At age 9, K'NAAN was doing what most American kids were doing. He was hanging out on his neighborhood street corner, MC'ing for his friends, dropping Nas and Rakim verses, dreaming of a day when he would posses the lyrical skills and the rhythmic flow of his hip hop hero's.
However, K'NAAN was very different from those American kids. In fact, he wasn't even an American at all, but African. He wasn't on the streets of New York or Detroit, but on the dusty streets of Mogadishu Somali. Although he was rapping verses from Nas and Rakim and all the other great American MC's, he could not speak English.
As hip-hop passes the quarter century mark, it has evolved in ways no one could have imagined. It has gone from under-ground to mainstream, from black to multi- racial, from American to international. It has reached the very furthest corners of the world and planted its seeds in the souls of kids from every country. K'NAAN is a child of that generation, the first generation of true hip-hop children who have grown out of a very foreign soil.
K'NAAN brings an enormous dose of realness and urgency to the hip-hop world in a time when people are desperate for it. From a personal and cultural history rooted in poetry, K'NAAN widens the traditional hip hop perspective from 9mm and eagle 440's to AK's and rocket propelled grenades.
"Where I'm from there are no police or fire fighters, we start riot's by burning car tires," K'NAAN raps on "What's Hardcore."
At 13, he left Somalia on what turned out to be the very last commercial flight to ever do so. K'NAAN carried with him a very strong sense of purpose. It is this sense of purpose, as well as his amazing lyrical gift, which has made him a beacon for other artists and those dedicated to global change.
In 2001 after gaining notoriety as a skilled mc and spoken word poet, K'NAAN was invited to Geneva to perform a spoken word piece at the 2001 50th anniversary of the UN Commission for Refugee's. In front of some of the biggest suits in the world, K'NAAN brought the house down with his politically charged poem. "I basically called out the UN for its failed relief mission in Somalia," he explains.
The audience was so moved by the piece that they gave him a standing ovation. African superstar Youssou N'Dour loved the performance so much that he invited K'NAAN to Senegal to record with him.
In 2002, K'NAAN caught the attention of artist/producer Jarvis Church, while recording a verse for "Keep the Beat," a War Child benefit track. From there began a creative partnership that would lead to the creation of K'NAAN's first full length album The Dusty Foot Philosopher.
K'NAAN creates urgent "music with a message" because his whole existence depends on it. "Soobax" is percussion-fuelled protest music at its finest. "It's more than a song, it's something people raise arms for," explains K'NAAN. "The term Soobax actually means to 'come out' so when I recorded that in the studio, I imagined myself being in front of gun men, and I'm communicating directly to them."
The subtext to this video is what drives him. "One of those homeless kids in the video that was dancing actually hid his machete in his coat pocket when he heard my music," K'NAAN said. "That's why my long term goal is to use whatever fame I get to help change the situation in my region...not to own a clothing line like some of my rap peers."
Click here to search songs by K'NAAN