K’Naan: Troubadour

Talk about an album arriving at the right time: Troubadour’s leadoff single, “If Rap Gets Jealous,” has used a stomping beat, a Kirk Hammett cameo, and K’Naan’s wicked flow to create an iTunes phenomenon – just a few months after Kanye dipped his toe into synth-pop with 808s and Heartbreak, and a few weeks after Lil Wayne announced his Rebirth as a rock artist. But Troubadour really isn’t about trendy hybrids and gimmicky cameos, despite what the presence of the loathsome Adam Levine on “Bang Bang” would lead you to believe; it’s really a thrillingly eclectic, smartly arranged, finely layered collection of socially aware hip-hop whose influences are as diverse as its guest stars (Chubb Rock, Mos Def, and Chali 2na also make appearances). The songs are undeniably informed by K’Naan’s uncommonly peripatetic existence – he was raised in Somalia, fled to New York with his family, and is now based in Toronto – but his messages are as universal as they are uplifting, particularly on tracks like the Lennon-jacking “Dreamer” and brilliant “Wavin’ Flag.” Our current fascination with all things pan-cultural (M.I.A., “Slumdog Millionaire”) will surely fade in time – and it’s already brought us some horrible crap (the Pussycat Dolls’ cover of “Jai Ho”) – but any trend that boosts the fortunes of an artist this talented is one worth being thankful for. In what’s shaping up to be a renaissance year for hip-hop, Troubadour will likely go down as one of the genre’s best releases. (A&M/Octone 2009)

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