K’naan is a Somali-Canadian hip hop musician whose been slowly been building a following which is surely going to grow even more with the release of Troubadour.
First and foremost, we need to be honest in assessment of K’naan - he has a compelling story and an interesting and accessible sound. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. I just felt the need to put this out front before I delved any deeper into picking apart this album. K’naan is a talented artist, and his is a story that needs to be told across the world. I just always worry with artists like him that he is going to be the only African artist to cross over and be placed with some sort of burden of representation. I would love to know more about African hip hop, and if anyone would like to throw some names my way, I’ll be sure to check them out.
Now, let’s talk about the album. It hits hard with the opening track, “T.I.A.,” setting tone and a high bar for an album to talk about important issues of globalization, poverty, and Somali culture. The music shows a connectedness to Brazilian funk, Jamaican dancehall, and British grime, with its heavy pounding syncopated drums. K’naan also no doubt took influence from Bob Marley in that he strikes a pretty good balance between keeping the party going and making you think about world politics.
The album has its first hiccup on “Bang Bang,” which is not a song about warfare in African culture, but an unsuccessful, slightly cheesy love song featuring Adam Levine on the hook. It is followed up by a slightly stronger song that sounds promising at first, “If Rap Gets Jealous,” but the contributions from Kirk Hammett really push the song over the top and ruins what was potentially a really good song. “Waving Flag,” has a cheesy “We Are The World” vibe to it, but all is not lost. We reach “Somalia,” and we finally get a song that isn’t that cheesy (but could have been with the strings and children’s choir) and speaks important perspective about his home country, challenging the listener to think about piracy, immigration, and education. “America” brings it strong built over a great groove with Mos Def and Chali 2na laying it down with K’naan, but then we get right back to the cheesiness with “Fatima” bringing some bad prom song vibes. He recovers a bit for the rest of the album, especially with the fun “15 Minutes Away” conveying the financial difficulties of living on the road.
I’m sure you see where I’m going with this - this is a wildly uneven album. When it’s good, it’s really, really good. It’s moving, it’s musically interesting, it’s lyrically interesting. When it’s bad, it’s cheesy, and makes me feel bad that half of the album takes away from how great the great parts of this album is. Hopefully K’naan can bring it more consistently next time.
|Title:||K'naan - Troubadour|