Originally from Mogadishu – the 13-year-old K’Naan escaped Somalia’s civil war for the relative safety of North America – it could be said that this exceptional musician is no stranger to extreme violence. So what happens when the young man meets rap music? An explosion of lyrical talent and a beat-driven music unique in its timbre.
The Dusty Foot on the Road has no room for the screeds of cartoon carnage that splatter so much hip-hop. As he says in ‘What’s Hardcore?’ – ‘If I rhymed about home and got descriptive, it would make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit’. This is a rap album straight out of Africa.
Recorded live mainly in London and New York, this is as good an introduction to K’Naan’s modus as last year’s studio album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher. In fact it’s probably better. Songs such as ‘In the Beginning’, with its compelling acoustic guitar accompaniment, or ‘Until the Lion Learns To Speak’, where speech rhythms get a hand-drum boost, are written for direct performance. On ‘Soobax’, with scything guitars and ululating women, the excitement is palpable. Singing and chanting primarily in English, K’Naan has a wonderful dexterity with language. No theme is outside his orbit: war, the puerile braggadocio of much rap and, simply, the desire for a peaceful life.
The Dusty Foot is one of those rare albums that transcends its musical format. This is much more than hip-hop. It’s a collection of songs – some reflective, others impassioned – that have the poetry and vision of a Ben Harper or Tracy Chapman, and it deserves the broadest hearing.