Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ACL Explains it All: K'Naan

June 29, 2009

I came at music from a pop-punk background. I got Relient K’s Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek when I was thirteen, and it turned me into a music fiend. From there I worked my way through emo and hardcore, back to indie-rock, through indie-pop and power-pop, through folk and acoustic pop, up towards alt-country. I mostly camp in the pop/folk/acoustic/alt-country/indie-pop area now, having left the harder stuff (mostly) behind in my casual listening. I still know enough about the scenes to review them pretty well (except for the hardest stuff), but in my spare time, I’m more likely to rock Mountain Goats or Novi Split than As I Lay Dying or MeWithoutYou.

My last post was about Hot Country, which I am ever-so-slightly dabbling my toes in. The other major genre not addressed above is rap; and I hadn’t found many good rappers that I liked, although I am open to good rap (at least, much more open than to Hot Country).

Then, K’Naan happened. K’naan knows his way around a pop hook better than loads of indie-pop bands I’ve heard. His beats are arresting, and his African influences in his music make his music simply irresistible. That’s even before he says a single word. His voice is pleasing, and his lyrics are pretty freaking stunning. He rhymes with words that I rarely even use (Kandahar, Desert Eagle, Destitute, Tenfold, etc). And he makes it all sound SO GOOD.

I may be freakin’ out over nothing; after all, I just admitted that I have little experience with real rap (you know, the type of rappers who aren’t excited because they’re on a boat). But this stuff makes me actually want to listen. I want to hear what he has to say; I suppose that’s the point of most rappers, but along the way, the message got lost.

And he has a message, for sure; he’s from Somalia, where there’s crazy violence going on. His songs address the violence in Somalia in almost all his songs, but without sounding like preaching. He flows seamlessly between topics without leaving the listener cheated.

In short, K’Naan is probably the best rapper I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if this is noobish tomfoolery, but for real. I’m going to be yelling “hey” with the rest of them at his ACL set. And maybe I’ll go listen to Chubb Rock, who guested on “ABCs”; maybe I’ll learn this rap thing yet.

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Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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