Courtesy of Audible Treats
K’naan – “Strugglin'”
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“We begin our day by the way of the gun / Rocket-propelled grenades blow you ’way if you front / We got no police, ambulances of firefighters / We start riots by burning car tires.”
In the era of Bush-bashing hip-hoppers and anti-Iraq War lyrics, the chorus to “What’s Hardcore?,” the third track from African rapper K’naan’s debut album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, seems to lean toward that overused trend. But the squeaky-voiced emcee is rapping about a different fight — the everyday civil war that has plagued his home country of Somalia since 1986. This is the lifeblood that flows through K’naan’s every word.
The Dusty Foot Philosopher is a 20-track reality check that highlights the rapper’s lyrical mastery and ability to bring everyday African difficulties to the American limelight. His forceful, demanding style — K’naan’s voice is often on the brink of hysteria, screaming like a hardcore-punk frontman — mirrors the travesties that plague everyday Somalia. “What’s Hardcore?” is so fervent that, by the end of the song, you’re convinced 50 Cent had it easy.
Although K’naan’s vocals are often tattered and frustrated, mimicking the original Slim Shady, he is able to move effortlessly to a more relaxed, telling style when the message requires such. In “Until the Lion Learns to Speak,” the emcee takes on the role of tribe elder, calmly retelling the poetry of an old African scribe. “Blues for the Horn” finds K’naan reliving his youth in Somalia, asking probing questions like, “Do the camps still rape baby girls without breasts?” and, “How about the young? / Do they still possess the poetry tongue?” It’s a nostalgic track that sees the emcee longing to be back in his ultra-violent home, while displaying a unique command on telling such a disturbing story.
K’naan’s tale is supplemented by a brilliant blend of African-inspired rhythms and ghetto-rap beats. He employs a variety of popular club drum patterns and fuses them with traditional African percussive instruments and celebratory vocal cries, giving his music that sweltering climate so definitive of the Somalia geography. But on other tracks, like the two mentioned above, the rapper’s lyrics are enough, and a simple, almost non-existent background is employed.
K’naan was freed from every rap stereotype the day he was born. His childhood in Somalia is a stark contrast to his adult life in the States — “In America I shovel the snow while I’m smokin’ blunts / You mean to tell me that you’re still out there totin’ guns?” one line flows — giving the rapper the ammunition needed to fire his tale to the masses. It’s something no East Coast / West Coast rapper — no, not even 50 — can match.
–By Executive Editor Chris French