Monday, April 18, 2011

K'naan and Violence

For those of you who were at the K'naan/ Lupe concert on Sunday, did you know that K'naan learned how to fire a gun at age 8, and accidentally blew up his school at age 11 with a hand grenade that he had mistook as an old, dirty potato? He is from Mogadishu, one of the roughest cities on Earth, and he saw his friends being killed by gunmen as he was running away. When he escaped from Somalia's civil war to the US, he began to learn music as a form of expression. Since then, he has nurtured the ambition to "reform" hip-hop. A very important aspect of his music is that it is never violent. K'naan is determined not to bring violence into his music. He raps, "If I rhyme about home and got descriptive/ I'd make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit". He says that his homeland is very different from American cities in that the violence isn't restrained to pockets: it is everywhere. There is no escape. He says Somalis don't turn to violence as an escape, because violence is their only reality. K'naan is very diplomatic. He doesn't condemn other rappers for dwelling on their own experiences with violence, but he's very focused about what he wants to create. He is determined to make people contemplate deep subjects whenever they listen to his lyrics. Maybe it is his inspirational story and peaceful stance that gives him his universal appeal, and made his hit song Wavin' Flag the official anthem of the 2010 World Cup. From my own experience in the audience on Sunday, he is an amazing, charismatic stage performer who sends a very clear, positive anti-violence message. That alone makes him unique in the hip-hop world.


  1. While I would first like to point out that Wavin' Flag was written by Bruno Mars (who will be forever associated with writing "cute" lyrics), I find it refreshing that the genre has found a way to move away from the elegies on urban violence in inner city America. While those topics are clearly very compelling, I find the international prespective on rap/hip hop to be intriguing as it presents a completely different way of addressing the universality of violence. I'm curious whether it's a set of cultural values that drives american artists to brag about how many shots they put in their enemies as opposed to as a medium that promotes escape to fantasy rather than confrontation with reality

  2. Our discussions on violence have not tapped into the topics that K'naan describes or what Lupe Fiasco describes in his song "Little Weapon." In Lupe's song he describes one such scenario in which a young kid of ten or eleven years of age must kill five more people in order to get a soccer ball from his commander and how he is too young to hold up a rocket launcher yet. The fact that children of this age are raised learning how to shoot heavy artillery is an abomination and undoubtedly creates lasting effects in the development of our youth. Lil Wayne may be proud of the gat he carried in his draws but he never had his neighborhood burnt to the ground by renegade insurgents.


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