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HIP-HOP

New sounds from diverse influences

(Michael Nagle/ Reuters)
March 2, 2009
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K'Naan

Troubadour

A&M/ Octone

ESSENTIAL "If Rap Gets Jealous"

K'Naan's work is categorized as hip-hop, but judging from the sad state of the genre (heard the new Eminem?), that would be selling him short. "Troubadour," the Somali-born artist's follow-up to his great debut, is a smart fusion of influences.

While hip-hop is relying on the same beats, subjects, and silly swagger, K'Naan is seeking something more diverse and more humane. There's a taste of folk in a lot of the songs, which you'd expect from a sharp storyteller with a sense of narrative, detail, and humor. His rhymes are taut, and the self-proclaimed "visual stenographer" sees the cost of war and what has happened to the underprivileged in a world of overconsumption and greed.

Particularly engaging is his musical dynamic, which fuses world music, pop ("Bang Bang"), and rock on the irresistible "If Rap Gets Jealous," featuring a blazing coda by Metallica's Kirk Hammett. K'Naan's quirky vocal stylings - he's got a thin voice and relies on a dextrous flow with tricky rhymes - are not immediately accessible, but that's part of the appeal.

You haven't heard this before. The guests, including the superfluous Mos Def and Chubb Rock, are just sops to get some commercial cred. It's the music that gets your attention - a lesson hip-hop has lost. (Out now) - KEN CAPOBIANCO

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