Sunday, January 29, 2012

K'Naan Discusses Nas' Comments About Africa And Explains Why Other Rappers Backgrounds "Can't Hold A Candle" To His

Exclusive: The Somali spitter expands on Nasir's breakdown of the divide between Africans and African-Americans and explains why fictionalized street talk can't compare to his real-life experiences.
A nation of millions may have been attempting to hold Public Enemy back during the height of Hip Hop’s protest era, but Chuck D never had to continuously defend 10 million of his fellow countrymen the way K’Naan has found himself having to over the last few years.

Never before has a Hip Hop artist found themselves in the position that the Somalia-born emcee has, forced to speak up against the misinformation that American media – both liberal and conservative – churns out about his homeland almost 20 years after the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident every time that a story of Somali pirates attacking ships of western origin is used to frighten consumers of mainstream media into accepting the narrative that every Somali is a gun-toting savage seeking to rob and kill any foreigner who dare step foot in the east African nation. 

But K’Naan has bravely embraced his role as one of the most vocal advocates for his people. And while his occasional flirtations with more mainstream friendly tracks (ala the Nelly Furtado featured “Is Anybody Out There?” may have confused the casual listener into believing they were not hearing the sound of a revolutionary rhymer, further inspection of K’Naan’s impressively diverse catalog reveals an evocative emcee defiantly saying something when most of his contemporaries are content saying nothing, creating, as the title of his just-released EP states, a sound More Beautiful Than Silence.

The Toronto transplant spoke to HipHopDX about the meaning behind the rhymes of some of the selections from his first formal release since his 2009 breakthrough, Troubadour. K’Naan also shared his thoughts on distant relative Nas’ recent comments regarding the long strained relationship between Africans and African-Americans, and provided some illumination on the image American media outlets (and possibly even the American President) have propagated about his fellow Somalians. And finally, the artist who has witnessed firsthand the effects of famine and violence in what is one of the most dangerous and depressed regions of the world explained why gangsta posturing rappers “can’t really hold a candle to the kind of experiences I’m talking about.”

HipHopDX: I was just watching your video from a few years back for “Somalia” and it hit me that those couple bars – “A lot of mainstream niggas is yappin’ about yappin’ / A lot of underground niggas is rappin’ about rappin’ / I just wanna tell you what’s really crack-a-lackin’” – those lines are probably gonna prove to be the summation of this generation of Hip Hop, and hell, the way things are going, maybe the next generation in this Rap shit too.    

K’Naan: Yeah, well, that’s real, man. That’s kinda just the state of things right now. I hope not for too long, but …

DX: Now on “Somalia” you mention “the pirates terrorize the ocean,” and the news just broke today of a group of Somali pirates who allegedly kidnapped two western aid workers and held them for ransom being killed by U.S. Navy Seals in a raid. Can you offer any illumination on whether or not a situation like this is as the media is portraying it: that this is just another instance of depraved pirates? Or is there more to the story?

K’Naan: Well, I don’t know, it could very well be that it’s actually what is being said. There are a lot of people in the waters [though] that are coming out of real desperate situations. Anybody who’s out there risking their lives – These guys don’t know the ocean like that. They’re often from the city. And so to just get on a small, tiny little motorboat and to try to chase down ships to take over, knowing that there’s a good chance you’ll be killed either in the ocean or by whatever, that’s a desperate situation. It’s kind of suicidal really. [But] that’s what a lot of people are doing right now. A lot of people are coming from that kind of desperation. And so, it could very well be the story as is being told, but there are a lot of stories to be told in that world.        

DX: You noted on your new single with Nas, “Nothing To Lose”, “No, I don’t know pilots / Nigga, I know pirates,” and recently Nas himself was quoted in reference to situations like today’s news, saying, “There’s horror stories about Africa that’s out of this world … but I went there and I figured out that there’s been a lot of lies told to American people about what’s going on there.” I know you’re not an American citizen, but I just feel compelled to ask you if you think President Obama has proven himself to be part of that propaganda machine in regards to your homeland?

K’Naan: Well, listen, I think the propaganda machine is us, as human beings. I think we often seek out the kind of information that suits us best. So why we know about certain things that favor our own opinions is just really saying much more about the human being than it is about any kind of an organization or a governmental stance. If you are on HipHopDX and your information solely is based on simply what Hip Hoppers are saying and the rest is coming out of CNN, that’s really a choice that you make. If you broaden your horizons and your mind and you figure out, “Well, really there’s more to the world than what CNN is telling me, I could read up on something,” that’s another kind of a choice that we make. So I think really the responsibility – although some is with others – I would rather put the responsibility on myself and what I consume so that I have control over it.      

DX: Going back to that Nas interview, he was also quoted as saying, “One thing about us African-Americans and Africans, we don’t communicate. We don’t talk. We don’t see a reason to talk. We don’t even get along. There’s a lot of Africans that don’t like African Americans, at all. They look down on us; they got their own little racial names for us. We’ve been pulled apart, for years.” Anything you wanna add to what Nas said?

K’Naan: I think he’s right. And it’s an unfortunate circumstance. But you know, me and Nas talk, all the time. I talked to Nas yesterday. So I think the responsibility [to bridge that divide] is partly with us as artists. That’s why you got songs like “Nothing To Lose.” That’s why you got albums like the Distant Relatives album with Nas and Damian Marley. That’s why when me and Wale do something [it’s to] try to expand the scope of what people are thinking about with regards to Africa. That’s why it means something. The generations are changing and right now Africans and the way they think of African-Americans, or African-Americans and the way that they view Africans, is changing dramatically because we’re able to see each other a lot more, we’re able to communicate a lot more. The Internet has changed the distancing tools that have been used for so long [to divide us]. So the excuses are very shallow now.     


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