Saturday, September 22, 2007

K'NAAN - Dusty Foot On the Road (Wrasse)

It takes a special talent (or a lot of hype!) to be honoured at the Awards for World Music before even having an official UK album release, but that's exactly what happened to best newcomer K'Naan this year. The evidence for that success is laid out on this live album recorded in various locations in North America, Africa and Europe, as the Somalian refugee rapper took his studio album The Dusty Foot Philosopher on the road in stripped down form (mostly just acoustic guitar and minimal percussion backing), utilising his considerable on-stage energy and charm to give a rootsier, more gritty edge to the songs.
This being a live album (with the attendant loss of subtlety), the highlights are songs that rely more on rhythm than melody, such as Afro-centric openers Wash it Down and The African Way, new song By the End of the Day and the lightning-fast, funky Soobalax. K'Naan's voice is raw, deeper than the unconvincing Eminem impersonation that blights much of Philosopher (where there was far too much Slim Shady from the slim Somali) and the songs crackle and fizz with the vigour of a man compelled to tell the story of his trouble-and-grief-stricken time in Mogadishu. And tell it he does, with humour and defiance - the key line from his most cathartic song Smile, “never let them see you down/smile while you're bleeding”, something of a personal credo - his acerbic wit at its most cutting when contrasting his experience of real-world violence with the macho posturing of mainstream hip-hop artists like 50 Cent.
Despite that, a recent song posted on K'Naan's website seems to indicate that the Toronto-based rapper is keen to embrace mainstream hip-hop, and indeed US hip-hop star Mos Def is a guest on The Dusty Foot on the Road. This release, then, might well be a coda to K'Naan's period of dusty foot, how-I-got-here philosophy. Which would be a pity, because surely there's plenty more mileage in this roots-based rap from this most singular of talents.

This review first appeared in fRoots magazine

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