K'NAAN: The Dusty Foot Philosopher

18 Jul 2005

Amid much anticipation and, dare I say it, rumours of our own Canadian version of MC beefs, the full-length debut album of Rexdale's adoptive son, K'naan, is now available. Sure enough, both the haters and the congratulators are out. In case you were too busy with the 50 cent beefs which ran the gamut from Ja Rule to The Game, you may have missed the feud in your own backyard. K'naan's opponent? None other than the current Canadian heavy-weight hip hop Champion, K-os. Apparently, K-os was annoyed by the openly Muslim K'naan's trip to Kenya to shoot his video for track #2 of his album, Soobax. The song is a rallying cry against the warlords which have ravaged his Somali homeland. This earned him the spot of villain perpetrator in K-os' popular hit B-Boy Stance in which he is accused of being one of those "religious entertainers who want to be life savers." Not one to be outdone, K'naan later characterized K-os as a "..Suburban negro turned hip-hop hero / Is there a reason he really hates me, though?"

As is always the case with such emcee feuds, real or fabricated, the fans have since jumped into the arena of online blogs. But to humorously reuse that infamous quote ... "can we all just get along?" The basic fact is, the battle, real or imagined, is unfortunate since both these artists bring a much-needed infusion of talent into the hip hop scene. In this era of bling, ice and krunk, they bring a refreshing realness. K'naan vibes are as eclectic as his past collaborations with the likes of Tricky, Zap Mama and Youssou N'Dour.

But, thankfully, the dusty foot philosopher didn't write a "dis" album. What we instead find, is a conscious and politically-charged album which rings true in its personal stance and introspection. In his liner notes, K'naan recounts a nearly fatal incident involving a live grenade which he and a couple of his school friends discovered in their classroom in Mogadishu, Somalia. While playing with the mysterious object, which initially looked like a potato, the grenade's pin slipped. Throwing it as fast and as far as he could, the destructive object lay to ruin much of the empty building. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Then only ten years old, K'naan (whose name means "the traveller" in Somalian) credits that event as the watershed moment which led him to become a writer.

Indeed, K'naan's homeland is never too far from his music throughout The Dusty Foot Philosopher. But the North American hip hop influence is definitely at the base of musical vibe. Like most kids in his neighbourhood, he grew up with this music. He listened to Nas, Rakim and other hip hop greats with the hope forging his own place in the sun. What he brings to the rap game is an understanding of the genuine meaning of struggle and overcoming adversity.

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