K'naan - Troubadour
Record Label: A&M / Octone
Release Date: February 24, 2009
Somalia-born rapper K'naan broke out into the radio scene with his hit single "Wavin' Flag." Up until now, I've dismissed him as another artist with a decent song and a record label to mass-promote him. However, "Troubadour" reinstates the fact that he is actually a radio artist of substance.
"I Come Prepared" featuring Damien Marley has a nice rhyming flow, and K'naan almost sounds like he's high on the green (close to, dare I say, Shaggy?). You can almost picture the ganga smoke as he raps "Around here we've got pirates with torpedoes /Alongside all the warlords and beardos." The next track features Adam Levine. Unexpected matchup aside, "Bang Bang" is catchy enough to make your head bob and light-hearted enough for it to be one of the most fun songs on the album. Levine does have a great jazzy-smooth chorus, yet I'm still not 100% sold on this song because it seems like something all rapper raps about.
"If Rap Gets Jealous" is a fantastic song featuring Kirk Hammett. Anyone else scratching their heads at this duo? Nonetheless, it is a tremendously catchy song. You can hear the spite in K'naan's voice as he spits out how he feels about "jerkin' off punks with lip glosses and purses." One of the most radio friendly songs on this album is "Wavin' Flag" and it definitely is an anthem for freedom. It was even remade by Canadian artists to help Haiti. K'naan sounds a little bit like the late great Bob Marley and even declares "moving forward like Buffalo Soldiers." It may not be the best song on the album, but it has the most mainstream appeal, which is probably why the label took it and ran with it.
"Somalia" paints a vivid picture of struggling with an impoverished lifestyle ("Some get high mixing coke and gun powder, sniffin’/She got a gun but could have been a model or physician.") This song is almost like a diary, heightened by the vocalizing children's choir in the background. One of the more notable lyrics would be "A lot of main stream n----- is yappin’ about yappin’/ A lot of underground n----- is rappin’ about rappin’/ I just wanna tell you what’s really crackalackan/ Before the tears came down this is what happened."
"Take A Minute" is one of the many songs on this album that speaks of hope, while making references to Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. K'naan proves he is not the typical run-of-the-mill rhyming lyricist ("I take inspiration from the most heinous of situations/Creating medication out my own tribulations") and even mentions his visit to Kenya ("Dear Africa, you helped me write this/By showing me to give is priceless.") Hard-hitting and autobiographical, this song speaks of accepting whatever life throws at you and learning to overcome your struggles.
Lastly, the song that completely sold me on the authenticity and integrity of K'naan would be "People Like Me." The emotion he incorporates into it can sometimes bring tears to my eyes when I'm feeling down. He starts off speaking from the point-of-view of a soldier in Iraq ("If you ask me now would I repeat it/ would I fight in a war I don't believe in.") The gentle and soothing chorus prays to the heavens to "open doors to hurting people like me." The second verse deals with an unemployed, remorseful single mother ("In self pity she suddenly cried/would my life be important if I suddenly died?) and contains direct lyrics like "Now stuck with a mortgage she can't afford/ and too educated to blame the corporate world" speaks of the status-obsessed society who looks down upon the "inferior" poor. The third verse is the most personal, speaking of subjects like gun crimes, American rap-rhymes, and encounters with grenades. It is a rueful, picturesque and painful story about leaving his cousin in Somalia because of the lack of money for plane tickets. If you close your eyes and listen to the chorus, you can lose yourself to the feeling of this song. I'm usually not a fan of religious songs, but with lyrics like "So she took refuge in prayer/Kinda like finding God in the phonebook", this song can really get to you.
"Troubadour" is a great follow-up to "The Dusty Foot Philosopher." Although sometimes casual and lively, a slightly serious undertone remains throughout the album. It has a beautiful message and is full of heart-wrenching narrative storytelling which concentrates on hope and courage. The trials and tribulations K'naan has had to endure at such a young age will garner respect and admiration from fans and critics alike. K'naan has established his rightful place in this industry and his background story makes it feel all the more sincere and beautiful.