era Miles Davis type of groove, with K’naan waxing deep with clever spoken poetry. No doubt, this is one young talent who stands above many in the rap genre for his word-smithing abilities, as well as for his embrace of international sounds.