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Coachella 2009 Day 3: Lupe Fiasco, K'Naan push hip-hop's boundaries

April 19, 2009 |  7:34 pm

LupeThe 10th edition of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival is coming to a close with its most hip-hop heavy day of the weekend. While rap duo Clipse was a late scratch, the day still bore witness to two of the genre's more adventurous artists in Chicago's Lupe Fiasco and Somali-Canadian artist K'Naan.

Lupe Fiasco opened with his playful 2006 hit "Kick Push," but he's advanced well beyond the delightfully fun anthem to skateboarding that put him on the map. Opening for Kanye West's Glow in the Dark tour seems to have paid off, because Lupe Fiasco arrived at Coachella as a more seasoned, intense performer.

A full backing band provided jazzy segues for each song, bringing an accomplished elegance to "Hip-Hop Saved My Life," which allowed the song to escape any sense of bravado. That's not to say Lupe Fiasco doesn't brag, but when mentioned near the end of his performance that the remainder of his set would feature only "Grammy-nominated" songs, it was a boastfulness that was celebrating hip-hop as art.

And he's earned it. Even on a short mid-afternoon set at a major festival, Lupe Fiasco didn't shy away from challenging his audience. "The poor say the rich have the cure," Lupe Fiasco rapped on "Streets on Fire," letting a slight gospel undertone work its way under the groove before firing the follow-up in full-on militant form: "The rich say the poor are the source."

K'Naan immediately followed Lupe Fiasco, but performed across the grounds in one of the fest's smaller tents. Showcasing material from his recently released "Troubadour," K'Naan rapped, spoke and sang about the hardships of growing up in his homeland of Somalia, but the tone was uplifting. These are tales of survival not preachings, and reggae rhythms, Latin horns and African beats sought to break down all cross-continent barriers.

His "T.I.A." (short for "this is Africa") took its inspiration from a 1960s jazz Ethiopian record, and he went on full rap-rock mode on "If Rap Gets Jealous." He was apt without the support of a band as well, delivering a sing-song sermon designed to educate the crowd on the current state of Somalia, and he celebrated unity with a mini-Jamaican-influenced orchestra with "In the Beginning."

--Todd Martens

Photo of Lupe Fiasco by Kevin Winter/Getty Images