Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

K'naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher [iM Culture, 2008]
Hip-hop is the most vital musical genre on the planet and Afropop has a glorious history. But African hip-hop is uneven, awkwardly derivative, hard to hear from the outside. So this Somalia-born Canadian is some kind of miracle worker. After rapping phonetically to CDs mailed to Mogadishu by his father, a Third World intellectual turned immigrant cabdriver, K'naan learned English from scratch when he finally escaped Mogadishu himself, and his skills are gigantic. What accent he has is subsumed in his high, sharp, unexpectedly comedic flow. He embellishes his simple beats with deft choruses and tunelets, and his African effects are savvy and unforced. The album opens with water music I'd tag as Mbuti, meaning forest-derived, although Somalia is desert--a sound I've always believed rappers should sample for the delight of it, and that he makes signify. Before you assume the guy is kinda soft, imagine the war-zone childhood described in "What's Hardcore?" He thinks you're soft, and will take you down if you get in his way. A