Thursday, February 5, 2009


There are people with personal stories so compelling that they immediately command your attention. Occasionally, this intersects with some talent or charisma and they stand out in a way that is hard to describe. One obvious example is Barack Obama, who’s autobiography Dream's from my Father would be worth reading even if the boy in the story didn't go on to become president.

Another is K'naan. Born in Somalia, he grew up during the Somali civil war in one of Mogadishu’s worst neighborhoods – the “lake of blood” district. He learned to speak English by reciting the words of American hip-hop albums phonetically. During the peak of the civil war, he and his family were able to escape to New York and then to the Somali community in Toronto.

Like a less cryptic Saul Williams, K’naan’s rhymes often bridge the poetry/hip-hop divide, yet he does it in a way that you can listen to the music as just hip-hop, rather than “music with a message.” As a pop cultural figure, it’s hard to imagine someone more authentic and positive. I love to think of how pampered pseudo-gangsters react to K’naan.

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