Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

K'naan: Troubadour [A&M, 2009]
What makes K'naan's hip-hop Somalian is less the authenticating stories he tells than the atmospheric samples he claims--after a snatch of Marley ska, the borrowed stuff is all Buda Musique swing from up Addis Ababa way. But lest you think him a do-gooders' rehab project like Emmanuel Jal or Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, be hereby informed that when this ambitious and optimistic fellow talks "song hook," he knows whereof he speaks--just as he does when he rhymes in the English he learned as a teenager, though I hope he outgrows "Somalia"'s -ation rhymes. Chubb Rock and Mos Def cameos are about it for his hip-hop cred, but Damian Marley-Adam Levine-Kirk Hammett is a pretty good pass at pop cred. Not that they guarantee sales. But after what K'naan has been through, bless him for trying--the ebullience he extracts from a life much tougher than North Americans can know is worthy of soukous, mbaqanga, the highlife of Ghana's most punishing inflationary spiral. Spiritually Afropop, rhythmically Ameripop--instead of hip-hop, maybe we should call it rap. He likes the word fine himself. A-