Monday, October 08, 2012

K'naan: "Country, God or the Girl" (album review)

You can't discuss the success of Canadian hip hop over the past few years without mentioning K'naan.  Few have matched the massive hit he had with "Waving Flags".  On October 16th he returns with his much-anticipated follow-up Country, God or the Girl.

This really is a tale of two albums.  One is the ultra-political, genre-bending hip hop we've come to expect from K'naan.  The other is a cynical, nearly-unlistenable grab for commercial radio airplay.

What separates K'naan from the majority of his hip hop compatriots is his arrangements.  Unlike most rappers who take the lazy approach, K'naan searches high and low for genres and styles that can be incorporated into his sound.  At it works well.

The piano-ballad based "God In Timbuktu" and "Hurt Me Tomorrow" are lovely, slick and catchy.  Orchestral flairs make "Bulletproof Pride" and elegant and sophisticated cut.  Far eastern rhythms propel "Simple", while a Spanish-flavoured guitar leads "The Seed" to a glorious end.  We even get a bouncy, saloon-worthy rag in "Waiting Is a Drug".

Thankfully, K'naan doesn't rely on swiping entire songs to make his music.  The lone lengthy, obvious sample is the guitar line from The Romantics' "Talking In Your Sleep" on the groovy "Alone".

Lyrically K'naan has always been willfully naive in his politics.  His ideas are simplistic, hypocritical, and oft-times straight out goofy.  A bizarre diatribe on the Israel/Palestine conflict ruins the otherwise mellow, feel-good "The Wall".

When he's at his worst, K'naan is absolutely horrid.  The bad Autotune R&B of "Better" and "Is Anybody Out There" are shameless attempts to eke out a hit, a strategy we expect from a hack like Chris Brown, not someone like K'naan who portrays themselves as a serious artist.  The big, grotesque Eurobeats of "Sound of My Breaking Heart" make it seem as though he's angling to have another World Cup theme song.

What K'naan really needed on Country, God or the Girl is an editor.  He needs someone to tell him what is great and what is bullshit, because he obviously can't tell on his own.

Best tracks: "Hurt Me Tomorrow", "Alone"

Track listing for Country, God or the Girl:
  • The Seed
  • God In Timbuktu
  • Waiting Is a Drug
  • Better
  • Simple
  • Is Anybody Out There
  • Hurt Me Tomorrow
  • Sound of My Breaking Heart
  • Nothing To Lose
  • 70 Excuses
  • Bulletproof Pride
  • The Wall
  • Sleep When We Die
  • More Beautiful Than Silence
  • Alone
  • On the Other Side

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