Through his skills as a lyricist, K’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, K’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 “music with a message.” On June 24th the deluxe version of The Dusty Foot Philosopher will mark the first US release of the award-winning debut album from K’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 K’naan, and an episode of 4Real TV on Kenya hosted by the man himself.

We recently chatted with K’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.

“I’ve really just made music that tried to completely articulate my life”

Format: There haven’t been any interviews published about you in almost a year, and you haven’t updated your online journal (on your official website) in a while. What has been occupying your time?
K’Naan: I’ve been recording; I’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?
K’Naan: I don’t know, these are conscious efforts I don’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. It’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?
K’Naan: I don’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. I’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.
K’Naan: I think artists have been doing this for a long time; I don’t think there are any specific artists who I want to pinpoint. Really it’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?
K’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 “art of hip-hop” mean to you?
K’Naan: I don’t know the meaning; I don’t have ideas or facts in my head. I like good music and hip-hop just sometimes makes great “newness.” It has great new stories to reveal, and because of that I’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?
K’Naan: I am taking time out to work on a whole new album. I am re-releasing this one because a lot of people haven’t heard it, and I have people continuously expressing that they need to hear it. It’s now going to be released in certain regions; it hasn’t actually been released in the US, and now it will be. It’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?
K’Naan: Because the rest were fine in my mind. It’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?
K’Naan: The first album doesn’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 “K’naan, you’re the one who made The Dusty Foot Philosopher.” Well, they wouldn’t have known if they had the album; people more so now are saying they have to know. I said “okay cool if they want to know, let’s take the photo.”

Format: There’s finally a portrait behind the music.
K’Naan: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know what that’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 you’re coming from?
K’Naan: I vibe with them all greatly, but differently. It depends on the strong relationship/friendship I have with them. When we’re making music together, it’s really about people who like each other, sit around and talk and that’s how a song develops. Mos Def is very similar, we’re very good friends and all, and it works. You can’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 Somalia’s shaky government) what changes do you think the nation needs?
K’Naan: Can I correct you, first of all? The killings that happen every day aren’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 now—that’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 don’t really want to be there, but they are serving a purpose for the United States; they are paid to do so and that’s why they are there, and the people there don’t want to be controlled by a foreign power.

Format: I’m glad you clarified that for us; it seems as though we too have bought in to the mass media.
K’Naan: Everybody does though, it’s not just you. It’s because they say it so many times that it just kind of registers in your head. I might start thinking ohh there’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 that’s causing this.
See, you can’t cure a wound you’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 haven’t been to Somalia since you left at thirteen, correct? Do you ever think you’ll get a chance to return in the near future?
K’Naan: I want to. Hope is a thing that’s always there. I would really love to but right now in this condition, it’s kind of impossible.

Format: Any words of wisdom you live by?
K’Naan: I really don’t have any. I don’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 K’naan to come?
K’Naan: More music…yeah, hopefully more great music…and that’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?
K’Naan: I’ve never been trying to integrate into anything. I’m just making music people understand and catch on to. I’ll continue to make different music, and if it becomes more successful I don’t mind having mainstream success. I’m not that kind of person that’s trying to stay in the little corner; I’m not the type of artist either that tries for that success.


Deepi Harish

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  1. I’m lovn that track ‘smile’. speaking of, today’s is Tupac Shakur’s birthday. But anyways i’m really feeling this album. Keep doin your thing K’Naan

  2. Yep, he deff a special artist. My fav songs have been “Strugglin” and “What’s hardcore”.

  3. I thought you were awesome at the Orpheum in Vancouver, K’naan! and so was your drummer, although I’ve forgotten his name. The show was very live. When you opened up, I was immediately immersed in your energy

    I’m glad I got to see you when you came through. I hadn’t heard your music before then, and my Mom hadn’t heard tasteful hip-hop, so in a way, you opened both of our eyes to something new

    Pure music… is not often found these days. Yours reaches deep. That new remix entitled ‘Voices At The Crossroads’ with Tracy Chapman is beautiful

    Keep up the good work!

    Sending greetz from Vancouver

  4. Fantastic, insightful questions, Ms. Harish. I look forward to seeing more from you on the tubes.

  5. hi knaan i really love your music keep the good work up i hope to meet you one day.
    i loooooooooooooooove u

  6. Yow yute u r WICKED love your music- i hear in Jamaica (my country) u gonna do some reggae any time soon

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