Underground Rapper of the Week: K’naan

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

K’naan is much more successful and well-known than most of the underground rappers profiled in this column, but still, in this writer’s opinion, not nearly successful and well-known enough. Based on the definition of “underground” stated above, therefore, K’naan definitely fits the bill. In a perfect world, this guy would be Top 40, while cats like Waka Flocka Flame would be completely unknown.

Born in Somalia, K’naan spent his pre-teen years surviving the Somali Civil War and other hardships in Mogadishu, one of the most dangerous and violent places on earth. When he was 13, his family fled the war-torn region and joined relatives in New York City, before moving to Canada, where K’naan learned English, partly by listening to Hip-Hop records. His birth name, Keinan, means “traveler” in the Somali language, and his life and music reflect that. His breakthrough album, 2005’s The Dusty Foot Philosopher, is a beautiful mix of varied influences, as well as K’naan’s own original style and voice. The album blends world music rhythms with hardcore, conscious Hip-Hop for a sound that works equally well in the dance club or in the headphones, whether you want to move your ass to it or carefully dissect its sharp, thoughtful lyricism.

Tracks like “Soobax” and “In the Beginning” showcase this versatility, with a rhythm that makes it almost impossible not to move coupled with lyrics that make you think, while other songs like “What’s Hardcore?” and the album’s title track bring that raw, conscious Hip-Hop lyricism right to your front door. On “What’s Hardcore?” he sums up his experience growing up in Mogadishu with lines like “Life is cheap here, but wisdom is free,” and “If I rhymed about home and got descriptive / I’d make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit.” Despite avoiding gangsta rap cliches in favor of empirical realism, K’naan is not above some good old-fashioned battle rhymes, as evidenced on “The Dusty Foot Philosopher,” where he spits lines like “My mind is like your life, straight up, ’cause it’s made up” and “I’m not gonna sit here and whine like crushed grapes / My mind leaves you speechless like duct tape.”

K’naan’s follow-up album, 2009’s Troubadour, helped to bring his music to a wider audience with guest spots from high-profile artists like Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Mos Def and Chali 2Na, as well as the legendary Chubb Rock on “ABCs,” one of the album’s best songs. This album has a more polished, mainstream-friendly sound without sacrificing the traditional rhythms and conscious, philosophical lyricism that made K’naan great on his earlier works. With his latest EP, More Beautiful Than Silence, featuring guest spots from Nas and Nelly Furtado, K’naan continues to blow up, and few rappers alive deserve it more than he does. If you’ve been sleeping on K’naan, take a minute to listen to this immensely talented and hard-working artist.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Heyliger’s picks

I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I’m one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here’s a list of the 20 best albums I’ve heard in 2010.

1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye’s childish tirades infuriate me, I’ll be damned if his music doesn’t always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I’ll forgive ‘Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.

2. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I’m New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron’s voice, but much like Bob Dylan’s most recent work, age has given the artist’s voice additional resonance.

3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That’s definitely the case with the Black Keys’ Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn’t (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.

4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon…

5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
“Fuck You” (or “Forget You,” if you’re easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what’s more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.


Read the rest after the jump...

SXSW Music 2010, Day 1: It Begins

The music world converged on Austin, Texas today for what is generally viewed as the biggest, bestest music industry event in the world. The thing that makes SXSW so unique is that you not only know you’re going to see some great bands you’ve had your eye on, but you’re also going to discover some great new bands. There are so many playing all over town all day for four straight days, so you can’t help but just stumble upon some cool new sounds.

This was the case early on when the line to try and see Broken Bells’ 1:00pm Red River garage show was too long to get in. I wandered over to the Mohawk up the street and there was a band throwing down a strong sound with some Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibes, and some of that My Morning Jacket kind of vibe. It was Yukon Blonde from Vancouver BC. Good stuff.

The line at the Forcefield PR/Terrorbird Media day party at Red 7 was also way too long, so again I wandered up the street and heard some Beatles coming out of Jaime’s Spanish Village, a Mexican restaurant across the street from Stubbs BBQ. It has a small patio where The Eggmen where dishing out the Beatles tunes, which sounded great on a warm sunny afternoon. It was a rotating lineup, with seven musicians up there for great readings of “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Fixing a Hole,” “From Me to You” and “All You Need is Love.”

I waited in a crazy 45-minute line to get into the Levis/Fader Fort, because I wanted to see Philadelphia band Free Energy. The band’s studio stuff sounds amazing, but it was too bad they didn’t seem able to match it live. They have great gear, great looks and a great name, but something in the musicianship seemed lacking. Maybe I’ll give them another shot on Friday. The venue was pimped out though, dubbed by one fan as “a funhouse for hipsters.”

Walking past the Independent up the street, I heard the call of a bluesy sound, the Maldives from Seattle were rocking out, also with a Crazy Horse vibe, and maybe some Ryan Adams & the Cardinals influence. The Canadian Blast tent outside by the registrants lounge closed out with Plants and Animals, who blended reverb-y vocals with a cool groove to close their set. Austin’s own Strange Boys packed Emo’s Jr for an 8:00 set of their retro ’60s-style garage rock. There were moments, but I don’t think it was really my thing.

Jonneine Zapata out of Los Angeles caught my attention first with her name and then with her powerful voice at the Red Eyed Fly. This is a great little venue with nice outdoor stage where Zapata and her band rocked the stage with a powerful bluesy sound that recalled Concrete Blonde.

Here We Go Magic packed Club Deville for a 9:00 set. The sound was excellent although the songs kept seeming like they were building up to something that never came. They were doing something right though, as the indie rock crowd seemed to dig it.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tore up the stage at Stubbs BBQ, with the great band throwing down ’60s and ’70s-influenced funk behind the soul queen. This was the first major highlight of the day.

I caught up with Broken Bells when they followed Jones at Stubbs and James Mercer of The Shins led the band through a collection of tunes that sounded pretty Shins-y, with maybe more synth and less guitar. But when they added some more guitar toward the end, it was even better.

I bailed waiting for Spoon at Stubbs to go back to Emos main for Nas & Damian Marley. Mixing the hip-hop with the reggae was a slamming formula for the really packed crowd, who loved every minute. This is the new duo to watch out for in 2010, what a great set! It was all too brief though, leaving me able to catch the end of Spoon’s set. These guys confuse me. They play three songs in a row that are kind of blah, and then just when you’re about ready to give up on them they throw down a great rocker. Then they play two or three more blah, than some dope groove. Strange formula.

Compared to last year, this first day was so-so at first, picking up toward the end. Things looked primed to pick up tomorrow though, stay tuned…

  

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