Somalian rapper turns personal struggles into rhyme

Fri Mar 6, 2009 8:39pm EST
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By Mariel Concepcion

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Some rappers rhyme about their hard-knock lives to get street cred. But for 31-year-old Somalian-born Kanaan Warsame, who performs as K'Naan, writing about his war-stricken childhood was therapeutic.

"I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and my mother decided not to put me on medication because we didn't trust Western medicine," says the MC, who was raised in Toronto. "So I spent a lot of time in my room alone, writing, focused on trying to get out internal issues I was dealing with, including having survived war, leaving my people behind, the discontent of having a new scenario and being a black African immigrant in North America, among other things."

These are just some of the topics K'Naan dealt with on his 2005 independent, Juno Award-winning album, "The Dusty Foot Philosopher."

He does so again on his sophomore set, the reggae/hip-hop/world music-inspired "Troubadour," which debuted February 24 on A&M/Octone, the label he signed to in 2007. The album bowed at No. 32 on the Billboard 200 for the week ended March 1 with 15,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Recorded at Bob Marley's Tuff Gong Studio after a personal invitation from his sons Damian and Stephen, the album features contributions from Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Damian Marley, Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Mos Def and Chali Zua.


Growing up in a musically inclined family -- his aunt, Magool, was a Somalian singer and his grandfather was a poet -- it's little surprise that K'Naan would use music to assist with his personal struggles. "There was always a playwright and poets around the house," he says. "There was also 'anti' music -- songs of hidden political criticisms and messages about the dictatorship and the war."

It was his family's discord with the Somalian government that prompted K'Naan's mother to petition the U.S. embassy for visas. In 1991, on the final day the embassy remained open, the visas were approved and they boarded the last commercial flight out of the country.   Continued...