Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

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2009 Artist to watch: K'naan

January 1, 2009 | 10:00 am

Pop & Hiss offers a look at some of the artists we expect to make noise in 2009.

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Artist: K'naan

Why him: Though it’s popular in Europe, African hip-hop has not yet found its footing in America beyond the elegant gangsterisms of the Senegalese-born, New Jersey-based singer Akon. This year, a Canadian might be the one to break the intercontinental barrier. Kaynaan Warsame was born to one of Somalia’s most prominent artistic families in 1978 and grew up in Mogadishu as that city was torn apart by civil war. Immigrating to Toronto with his family as a teen, he soon turned to rap as a way to articulate his experience. His light-stepping but tough rhyming style is infused with the rhythms of his homeland, and his subject matter is both political and playfully personal.

What's next: K’naan’s 2005 debut album, "The Dusty Foot Philosopher," won a Juno (the Canadian Grammy) for best rap album; next month A&M/Octone Records will release "Troubadour," which was mostly recorded at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio with help from guests such as Damian Marley, Mos Def and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. If Kenya’s favorite son, Barack Obama, could win the hearts of America, why not this sharp-witted Somali stylist?

-Ann Powers

Photo credit: James Minchin, courtesy of K'naan's MySpace page.

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