At age 9, K'naan was doing what most American kids were doing. He was hanging out on his neighborhood street corner, MC'ing for his friends, dropping Nas and Rakim verses, dreaming of a day when he would posses the lyrical skills and the rhythmic flow of his Hip Hop heroes.
K'naan, however was very different from those American kids. In fact, he wasn't even an American kid at all, he was an African; and he wasn't on the streets of New York or Los Angeles or Detroit, he was on the other side of the world on the dusty streets of Mogadishu Somali. And although he was rappin' verses from Nas and Rakim and all the other great American MCs with an almost eerie attention to detail and pronunciation, he could not speak English.
As hip-hop passes the quarter century mark, it has evolved in ways no one could have imagined. It has gone from underground to mainstream, from black to multi- racial, from American to international. It has reached the very furthest corners of the world and planted its seeds in the souls of kids from every country. K'naan is a child of that generation, the first generation of true hip-hop children who have grown out of a very foreign soil.
With his unique voice but still truly authentic style, K'naan brings an enormous dose of realness and urgency to the hip-hop world in a time when people are desperate for it. From a personal and cultural history rooted in poetry (being the grandson of one of Somalia's most famous poets), K'naan widens the traditional hip hop perspective, from ghetto's to slums, from drug dealers to war lords, from 9mm and eagle 440's to AK's and rocket propelled grenades. "Where I'm from there are no police or fire fighters, we start riots by burning car tires." from K'naan's song entitled "What's Hardcore".
Leaving Somalia at the age of thirteen on what turned out to be the very last commercial flight to ever do so, amidst a crumbling society and the end to this day of any form of central government, K'naan carried with him a very strong sense of purpose. It is this sense of purpose as well as his amazing lyrical gift, which has made him a beacon for other artists as well as those dedicated to global change.
In 2001 after gaining notoriety as a skilled mc and spoken word poet, K'naan was invited to Geneva to perform a spoken word piece at the 2001 50th anniversary of the UN Commission for Refugee's. In front of some of the biggest suits in the world, K'naan brought the house down with his politically charged poem, K'naan explains, "I basically called out the UN for its failed relief mission in Somalia" The audience was so moved by the piece that they gave K'naan a standing ovation and African superstar Youssou N'Dour who was also in attendance loved the performance so much that he invited K'naan to Senegal to record with him.
Similarly, in Toronto in 2002 while recording a verse for a War Child benefit track entitled "Keep the Beat" K'naan's unique flow caught the attention of artist/producer Jarvis Church, one half of the Grammy award winning production team Track and Field (Nelly Furtado). From there began a creative partnership that would lead to the creation of K'naan's' first full length album "The Dusty Foot Philosopher."
K'naan creates urgent "music with a message" because his whole existence depends on it. "Soobax" produced by Track n Field is percussion-fuelled protest music at its finest. It's more than a song, it's something people raise arms for," explains K'naan. "The term Soobax actually means to 'come out' so when I recorded that in the studio, I imagined myself being in front of gun men, and I'm communicating directly to them". He adds: "Sixty-year-old women in Canada jam to that song because it's saying things they couldn't say. When my brother heard the song he said that it's the first song he'd heard of mine that could get me killed."
"Hardcore", is a truthful reflection, a comparison track for those MCs who believe that they, their circumstances or themselves to be Hardcore. "Strugglin" is tracks for those who struggle and find themselves pushed to the brink yet at that point transform that struggle into power and the ability to overcome. The African Way" utilizes superb backing music supplied from a group of nomadic musicians K'naan ran into and recorded in a restaurant in Mombassa, Kenya. "Wash It Down" is another must-hear track made entirely out of the sounds of crashing water, done by the "forces of nature". All in all, the LP is a break out from the braggadocio world of Hip Hop.
"One of those homeless kids in the video that was dancing actually hid his machete in his coat pocket when he heard my music. He then started to dance and put his machete away under the tree. That's why my long term goal is to use whatever fame I get to help change the situation in my region...not to own a clothing line like some of my rap peers".
By most accounts, The Dusty Foot Philosopher is well on his way.