K’Naan: Africa for the Masses

There is no arguing when it comes to hip-hop being one of the most popular musical genres in the western world. Hip-hop since its birth has been an African-American dominated genre, this is also undeniable. Over the years there have been numerous hip-hop artists to incorporate African musical elements into their music. One of the most recent examples, and closely related to Africa is Somalia born rapper K’naan. He has several songs using African beats and a majority of his songs are about growing up in Somalia.

The first track off of K’Naan’s debut album is a song called, “Wash It Down”. The song uses a beat from a sample African water slapping. Through the use of this beat K’Naan was likely trying state his African pride. Being the first song on his first album, I believe K’Naan was making it clear that Africa, and his time living in Africa is his largest influence. The song is posted below:


The most obvious example of his time in Somalia is his song simply titled, “Somalia”. The song uses a classic, simple Somalian chorus line. He raps lyrics about the hardships of being a child in Somalia:

We used to take barb wireMold them around discarded bike tires / Mold them around discarded bike tires / Roll em down the hill in foot blazin’. / Now that was our version of mountain bike racing (Source: K’Naan. Troubador. A&M/Octone. 2010. CD.)

For an example of K’naan using the Somalian beat:


K’naan also has a song about living in Africa as a whole, “T.I.A” (acronym for This Is Africa). In the song he has lyrics describing a tough life for the common man in Africa. He talks of everyday violence and criticizes African-Americans for not understanding the true meaning of a tough up-bringing.

You don’t how hard it is here. / The streets is tricky in these parts  here. (Source: K’Naan. Troubador. A&M/Octone. 2010. CD.)

At the time being, K’Naan is the most popular and successful African artist outside of Africa, among my generation. There are several YouTube videos of his with over 10 million views. The single for his most popular song, “Wavin’ Flag”, has gone platinum 3 times over in Canada. Though not as successful in the United States he has gained enormous popularity. I can remember personally, after his second album and the release of Wavin’ Flag, my friends and I talking about K’Naan and discussing how much we enjoyed his music.

A remix for Wavin’ Flag was used as an official song for the 2010 World Cup. This particular video has over 21 million views on YouTube:


This song is also another example of K’Naan’s widespread use of African beats. The drum beat in the song is clearly African in nature.

K’Naan has successfully integrated genuine African musical elements into his own style of hip-hop. K’Naan is a musical ambassador for all of Africa. Through his music, K’Naan has shown the world what it means to be African. Perhaps his greatest achievement is his ability to be so successful all over the world, while at the same time sticking close to his African roots.


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