K’naan – Troubadour [Review]

K’naan - Troubadour

We’ve been seeing him all week on MTV; we may have even heard some of his other work since he’s worked with some of our nappy favorites like Mos Def, dead prez, and Damian Marley. The rest of you probably heard his music on the initial soundtrack for Madden 09. Either way, let’s get down to why you come here; the review.

1. T.I.A.
Produced by K’naan
This is definitely the Hip-Hop you are used to. The track is energetic, explosive and expressive. This is not about a beat, but energy transformed into sound. There are so many international influences in the sound of this track that you can’t help but bounce to it. Besides, it is from home. K’naan proudly proclaims “This Is Africa” over the unrelenting thump of base and lick of chords. When I first heard this song, I wasn’t ready. Now, I can’t remember why not.

2. ABC’s
Featuring Chubb Rock; Produced by K’naan
After learning English by listening to American Hip-Hop artists like Nas, it’s quite obvious that he has a knack for feelin’ out the legendary from the backdrop. Chubb Rock reemerges from his hiding and lends his signature sound and track to K’naan. The song is no less energetic than the first song and the sample from “Treat Em’ Right” plays backdrop to the trumpets that proclaim that even life on the streets won’t stop us. It’s obvious that the intent was to announce victory over the elements of the streets, and he definitely hit the target. Language is not a barrier either as K’naan is no slouch lyrically.

3. Dreamer
Produced by K’naan
This song seems more directly influenced by Hip-Hop as most of us are used to. I dig the song still, but the previous two songs were so different and exuberant, I just wanted it to go on. Don’t get me wrong though, this song isn’t bad at all, maybe if it were placed in a different position so it wasn’t such a jarring transition, at least for me. The message doesn’t relent even if the method does. This is still a great song.

4. I Come Prepared
Featuring Damian Marley; Produced by K’naan
Fantastic! We are granted a return to the international influence. When I first listened to the album, I thought he had a little of Damian Marley’s cadence and after doing some research, there’s a reason for that; he toured with Damian for Welcome To Jamrock. This song does have a reggae backsplash to it and its message and chant is kind of “daddy” Marley-esque.

5. Bang Bang
Featuring Adam Levine; Produced by K’naan
I’m sorry, someone put some Rock n Roll/Pop on my K’naan CD…but….I ain’t complaining. This is another fun adventure in frenetic expression. Adam does his blending best as his vocals always seem to lend that extra punch to any track he’s on. Don’t let the title fool you though, this is a love song…at least a lust song. Also, any Hip-Hop head has GOTTA love the lyrical shout outs to some of our favorite jams.

6. If Rap Get’s Jealous
Featuring Kirk Hammett (of Metallica); Produced by K’naan
This is my favorite song on the album. “ABC’s” is really close, but musically, this track is insane. Hammett offers up one insane riff to structure the song around. “Where I’m from they will pull your card missa / you ain’t hard missa / I was initiated into manhood at 13 and it wasn’t a bar mitzvah / I break a bottle on ya’ like a bad bartenda’ / let my star ven’cha (venture) out / I got war in me so let me vent it out”. K’naan perfectly crafts his lyrics to go with this track and just as he says “…let me vent it out…” the guitar-licked chorus comes in. I can’t express how dope this song is. The chorus alone is a 400 ft. middle finger to anyone who wants to be overcritical of someone who is different, especially when you couldn’t walk a step in their shoes. “And if rap gets jealous because I rock heavy / It don’t worry me if muh’fuckas don’t get’ it“. I think this is going to be my theme song for 09. Celebrate individuality!

7. Wavin’ Flag
Produced by K’naan
I first heard this one during his run on MTV. The little drummer boy percussion is used to purposely dress this song as an anthem. This is one of the more calm and sensible tracks on the album, and understandably so. We are treated to a song that sings a familiar song for the desire of freedom. In many respects, like the rest of this album, this song is very spiritual and I really relate and appreciate the sentiment.

8. Somalia
Produced by K’naan
This is the only track that I’m not really in love with. It doesn’t matter where this track is, it just doesn’t do much for me. Lyrically, the song is another great one, but it falls short to me because of track and feeling the track lends to the song.

9. America
Featuring Mos Def & Chali 2NA; Produced by K’naan
Then there are tracks like this one where it sounds quite simple and repetitive, but it works. I can’t explain this track, but it works. Now when I read that it was Mos Def and Chali 2NA (Jurassic 5) on a song, I was curious. Hearing them all ride this playful beat is too fun. As cliché as it is to hear someone flow in another language when they speak more than one, K’naan seems to add validity and truth to it, especially considering that the other language is his FIRST and he only spit a few bars in Somali.

10. Fatima
Produced by K’naan
Everything is not politics and revolution, love is also human. This is about lost love, something we’re all familiar with if we’re lucky right? It’s better to have loved and lost than to never love at all. Anyway, the track is a great backdrop to this love story painted to look whimsical and easy, but the feelings and emotions are real. On the surface, it’s about a person, but in context with the rest of the album, this could easily be about a litany of other things lost that we hold dear.

11. Fire In Freetown
Produced by K’naan
We have the innate ability to compare something/someone to something/someone else that has some slight similarities, and I am human so I am no exception to that. What I’m getting at is that this song reminds me of Bob Marley. It has a little reggae influence, but the style of the song itself, the treatment and story-telling is very reminiscent of Marley. The majority of the album was recorded at Tuff Gong studios in Kingston so maybe that comparison or resemblance is spiritual.

12. Take A Minute
Produced by K’naan
This is another song that is far too deep for me to try and talk about in a few lines. When a man comes out and mentions Mandela and Ghandi in the first few bars, he’s got a message in his head and heart that needs to be heard. I’ll stop there so you can take a minute and listen to this.

13. 15 Minutes Away
Produced by K’naan
So, the song kicks off with K’naan expressing that the song is “for anyone that’s ever had to wait on a money transfer.” Now, when you listen to the album, he speaks of Western Union money transfers quite a bit…but a song about it, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know how to read this song, if he’s being serious because of his struggles (and the numerous mentions on the album) or if this is his humor or satirical look at his own situation. Either way, it doesn’t matter too much to me; I’m just not feelin’ this one. It’s not skip worthy because it’s not bad, but it’s not for me.

14. People Like Me
Produced by K’naan
I’d read from a few reviews that this song makes folks compare K’naan to Eminem. There are some “Stan” type similarities in the delivery and tone of this song, but that’s about it. This song is a very introspective look at feeling alone and sometimes hopeless. The different stories told here give you all of the emotions of the struggle with 100% less posturing and gangster idolization.

Bottom Line:
Some debate if this album is Hip-Hop, I don’t know where that debate comes from. Hip-Hop is not a sound; it’s a culture and experience. If this isn’t Hip-Hop, there is no definition. The story of struggle is universal, a hood is a hood, but like our star says, they’ve been trying to kill him since he was 2 feet tall. Growing up in a REAL war is something that a lot of our rappers try and portray but something that K’naan lived. This is album WILL be nominated for a Grammy next year and is my very early candidate for Album of the Year. I thoroughly enjoyed this album and look forward to more music from K’naan in the future and don’t be surprised if this rating slowly creeps up to near 5 star status as time goes on.


Download: K’naan feat. Kirk Hammett – “If Rap Gets Jealous”