As promised, another piece where I opine about some music or other that I think deserves more recognition.
This piece will be shorter than my usual Thursday weekly posts, but I want to justify my slacking on this week’s piece (it’s about Australian plunderphonics group the Avalanches!). Additionally, I am wearing this particular EP out and can’t hold off on writing about it any longer.
K’naan has a new EP.
While my appreciation for K’naan’s music is well-documented, I am beginning to fear that I may be on the verge of going overboard with my feelings for the Somali-born rapper’s EP released earlier this year. More Beautiful than Silence is a five-song EP that will serve to tide K’naan’s fans over until the release of his newest full-length this coming May, and based upon impressions of the this newest release expectations for Country, God, or the Girl will be high. As they should be.
More Beautiful than Silence opens with “Is Anybody Out There?”, a piano-driven rap/sung duet with pop singer Nelly Furtado of “Promiscuous” fame. The two collaborators on the track share Canada as an adopted home, and while a somewhat unexpected duo the two blend together well. With slick production and a sound that feels inches away at the verse and miles wide during the chorus, “Is Anybody Out There?” is a strong track with a powerful message of hope for “anyone who’s felt invisible”. Boasting the added benefits of a popstar wearing hipster glasses and a really moving music video, the lead single from More Beautiful than Silence starts the EP off on a high note.
Next up is “Nothing To Lose”, a more straight-ahead rap tune featuring Nas. Between hard-edged verses by Nas and K’naan about the trials and tribulations of urban life in the 1990s is a surprisingly upbeat chorus that assures the listener that the bleak street life K’naan (along with countless millions of other young people) grew up in can be overcome. The music of the song features blasting horns and a persistent vibraphone, and the genius slogan “rep that blue and white” can be heard shouted over a chorus (the Somalian Flag). This track is also accompanied by a full-fledged music video featuring both rappers discussing the plight of today’s urban youth while the song’s chorus is mixed low beneath it, and was the subject of a recent remix contest from indaba music. Also of note is that will.i.am has released a remix of the song. The original remains the best.
Third and fourth on the EP are the title track and a just-add-water instant anthem entitled “Better”, respectively. “More Beautiful than Silence” is my least favorite song on the EP, but remains a solid track notable for K’naan’s impressive falsetto and an instrumental track that appears to feature the sound of water dripping. “Better” meanwhile seeks to out-“Wavin’ Flag” anything else K’naan has done. With syncopated synthesizers, a beat that inspires the listener to jump triumphantly, reverse-cymbal swooshes, and K’naan’s trademark inspirational lyrics the song seems primed to at least be set to highlights of a highlight reel. Stay tuned.
Closing out the EP is the epic “Coming to America”. As a distinctly African-sounding vocal ensemble invokes (parodies?) “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” sirens blare and K’naan unleashes an aggressive and often tongue-in-cheek retelling of his story from his violent upbringing in Somalia to run-ins with the police in Toronto. The sense of humor on this song makes it stand out among K’naan tunes, but the social consciousness remains, as the line “Thanks for lettin’ me marry ya/the green card sure looks fine” is followed in short order by “Even in America the hoods need a ticket out”. On More Beautiful Than Silence as a whole K’naan has really stepped up his profile as a rapper (and honestly as a singer, for that matter), and it’s on “Coming to America” that this really shines. The Somali-Canadian poet’s flow shifts gears and meters while rising and falling with the emotion of the personal stories he recounts. “Coming to America” works incredibly well as a song because it fits with popular hip-hop lyrical boasting while being true.
I am closing in on listening to these five songs a hundred times, and am yet to be sick of any of them. Instead, I watch with excitement as K’naan makes the rounds of talk shows and late night television and track the artist on twitter. As I implied earlier, if the new heights in production, singing voice, and aggressive rapping that are demonstrated on More Beautiful than Silence are an indicator of what to expect on the upcoming full LP, fans of the rapper have cause to celebrate. More Beautiful than Silence seems to be serving as a preview of a future release, but for now it stands alone as an excellent five-song EP from Somalian-Canadian rapper K’naan, who, despite the terrible cliche of ending an essay with a quote, may be “only getting better”.