Through his skills as a lyricist, Kâ€™naan unflinchingly examines factors that influence our collectiveness by touching on politics, everyday life, culture, mass media and truth. A natural with words and melodic sounds, Kâ€™naan is the artist who unveiled himself and his music to Canada in 2005, devising his first LP entitled The Dusty Foot Philosopher. This album not only won him a Juno award for Best Rap Album, but also gave him the title of the artist creating â€œmusic with a message.â€ On June 24th the deluxe version of The Dusty Foot Philosopher will mark the first US release of the award-winning debut album from Kâ€™naan. The new version gives birth to three freshly mixed tracks, a bonus track featuring M-1 from dead prez, new artwork, and a bonus DVD. The DVD includes all the music videos from the album, a video introduction to Kâ€™naan, and an episode of 4Real TV on Kenya hosted by the man himself.
We recently chatted with Kâ€™naan to uncover his take on his re-mastered upcoming album, the unhealthy situation in his home country of Somalia, and his conception of music and himself.
â€œI’ve really just made music that tried to completely articulate my lifeâ€
Format: There havenâ€™t been any interviews published about you in almost a year, and you havenâ€™t updated your online journal (on your official website) in a while. What has been occupying your time?
Kâ€™Naan: Iâ€™ve been recording; Iâ€™ve been in Kingston, Jamaica, for three months recording. After my last tour, I just took a break from talking to anyone and anything like that so I can focus on my music.
Format: How did you know that being a conscious hip-hop artist was the outlet of communication that suited you best; why not become a straight poet?
Kâ€™Naan: I donâ€™t know, these are conscious efforts I donâ€™t think about. At some point I started to think in terms of melody. Words were like the same as writing like a poet writes, but I was still thinking of melody and something like the guitar sounds built up on its own. Itâ€™s natural, rather than me trying to have a certain career plan.
Format: How do you think you differ from other organic hip-hop artists?
Kâ€™Naan: I donâ€™t really compare myself to a lot of people who are making music. I guess we differ in a sense that we come from very different things: different experiences, different musical backgrounds, different outlooks. So I just do my thing. Iâ€™m not really influenced by any of the other artists out there.
Format: Which artists, in your opinion, speak to the world on multiple levels? Who do you think is striving to change the world through their words, or at least has the ability to get a throng of people to listen to their words.
Kâ€™Naan: I think artists have been doing this for a long time; I donâ€™t think there are any specific artists who I want to pinpoint. Really itâ€™s just about artists that are honest, artist that are just cool, cool, cool; artists who do their thing and love that they have something to contribute to the world, and they say things honestly and bring forth that sort of quality.
Format: Who do you respect as new talent hitting the scene?
Kâ€™Naan: A lot of people are creating great music that are coming out. Who I enjoy particularly in the genre of hip-hop, I like Lupe Fiasco a lot.
Format: What does the â€œart of hip-hopâ€ mean to you?
Kâ€™Naan: I donâ€™t know the meaning; I donâ€™t have ideas or facts in my head. I like good music and hip-hop just sometimes makes great â€œnewness.â€ It has great new stories to reveal, and because of that Iâ€™m not just attached to hip-hop.
Format: In terms of your upcoming deluxe version of The Dusty Foot Philosopher, why did you choose to re-release the original? Why not release a whole new album?
Kâ€™Naan: I am taking time out to work on a whole new album. I am re-releasing this one because a lot of people havenâ€™t heard it, and I have people continuously expressing that they need to hear it. Itâ€™s now going to be released in certain regions; it hasnâ€™t actually been released in the US, and now it will be. Itâ€™s an album that people should hear.
Format: In the re-release we can indulge in three newly mixed versions of the original tracks. Why mix only three?
Kâ€™Naan: Because the rest were fine in my mind. Itâ€™s because I developed a different idea about them, of how I feel about them. Using them for so long, the only way I could justify putting those songs out were to re-vocal them. To everyone else it may be good, but in my mind I needed to update them.
Format: There is a mention of new artwork in the album. What kind of artwork can we expect–actual footage from your travels?
Kâ€™Naan: The first album doesnâ€™t have a photo of me on it and this one does. A lot of people would meet me somewhere or be introduced to me and would say â€œKâ€™naan, youâ€™re the one who made The Dusty Foot Philosopher.â€ Well, they wouldnâ€™t have known if they had the album; people more so now are saying they have to know. I said â€œokay cool if they want to know, letâ€™s take the photo.â€
Format: Thereâ€™s finally a portrait behind the music.
Kâ€™Naan: Yeah, yeah, I donâ€™t know what thatâ€™s going to be worth [laughs].
Format: From the slew of people you have worked with, who vibes with you the most or who understands where youâ€™re coming from?
Kâ€™Naan: I vibe with them all greatly, but differently. It depends on the strong relationship/friendship I have with them. When weâ€™re making music together, itâ€™s really about people who like each other, sit around and talk and thatâ€™s how a song develops. Mos Def is very similar, weâ€™re very good friends and all, and it works. You canâ€™t favor anything more than the other. Every artist has some greatness to bring to the table.
Format: Transitioning to a more serious note: with all of the daily escalating violence in your home country of Somalia (specifically between Ethiopian troops and Islamic militants trying to bring down Somaliaâ€™s shaky government) what changes do you think the nation needs?
Kâ€™Naan: Can I correct you, first of all? The killings that happen every day arenâ€™t between the Islamic militants and Ethiopian troops. The United States Foreign Policy would like for you to think that; they like to promote these types of ideas. Islamic militants are sort of in the subconscious of people. You can rarely identify the enemy nowâ€”thatâ€™s why they use these statements. There is no such thing as an Islamic military in Somalia. There are just everyday people like you and me, who are trying to eject the invading foreign army from their country. Foreign army, mind you, being funded by the United States. The Ethiopian troops there donâ€™t really want to be there, but they are serving a purpose for the United States; they are paid to do so and thatâ€™s why they are there, and the people there donâ€™t want to be controlled by a foreign power.
Format: Iâ€™m glad you clarified that for us; it seems as though we too have bought in to the mass media.
Kâ€™Naan: Everybody does though, itâ€™s not just you. Itâ€™s because they say it so many times that it just kind of registers in your head. I might start thinking ohh thereâ€™s Islamic militants there, but I know, I talk to my cousins and uncles who are there and are laughing at the notion that there is some sort of organized Islamic military thatâ€™s causing this.
See, you canâ€™t cure a wound youâ€™re still poking at, so the steering of the fire has to stop. These days when I think about Somalia, I think a real solution starting from the root cannot happen. Somalia cannot change for the better as long as the US administration is still in power. Until the gasoline stops (which I think depends strongly on the change in the US administration) until that changes, Somalia cannot change.
Format: You havenâ€™t been to Somalia since you left at thirteen, correct? Do you ever think youâ€™ll get a chance to return in the near future?
Kâ€™Naan: I want to. Hope is a thing thatâ€™s always there. I would really love to but right now in this condition, itâ€™s kind of impossible.
Format: Any words of wisdom you live by?
Kâ€™Naan: I really donâ€™t have any. I donâ€™t have any direct philosophies to my own life. I know that the surprises are greater than the wisdom.
Format: What can we expect from Kâ€™naan to come?
Kâ€™Naan: More music…yeah, hopefully more great music…and thatâ€™s that!
Format: In terms of a ten year forecast for your career, are you trying to integrate into mainstream society or do you choose to remain isolated in your own existence?
Kâ€™Naan: Iâ€™ve never been trying to integrate into anything. Iâ€™m just making music people understand and catch on to. Iâ€™ll continue to make different music, and if it becomes more successful I donâ€™t mind having mainstream success. Iâ€™m not that kind of person thatâ€™s trying to stay in the little corner; Iâ€™m not the type of artist either that tries for that success.
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