To many hip-hop loving Canadians, Toronto rapper K’naan is already a household name. His brilliant 2006 debut The Dusty Foot Philosopher put the Somalia-born musician on the map and his star continues to rise. But south of the border, the buzz is just beginning.
“I played a sold-out show in L.A. recently and Matthew McConaughey and Tom Morello were there,” he said excitedly from a tour stop in Oakland. “I hung out backstage with Wood Harris from Wire! I don’t even know how these celebrities are hearing my music.”
It’s safe to assume that the Hollywood crowd heard about Kanaan Warsame from the countless profiles in places like Wired, Rolling Stone and the L.A. Times, but there’s also a good chance they got their hands on a copy of the artist’s stunning sophomore effort, Troubadour.
Recorded in Bob Marley’s Jamaican studio, the disc expands on the socially conscious sound that’s turned thousands of listeners on to K’naan. He once again mines his life — from war-torn Somalia to Toronto — for material, while pushing his musical boundaries even further.
Besides rap, he tackles rock and reggae, even enlisting Metallica’s Kirk Hammett on If Rap Gets Jealous for a guitar solo. “It was one of these ideas that I thought would never happen,” said K’naan, about Hammett’s involvement. “But he loved the song. He did like seventeen guitar solos that we had to sift through and they were all great.”
The diverse musical direction is definitely one of K’naan’s selling points, but his passionate, and sometimes hard-to-stomach, lyrics are what really drives his music. One especially gripping track is Fatima about the death of a girl K’naan knew in his hometown.
“She was the most beautiful girl in my neighbourhood,” he said. “Her young life was taken (during the war) and that’s never going to leave you. I had to have some space from it for years before I could do anything about that experience, but I thought it was a gift for people to hear that song about her.”
It’s stories like these that explain why the international spotlight is shining bright on K’naan. But for many, rap revolves around the hardships in African-American ghettos, not war-ravaged Africa. So how does the Dusty Foot Philosopher expect his version of street life to be taken?
“I don’t expect people to understand this,” he said. “But there’s a difference between feeling and understanding it. Music is so universal that the North Americans will feel the circumstances and get it in that way, even if they don’t really understand where it’s coming from.”
K’naan plays Toronto’s Mod Club Theatre tonight.