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Friday, March 6, 2009

K'naan's hard rap hails from Somalia

Rappers love to boast about their hard backgrounds, at times padding their bios with pain that exists only in their minds.


The rapper known as K'naan needn't add any embellishments to his back story. And it's doubtful any rapper has come from a tougher place.

He grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia, a city that makes Baghdad look like Beverly Hills.

He writes about it with chilling detail, and some surprising humor, on his new CD, "Troubadour."

K'naan's verse speaks about things like having to run from a band of 13-year-old kids armed with AK-47s.

Such a group killed two of his friends when he was 14. By his later teens, K'naan made it out with his family, first arriving in New York before settling in Toronto.

A wide world of influences inform his music, from Afro-pop to Jamaican reggae to vintage New York hip-hop.

You can hear the clear influence of that genre in sounds that recall the first rap album K'naan ever had, Eric B and Rakim's classic "Paid in Full." In 2006, K'naan cut his first CD, "The Dusty Foot Philosopher."

It earned him instant attention, not only for his rare life story but for the force of the music.

His sound, which has only improved on "Troubadour," boasts highly danceable grooves as well as a rap flow as fluid and musical as a young Eminem.

The new album takes a few all-too-eager leaps into commerciality — like a duet with Maroon 5's odious Adam Levine and a leaden collaboration with Metallica's Kirk Hammett.

But everywhere else, K'naan's CD offers just the fresh point of view, and broadened perspective, that hip hop can use right now.

jfarber@nydailynews.com

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