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An old white lady's take on K'naan's work
on May 21, 2009
I try to be hip, but it's a little hard for an "old white lady" to be truly hip. I got Troubadour, I confess, because this hippie chick always liked reggae and I wanted to see how the musical elements were blended. My experience with Hip Hop is largely what I've heard blaring too loudly out of cars I'm stuck beside in traffic--that and the Sarah Palin SNL "mother-lovin' moose" skit--but those eyes rolling at me when I hurriedly roll up my window plus the knowledge that Hip Hop is sweeping the world in popularity made me want to educate myself so I'd be a little less square. (Well, that's the word we used to use for it. I have no idea what the same thing is in the current hip vernacular!)
I have to say that I liked this CD more than I thought I would. First off, I was pleasantly surprised at how well K'naan enunciates his words. One of things I've disliked so much about rap lyrics is that I often cannot make out much more than the four-letter words; then what comes across is a bunch of anger and ugliness without much in the way of content to enlighten me and draw me in. This compilation is different. I can understand what's being said, and what's being said is often meaningful--and more broadly so--than most of the rap I've been exposed to has seemed to me. K'naan is just as adept as some infamous rappers at using those four-letter words, but they are used to good effect--not solely for their shock value or as a coded badge of entry for members of a narrowly circumscribed, exclusive little club.
The way K'naan and his collaborators juxtapose rap rhythms with more traditional musical elements is appealing. When there is a spoken rap line, the elements backing it up are more melodic; when the vocals are sung (as on my favorite tracks), the beat is more rap-like. As for the non-rap elements, these I found most engaging. The African flavors are especially appealing, making me want to hear more. (That Paul Simon was so strongly criticized for trying to introduce African music to white Americans was an unfortunate musical setback at a time when a whole generation of Pop/Rock lovers was ready to open up to something new.)
I personally enjoy the subtleties of Troubadour more than the up-front "energetic" aspects of it, although I suspect most Hip Hop fans might feel quite the opposite. I quickly tire of rap--I know a lot of my unhip friends do as well--but when used judiciously as an accent embedded in a larger mosaic of fresh sound, I find it enlivening.
As it stands, Troubadour is not a CD I'd listen to in its entirety on a regular basis, but there are several tracks--the ones that made me get up and shake my booty in spite of myself--that I will definitely incorporate into my playlists. If K'naan can continue to evolve beyond "just rap" without betraying his roots, my sense is that he will be able to attract an audience far larger than the Hip Hop crowd.