Sunday, December 2, 2012

Country, God or the Girl

by K'Naan

Sometimes it's tough to watch a favourite artist grow in a direction you don't agree with.  I'm not one of those people who complains about artists 'selling out', or falling off when they make a conscious decision to craft an album that appeals more to a different demographic than me, but that said, I kind of wish K'Naan had gone in another direction with this, his third full-length studio album.

Dusty Foot Philosopher, his first album, was a revelation.  K'Naan spoke plainly about his upbringing in Somalia, and hinted at his troubles in moving to the West.  He confronted many of the West's views of his country and culture, and revealed the poetic and artistic nature of his people.  His lyrics were often beautiful and still unsentimental.  There was a street-level urgency to his thoughts, and he showed he could rap hard when he wanted to.

Troubadour, his second album, continued in this vein, with songs which had him rapping in Somali, and which sampled heavily from artists like Mulatu Astatke.  This album also embraced the mainstream in a much more calculated way, culminating with 'Wavin' Flag', his most famous piece of music.

Now, with Country God Or the Girl, K'Naan has stripped his music of African influences, preferring to rap or sing over some very radio-friendly, anonymous beats.  He's also continued to court the mainstream with guest appearances by artists like Nelly Furtado, Nas, Bono, Keith Richards and  I feel like this disc has been carefully curated to appeal to the CBC-listening middle-aged middle class, who will find it slightly subversive.  You know, the people whose only other rap album is by the Black Eyed Peas.

That's not entirely fair though, because K'Naan can still deliver some strong, exciting verses, and can gift us with some truly lovely songs.  The best tracks on this album are the ones that he appears on alone, such as 'Gold in Timbuktu', 'Hurt Me Tomorrow', and 'More Beautiful Than Silence'.  I miss his more individualistic voice, and his strong stance on many issues.

This is not a bad album, and I enjoy listening to it, but no single track stands up next to songs like 'Soobax', 'Fatima', 'Somalia', or 'Blues for the Horn'.

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