His name means the traveller and K’naan definitely lives up to that definition.
And after successfully working his debut album “The Dusty Foot Philosopher” in Canada for the past three years, K’naan now has the United States on his radar.
With a Juno Award (Canada’s top music prize) to his credit, K’naan’s album is finally getting a proper U.S. release, having recently signed to A&M Records, a label that falls under the Universal umbrella and is home to artists like Maroon 5 and Black Eyed Peas.
“It’s not been heard in the U.S. at all really,” K’naan tells andPOP, taking a break from recording in Los Angeles. “I’m starting a new chapter of releasing music out here in the U.S. In Canada it was released, and in a lot of other parts of the world, it hadn’t been released, so I think it’s a very nice reflection of what I do.”
The album was produced by Track & Field, the team behind Nelly Furtado’s first album. It won the 2006 Juno Award for Best Rap Recording, beating out Kardinal Offishall and Eternia.
Born in Somalia, K’naan moved to Canada after a brief stopover in Harlem at the age of 13. The rapper has been traveling with his music ever since. Three months ago, his music led him to Jamaica to cut tracks for the album (the re-release will include some bonus tracks).
Not just anywhere in Jamaica, mind you. K’naan was invited to stay and record at Bob Marley’s house. As Marley’s son Stephen handed over the keys to K’naan and his team, the rapper knew that it was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It was like you would expect. It was stereotypically magical,” K’naan says.
“Whatever you thought Bob Marley’s house was going to be, it’s like that. It’s amazing. For three months, we recorded, and sat on the steps where we wrote songs, and recorded in his mic booth.”
K’naan is more than just a rapper. Many who have listened to his music say there is a lot of political undertones in his music, another reason why the rapper feels it’s time for the United States to hear it. But K’naan points out that including political rhymes isn’t something he does consciously.
He does not weave in political messages because of his childhood experiences in war-torn Somalia, or because of his surroundings while growing up in the Toronto suburb of Rexdale. He doesn’t choose to infuse the political; the political infuses itself.
“It’s not me,” he says. “It’s like, politics brings itself into your life, and my life. A lot of people have stakes in things. Even in American politics, people are watching TV and looking to what Hillary said and what Obama said. It’s like that whole world infuses itself when times are critical in people’s lives.
“So mine had just been a little longer that way, from where I come from, to where I’m at, from the perspectives that we have. It’s not something I invite; it’s just what is there.”
The rapper acknowledges that one of the reasons people may be hearing political messages in his songs more today than a decade ago is because of the state of the world post-9/11 and five years after the war in Iraq began.
“I think people are not only more aware. I think they are now more connected to it. They now realize the implications on their daily lives. I don’t think there’s been a time like this since Vietnam and for that reason, people are becoming aware of it and politicizing it and so on,” he explains.
“For me, I think if you’re honest about the times you’re living in, you can’t help but understand the way things are.”
K’naan plans to play festivals and smaller shows this summer throughout the United States and Canada. “The Dusty Foot Philosopher” is scheduled from release in the U.S. on June 24.