Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, just as the civil unrest that rocked the country was beginning, rapper K'Naan spent the early years of his life trying to avoid death and listening to the hiphop records that his father, who had left Somalia earlier, sent to him from America.
When K'Naan (whose name means "traveler" in Somali) was 13, he, his mother, and his two siblings were able to leave their homeland and join relatives in Harlem, where they stayed briefly before moving to Rexdale, Ontario, where there was a large Somali community. As soon as K'Naan's English started improving he began rapping, and in tenth grade he dropped out of school and traveled around North America for two years, performing occasionally. Through his friendship with Sol Guy, part of promotion team Direct Current Media, K'Naan was able to perform at the United Nations' 50th anniversary concert in 1999, held in Geneva, where he used his platform to publicly criticize the United Nations' handling of the Somali crisis in the 1990s.
One of the audience members, Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, was so impressed by the young MC's performance and courage that he invited him to contribute to his 2001 album Building Bridges, a project through which K'Naan was able to tour the world.
In 2002 K'Naan met Jarvis Church, part of the Track and Field Productions team that helped to propel Nelly Furtado to fame, a connection that eventually led to a record. The Dusty Foot Philosopher came out in Canada in 2005, and was followed with tour spots with Mos Def and Talib Kweli, as well as a performance at Live 8.
K'naan - Dreamer (High Quallity)
'Station IDs' by K'naan on Q TV
Troubadour: K’naan’s sophomore set reveals Somalia-born rapper’s painful past
Source: The Daily
K’naan Warsame fired his first gun at age eight. At 11, he demolished half his school after accidentally detonating a found hand grenade. The next year, the boy fled from gunmen and narrowly escaped with his life, while his three best friends weren’t so lucky. It is this history of violence and pain that inspired the Somalia-born rapper’s second album Troubadour.
Growing up in a part of Mogadishu, Somalia known as “the River of Blood,” which the United Nations named “the worst place on earth,” his childhood bore witness to unimaginable horrors. K’naan’s mother walked through gunfire to the U.S. Embassy daily to file for a visa for her family. When they left in January 1991 he was 13. Theirs was the last commercial flight out before the government collapsed and violence closed the airport.
K’naan and his family moved to New York City for a brief while, then continued on to Toronto. He caught the attention that fueled his rise to international fame after performing a spoken word piece before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1999, criticizing the U.N. for their failed aid missions to Somalia.
The sophomore album Troubadour — a French word meaning “folk singer” — is a fitting follow-up to K’nann’s 2005 debut The Dusty Foot Philosopher. K’naan truly acts as a voice for his region, following in the footsteps of his aunt Magool — one of Somalia’s most famous singers — and poet grandfather Haji Mohamed.
K’naan certainly doesn’t disregard the violence in his past on Troubadour, rapping about “mountain bike racing,” where kids wrap rusty barbed wire around bicycle tires and roll them down hills. He touches on the common practice of mixing cocaine and gunpowder to make “brown brown.”
Despite being signed to A&M/Octone Records, a subsidiary of Universal, K’Naan doesn’t hesitate to be real in the only way he knows. His long-term goal isn’t a mansion or a clothing line; it’s to affect change in his East-African home. He makes the point that gangsterism isn’t something to brag about — for some, it’s a horrible fact of life.
Troubadour features some titanic guest appearances to accompany the fresh new artist, including Mos Def, Chali 2na, Chubb Rock, Damian Marley, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. Those artists and their varying genres are represented through the lyricism, buffalo soldier ideals, pop vocal backings and symphonic instrumentation that saturate the album.
The explosive single “If Rap Gets Jealous” is the only carryover from K’naan’s debut album. But while the underlying theme is still unbelievable pain, the palpable angst and stream of consciousness from the first version fades after a complete rewrite of all but the first three lines of chorus. Fortunately, the solos and guitar riffs from Metallica’s Hammett, intensifying the musicality of the song and pushing it beyond the purely hip-hop original composition, redeem the new recording.
The crown jewel of the album is undoubtedly “Somalia,” a beautifully flowing and deceivingly upbeat ode to the horrors of his homeland and “to never know[ing] a single day without a big commotion.” The piano-backed diamond in the rough is “Take a Minute,” opening up with a time-old proverb: “any man who knows a thing/knows he knows not a damn damn thing at all.”
K’naan’s flow is consistently impeccable, and his melodious beats mask the pain of a childhood filled with closed coffins and blood-soaked streets. Don’t miss your chance to share it at Neumos March 10.